The Queen is said to have updated the royal Order of Precedence with the effect that the Duchess of Cambridge is expected to curtsy to the blood princesses — that means the Princess Royal (Anne), the Queen’s cousin Princess Alexandra, and the Duke of York’s daughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
However, when William is with her, Kate does not need to bend the knee to them, but she must curtsy to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
This is the second rewriting of the rules in recent times. The first occurred in 2005 when Charles married Camilla and everyone expected that she would rank in female seniority next to the Queen. This meant that other royal ladies were expected to curtsy to Camilla. Rumour has it that Princess Anne was none too pleased; after all, Camilla was the ex-wife of Andrew Parker Bowles, Anne’s teenage playmate and good friend to this day. Nor, apparently, was Prince Edward’s wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who had previously ranked next to the Queen as Charles had been unmarried since his divorce from Diana, and Andrew, the Duke of York, was also divorced.
Changes were made ‘on blood principles’ so that neither Princess Anne nor Princess Alexandra, granddaughter of George V, would have to curtsy to Camilla when her husband was not present. Sophie just slipped down the rankings and now, despite being married to the Queen’s youngest son, she will have to curtsy to Kate, even when William is not present.
Kate has to follow the same arcane protocol, but this time she is apparently expected to curtsy to the young York girls, who are part of her friendship circle. So far, Kate has only been seen curtsying to the Queen, Prince Philip, Charles, and foreign royal heads of state.
The art of the curtsy is taught to incoming royal wives by ladies-in-waiting so that they can make a grand curtsy to the Queen on their wedding day. They practice bending one leg behind the other and lowering themselves several inches. Diana, Fergie, and Kate were all curtsy perfect, even in their heavy bridal gowns.
Recently, at Ascot races, Sophie Wessex, Princess Michael of Kent, Princess Beatrice, and Peter Phillips’ wife, Autumn, all made curtsies as the Queen passed. In private, all royal ladies greet the Queen and more senior royals this way but only on the first meeting of the day, so they are not bobbing up and down constantly.
As well as the Order of Precedence above, there is also a list of precedence of working royals that excludes Beatrice and Eugenie: the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke of York, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Earl of Wessex, the Countess of Wessex, the Princess Royal, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent, the Duchess of Kent, Princess Alexandra. This list can be seen here on the royal web site; just click on ‘All Members of the Royal Family’.
In this list Kate ranks lower than Prince Harry and the Duke of York but higher than the Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward. This doesn't make sense unless you consider that he is an Earl rather than a royal Duke by his own request. After Prince Philip’s death, we know that Edward will be declared Duke of Edinburgh and so will rise in royal status and the Queen will presumably have to redraft the list of precedence of working royals again.
While the royal court seems to operate under its own rules, under English Common Law a wife takes the status of her husband and Kate should now have the same status as William. But Kate is an obedient girl and will do everything to please her in-laws — even if the new etiquette means curtsying to Beatrice and Eugenie.
Beatrice curtsies to the Queen at Ascot.
Sophie Wessex at Ascot.