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“But Will and Kate Did It!” Good Try, That Won’t Fly Here.

In the aftermath of the royal wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, it has become quite evident that a British monarchy wedding defies many Etiquette Hell prohibitions such as:

* A hierarchy of guests. This was evident in numerous ways. Notable guests were escorted through one set of doors into Westminister Abbey whereas the common folk were directed through the north doors.

Although over 1,000 guests were invited and attended the wedding, the afternoon reception, hosted by Queen Elizabeth, was limited to 650 of those guests who were served champagne and canapes. It would blow our Ehell circuits if someone actually had the audacity to invite people to an 11 a.m. wedding and not extend an invitation to refreshments of some sort.

The list of 650 guests was further winnowed down to 300 for the evening private, black tie reception hosted by Prince Charles. The B grade guests invited to the after wedding reception but not the private affair later that evening were primarily Middleton guests who were invited to a separate event at the Goring Hotel in Belgravia, where Miss Middleton spent her final night as a single woman. Mr and Mrs Middleton welcomed guests to the Goring before returning to Buckingham Palace for the evening reception. I suppose the Middletons really had no choice on how to respond to a royal flush of their guests so they did the best they could under the circumstances.

* Sending a 22 page etiquette “guide” to guests detailing expectations on dress, table settings, how to engage the royals, etc. I’m pretty certain this is the first time in royal wedding history that this has been done. Don’t anyone get the bright idea they can do the same as the royals because we’ll still refer to you as the anal retentive bridezilla insulting your guests.

* Maid of honor wearing white. Interestingly, the etiquette guide sent to guests advised them to not wear white lest they upstage the bride but that apparently does not apply to sisters/maid of honor, or royal in-laws. Camilla’s champagne colored outfit nearly matched her own 2005 wedding ensemble and Sophie, Countess of Wessex’s champagne dress also fell into the realm of “too freaking close to a bridal color”. Pippa Middleton’s stunning white dress has been referred to, by fashionistas, as Kate’s “second choice wedding dress”.

* The wedding invitation indicating to male guests what their acceptable attire will be. I found Diana and Charles’ wedding invitation and it says the same thing as William and Kate’s in the lower left corner: Dress: Uniform, morning dress or lounge suit (what we in the US call a “business suit”).

*  The wedding wish list asking guests to donate to one or more of over 2 dozen charities the Prince and Catherine favor in lieu of a wedding gift.

Several people have asked me privately how to reconcile a royal wedding that has so many actions we would consider to be major faux pas.  Shouldn’t royalty know better?  Or are they above etiquette?

The answer is that there is a difference between European/Old World etiquette and New World etiquette or what Miss Manners’ refers to as “Star Spangled Manners”.   Old World/ European etiquette is predicted on a very old system of class distinctions where etiquette was one tool by which one’s breeding was measured whereas American etiquette is predicated upon the belief of an egalitarian equality and a refusal to dignify anything resembling class distinctions.  Miss Manners calls it “the basic American commitment to the Etiquette of Equality” or what I see as the “etiquette rule of law”, i.e. the same rules, the same dignity, the same respect for everyone regardless of station.   American etiquette tries to minimize the differences between the weak and powerful.

English etiquette maven Frances Trollope published the book, “Domestic manners of the Americans”, in 1832 in which she famously declared that a working class with a sense of being anyone’s equal was a worse evil than slavery.    When the royals have a “do as a I say, not as I do” mentality to manipulating etiquette to suit their need to divide guests into hierarchies, primarily based on who was royal and who was in trade, it’s no wonder there are resentful anti-royalists seeking to abolish the monarchy.

The English upper class disdain for the “trades” is deeply and historically entrenched in cultural etiquette which may explain the sending of an insulting “guide” as if one’s guests were etiquette idiots or the ease at which a large percentage of  non-royal  wedding guests were not invited to a reception which would have entailed blue bloods rubbing shoulders with commoners.  The social isolation of the Middleton guests several miles away from the main event and sans their hosts or the guests of honor is deeply repugnant to the American mindset of equal etiquette for all.  At least Will and Kate’s wedding was an improvement from 30 years ago.  When Charles and Diana married, there were 3500 guests in attendance followed by a family only reception for 120.

I’ve said many times that this is an American Etiquette web site.   We uphold the values of dignity, respect, and an etiquette rule of law for everyone, regardless of power, money, age, sex, religion, breeding, or one’s  “connections”.  No one is above etiquette and all are expected to behave in a way that offers civility to everyone.  Brides who think they can exalt themselves for a season to treat others disdainfully or discourteously are miserably mistaken.   We will still roast you for thinking too highly of yourself at the expense of others.

