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Chris Jackson/Getty Images Kate Middleton, Prince William, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in 2017
Just as public citizens do when meeting a royal, it's common to see members of the family showing respect while greeting each other — men bow their heads while women dip into a curtsy. However, there are a few rules involved depending on rank.
After Queen Elizabeth's death in September, her eldest son immediately acceded to the throne as His Majesty King Charles alongside his wife, Her Majesty the Queen Consort (also known as Queen Camilla). All members of the royal family, including those with His/Her Royal Highness (HRH) titles, bow or curtsy to the monarch and his wife when greeting them for the first time in a while — even his children!
Prince William, who became the Prince of Wales as heir to the throne, has been spotting bowing his head to greet his father and stepmother. Likewise, King Charles' daughter-in-law Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, dips into a curtsy to greet the monarch, as seen at her Christmas carol concert in December.
Samir Hussein/WireImage Kate Middleton and Prince William with Queen Elizabeth
When Prince William and Kate — or other members of the royal family — don't bow or curtsy to greet the King and Queen Consort, there's likely a practical reason why: they've probably already seen each other that day. They're also seen greeting each other with kisses on the cheeks or hugs.
And the rule for greeting the monarch with a bow or bend applies even on a royal bride or royal groom's wedding day! From then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana to Prince William and Kate to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, they all stopped on their wedding day to greet Queen Elizabeth with a bow or curtsy.
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981
Such a formal greeting to a family member came as a surprise to Meghan when she was dating Prince Harry. Recalling meeting Queen Elizabeth for the first time during their Netflix show Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex explained, "I remember we were in the car and we were driving up and he's like, 'You know how to curtsy, right?' And I just thought it was a joke."
"How do you explain that to people? How do you explain that you bow to your grandmother and that you would need to curtsy? Especially to an American. That's weird," Harry said.
MATT DUNHAM/AFP via Getty Images Kate Middleton and Camilla curtsy to Queen Elizabeth in 2016
King Charles recently made his younger brother Prince Edward the new Duke of Edinburgh, a title previously held by their father, Prince Philip, until he died in April 2021. That makes Edward's wife, Sophie, the new Duchess of Edinburgh. While the couple retains their titles as the Earl and Countess of Wessex and Forfar, they will be known by their higher-ranking duke and duchess titles.
However, this doesn't change who they will bow and curtsy to — or who they will receive bows and curtsies from. That's because they already had HRH titles.
But what about all the royals with HRH titles?
"The general rule of thumb to remember is that a Royal Highness does not curtsy to another Royal Highness," Myka Meier, an etiquette expert and the author of the book Modern Etiquette Made Easy, tells PEOPLE. "Therefore, while the newly titled Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh will still have to curtsy to His Majesty King Charles and Her Majesty The Queen Consort, they will not have to curtsy any of the blood princes or princesses or those who have married one."
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Prince Andrew, Princess Beatrice and Sarah Ferguson curtsy to Queen Elizabeth in 2018
According to Debrett's, Kate and Meghan outrank blood members of the royal family — but only when they're with their husbands, Prince William and Prince Harry. "Protocol dictates that when the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Sussex are not accompanied by their husbands, Princess of the Royal Blood, such as Princess Beatrice and Eugenie, rank above them. However, when the Duchesses are accompanied by their husbands, the roles are reversed and the duchesses outrank the princesses," they state.
It's also unclear if Meghan and Prince Harry's children, Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet, will use HRH titles. They became a prince and princess when their grandfather King Charles acceded the throne and their titles were recently reflected on the royal family website, but there has been no announcement made regarding their HRH status. Meghan and Prince Harry formally retained their HRH styles after they stepped back from their working royal roles, but they do not actively use them.
Even at 7, Princess Charlotte is an expert at royal protocol. On top of showing off her curtsy to Queen Elizabeth at events, she helped out big brother Prince George at their great-grandmother's funeral in September 2022. While members of the royal family waited for Queen Elizabeth's coffin to go past them at Wellington Arch, Charlotte was seen telling George, "You need to bow." As she gives the instruction, the second in line for the throne listened intently.
Karwai Tang/WireImage Royals bow and curtsy at Queen Elizabeth's funeral
The monarchy has largely adapted to modern times and many people opt to greet King Charles, Prince William, Princess Kate and other members of the royal family without much pomp — in fact, the British royal family's official website (which hasn't been fully updated since the death of Queen Elizabeth) states that "there are no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting The Queen or a member of the Royal Family." Still, there is a traditional form that many continue to follow to avoid a royal faux pas: men may opt to do a slight neck bow (from the head only) while women do a small curtsy, although a handshake is also acceptable.
If an American meets a royal, they technically do not have to curtsy or bow because that it's not a custom, Meier explains. Instead, they could choose to simply shake hands to show respect.
"That being said, many Americans still choose to observe a traditional British greeting of a bow or curtsy," she says. "Either option is fine and deemed appropriate."
y Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images) Sophie
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As for which female member of the royal family has the best curtsy, Meier has a top pick.
"I'm most impressed by Sophie's curtsy," the etiquette expert says. "She consistently has an amazing approximate 13-inch dip and is always strong and steady on her feet … perfect time and time again! A good curtsy takes muscle and balance!"
Myka Meier teaches royal etiquette and offers the most advanced etiquette and protocol course in the world, aimed at those wanting to be trainers or those who want the most extensive training.