{ 119 comments… add one }
  • Mrs Jones May 6, 2011, 8:22 am

    Here is a link to the sitting plan in the Abbey, forgot to include it in my post.

  • Mrs Jones May 6, 2011, 10:35 am

    Hi Ells, the term ‘commoner’ is used for non-royals not actually for simply non-titled people. For instance, Lady Diana was a commoner at the time of her marriage, so was the Queen Mother although like Diana she came from a titled family. Ergo, we are all ‘commoners’, unless of royal birth.

  • Mrs Jones May 6, 2011, 4:23 pm


    The above is is a link to a particularly beautiful wedding party all dressed in white. Don’t think this will ever catch on in the States, but it one of my favourites. The bride is the late Princess Margaret’s daughter, Lady Sarah.

  • kelly May 7, 2011, 8:00 am

    Mrs Jones,
    I do not like the Blairs, But Cherie Blair was not disrespectful to the Queen. She, like many, doe snot recognize the Queen’s right to be head of state as she received this position through her birth, and this goes against democracy. It would be wrong to expect a person who supports democracy to curtsey to the Queen, she was polite that is all that is required.

  • Ioannes May 7, 2011, 11:15 am

    “Traditionally, at least with American etiquette, guests understood what dress was required by noting from the invitation the time of the day the wedding was slated to start as well as the formality of the actual invitation itself. A morning wedding required a business suit or a morning suit and tea length dresses, 12 noon is considered extremely formal with tuxedos, afternoon weddings were also informal and anything after 6:00 pm was considered very formal as in black or white tie, formal gowns, etc. When people move away from those conventions, it creates the confusion we often see which results in people feeling the need to correct by making sure their guests know how to dress themselves for the occasion.”

    As I’m sure someone has pointed out to you by now, this is half of exactly why they sent out attire requirements. People were sure to “know” just what to wear by the timing. However, as you have demonstrated, this is not necessarily trustworthy (as you have a couple points in error even with American etiquette). Black and white tie are never appropriate before 6:00 pm unless the ceremony is close enough to 6:00 pm that the reception is expected to go well *past* 6:00 pm directly from the ceremony. The only reason people commonly do it in wedding parties in America is because of a big push from the tux rental businesses in the country, however it is inappropriate.

    The other half is because such a formal event was to be made accessible to the majority of the guests who likely did not own morning dress. The breakdown of formality of men’s attire would go something like this:

    Business/lounge suit, then stroller (before 6:00 pm and if you even consider this to be different from a lounge suit, which many don’t) and black tie/tuxedo (if after 6:00 pm), then most formally morning dress (if before 6:00 pm) and white tie (if after 6:00 pm).

    The fact that the royals put the attire on the invitation was no doubt to allow for the least formal attire for men (lounge suit) at such a formal event (requiring morning dress). Either way, in no case would a gentleman wear a tuxedo at 12:00 noon. If noon were an indicator of formality, the proper attire would be morning dress, which is the counterpart of white tie for the day.

    Regardless, I find it rather astounding that a site I just stumbled upon that is on the topic of American etiquette managed to, within the first page, attempt to place America’s etiquette onto another country’s event. It entirely misses a major point (other cultures are different, and yours is *not* superior by grace of being yours), and more to the point, does not fall within the realm of etiquette nor common sense to offer such a critique.

    If you’d care to do a write up on the wedding based on British etiquette, that would be appropriate, and I’d love to read it.

  • anonymous May 7, 2011, 10:34 pm

    Mrs. Jones – not even all Americans follow American traditions! I sure didn’t, telling our guests to feel free to wear white or any color (nobody actually wore white, though), encouraging creative clothing (our friends tend to be well-traveled so there was a lot of brilliant sartorial bling from foreign lands at our wedding) and bright colors, and walking down the aisle in bright fuchsia.

  • Mrs Jones May 8, 2011, 7:37 am

    In all fairness to Cherie Blair, she did say in an article she wrote for the Times on12/5/08 that the Queen liked her and Tony and was very accommodating towards them – in fact she said the Queen was fond of him. However, she did not get on with Princess Anne and on one occasion referred to her as a bitch, not that I blame her, she also made it clear that she did not get on with the Queen’s sister either.

    I personally, found the reference she made in her biography about how it came about that she conceived her last child while a guest at Balmoral in very bad taste. Furthermore, if she is so principled, why did she teach her son to sing God Save the Queen and allowed him to perform it solo to the Queen, according to her Times article?

    In short, protocol or no, I would not want them at my wedding so can fault them for not inviting them either.

  • Jen May 8, 2011, 2:59 pm

    I was taught that it is crass to wear a tuxedo before 5pm including the USA as well. Also the later evening reception was attended by close family and friends on either side and the earlier reception by all the heads of state and whatnot. It is customary to state dress code on an invitation as there my be no discernable difference on the invite between a black tie & white tie function etc.

    Personally I would think it presumptuous of the royal family to expect me to know all the etiquette concerning royalty and a faux pas on their part if they didn’t send me a guide. After all a host should be accommodating to their guests and not expect them to have to research arcane protocol. Considering all the people who haven’t followed all the inane rules and who have felt embarrassed it is good manners to alleviate any potential distress, especially considering all the foreign guests who would have no idea.

    It is odd that you think it a breach of etiquette to guide people in etiquette yet at the same time have an entire website devoted to people and their etiquette faux pas.

  • Anion May 9, 2011, 12:40 am


    Whether or not Mrs. Blair approves of the Queen’s position as Head of State, the fact remains that according to the law the Queen *is* Head of State; the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. Your argument is akin to saying that a Republican is not required to stand when President Obama is standing or pay his office any respect at all, simply because that Republican doesn’t like that Obama is President.

    A Prime Minister’s job is to uphold the law, and his wife should certainly follow that law. The Queen is by law the Head of State. As a British citizen Cherie Blair is one of the Queen’s subjects whether she likes it or not. Refusing to curtsy to the Head of State and anointed Queen according to British law is in fact disrespectful and a breach of protocol.

  • kelly May 9, 2011, 6:12 am

    No the Queen is unelected head of state, that is very different from not liking an elected head of state.

    It may be the law, but the law itself is illegal when ones comes down to it, as are many of the laws connected to royalty such as the fact it is illegal to critisize them in any way shape or from in parliament. This goes against the right of freedom of expression, and parliamentry privilage, as did the fact that peaople who planned to attend peaceful protests on the 29th were pre-emptively arrested.
    It is disrespectful to the British people to have an unelected head of state, who is also the head of the Church of England. By curtsying one would be acknowledging the right of royalty to hold these positions, therefore it would be inappropriate for those of pro-democracy leanings to curtsy. Maybe this is in turn disrespectful to royalty, but then people who believe in democracy do not respect those who believe that heads of state should be decided by birthright not election i.e we do not respect royalty as an institution. For those who support the democracy movement it is no less respectful to not curtsey to the queen as it is to not curtsey to any elderly lady.

  • Mrs Jones May 9, 2011, 10:34 am

    Kelly, there is also the fact that Cherie described William’s mother as an ‘airhead’ whom she couldn’t find anything in common with. I personally have no argument with her description, but if it was my mother she described as such, I think it my influence my decision whether or not I wanted to invite her to my wedding.

    I’m not saying that Kate and William are not above such petty considerations, but I was just expressing my own prejudices when it comes to drawing up a wedding guest list. In any case, I shouldn’t imagine that Cherie or any head of state could care less whether or not they received an invite.

  • Mrs Jones May 9, 2011, 11:13 am

    anonymous, couldn’t agree more! When planning a wedding I cannot imagine anything of less concern than what colours my guests should or should not wear to my wedding.

  • kelly May 9, 2011, 1:55 pm

    Mrs Jones,
    I agree with that. But they framed their wedding as a state wedding, inviting several “dodgy” dignatories so they should have invited the Blairs, and Brown too. Either have a personal wedding, or a state one. do not try to mix the two and pick and choose your manners to match whatever action you want to take.

  • Mrs Jones May 9, 2011, 5:27 pm

    Kelly, it was my understanding that it was most definitely NOT a state occasion. Where did you hear that it was?

  • kelly May 10, 2011, 8:05 am

    It was not a state wedding officially, but it was certainly framed like one. As far as I am aware neither Kate or William had close ties with many of the dignitories they chose to invite such as they syrian ambassador. By inviting people like this they acted as if it was a state wedding. They cannot have it both ways, either it was personal event in which case do not televise it, do not invite hundreds of people you do not know, and do not event foreign representitives, or have a state wedding and do not snub people. They invited the Syrian ambassador, but not the former labour Prime ministers- that is just rude and ignorant especially as they invited former tory prime ministers (MaragartThatcher could not make it thorugh ill health, but was invited).

  • Kat May 10, 2011, 3:01 pm

    About the male dress code- when the Queen issues an invite (or rather when the Lord Chamberlain is commanded by Her Majesty to invite someone…) she usually includes a dress code, particularly for evening events. State dinners often include instructions about wardrobe such as Uniforms, White Tie or National Dress for men and ladies wear long (the wording is not exact, but you get the idea).

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