CULTURE

Is Meghan Markle Really Breaking So Many Royal Traditions?

A closer look at all of the princess-in-waiting's supposed rule-breaking.


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Perhaps you’ve heard there are a lot of strange royal traditions, and Meghan Markle is out there breaking them with abandon. We’re getting near-weekly, if not daily, updates from the royal-obsessed corners of the press about every little thing Markle does that deviates ever so slightly from the noble norm. But at some point we should probably step back and ask why we’re so into this narrative in the first place, and whether or not Markle is, you know, actually breaking tradition.

The first question seems rather easy to answer: Markle is a breath of fresh air for the royal family, and we’re invested in this narrative that she’s the people’s princess fit for the times. Every instance of tradition flaunting, no matter how slight, is proof of that. (We imagine that there’s probably an uglier crowd, particularly in Britain, that recoils at every instance of Markle supposedly laying waste to centuries of custom, but we should probably pay that set dust.) There’s also the fact that a lot of us probably didn’t even realize these traditions existed and all just click on the headlines out of curiosity.

Whether she’s actually breaking tradition in all these cases, though—that gets a bit hazier. What is royal tradition, after all? Well, in colloquial terms it seems to be a mix of actual laws and protocol, safety measures, whims of the Queen, patterns that overeager royal watchers have picked up on, and family tradition not dissimilar to those found in any other close-knit family.

Even if we can established what truly is tradition, does that mean Markle is really breaking it?

Keep in mind, she’s not actually a royal yet. There’s that whole matter of a wedding to make it official. So, she’s not actually subject to some of these customs for a few more weeks. Keep in mind, she’s still in what is basically “princess training.” We should also point out that she’s not marrying directly into the line of succession either. Yes, it’s a bummer to remind some that only an unspeakable tragedy or surprising abdication would lead to Markle one day being crowned queen. So it’s not really fair to use Diana and Kate as a litmus test as to whether or not Markle is breaking tradition. The more direct comparisons are Sarah, Duchess of York and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, women who married Prince Harry’s uncles.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the traditions Markle has supposedly broken, or reportedly has her eyes on breaking at the wedding, and try to figure out if the narrative is real.

The Case of the Uncustomary Cake

Supposedly broken tradition: Royals only have fruitcake at their weddings. Markle’s swerve: She’s chosen, gasp, lemon elderflower cake.

While it’s true that fruit cake appears to be the most popular choice among the English royal family (both Princess Di and Princess Kate chose the option), it’s by no means some ironclad tradition. Prince Harry’s uncles and their brides also opted for different flavors. Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones chose a devil’s food cake for their 1999 nuptials, and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson were even more daring with a rum cake. Compared to rum and devil, lemon elderflower actually seems like a rather safe choice.

The Unconventionally Colored Bouquet Flowers

Supposedly broken tradition: Royals only carry bouquets with white flowers at their wedding. Markle’s swerve: Reportedly, Markle may incorporate her favorite flower, the peony, which comes in a wide array of colors.

There is an actual royal wedding bouquet tradition that dates back centuries: A myrtle bush has to be included in the bouquet (mind you, many non-royals also practice the tradition due to the plant’s symbolic status). However, many a British royal bride have incorporated other flowers, even if most do still opt for an all-white arrangement. So if Markle were to incorporate some pink peonies into her bouquet, would she be the first royal bride to add some color into things? Technically, no. Camilla Parker Bowles (whose wedding was, by definition, as royal as any of the rest) carried some blossoms in shades of yellow and lilacs in her bouquet.

A Weekend Wedding Is Apparently a Horror

Supposedly broken tradition: Royals only marry on weekdays, thank you very much. Markle’s swerve: She’s chosen a Saturday.

While it’s true that the weddings of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, and Duchess Kate all took place during the work week, Saturday weddings aren’t unheard of. Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones also chose a Saturday. Princess Anne’s second marriage also took place on a Saturday, as did Prince Charles and Camilla’s ceremony. Turns out, a Saturday is actually a pretty common day for a royal wedding.

Meghan Markle’s Style Evolution: See Her Transformation to Princess-To-Be

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during an official photocall to announce the engagement of Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle at The Sunken Gardens at Kensington Palace on November 27, 2017 in London, England. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been a couple officially since November 2016 and are due to marry in Spring 2018.

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Kensington Royal/Instagram

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took their first public pictures as a couple at Invictus Games Toronto.

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Actress Meghan Markle leaves the “Today Show” taping at NBC Rockefeller Center on July 14.

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Actress Meghan Markle enters the “Today Show” taping at NBC Rockefeller Center Studios on July 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/GC Images)

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Actress Meghan Markle attends the Instagram Dinner held at the MARS Discovery District on May 31, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.

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Meghan Markle attends Glamour and L’Oreal Paris Celebrate 2016 College Women Of The Year at NoMad Hotel Rooftop on April 27, 2016 in New York City.

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Meghan Markle attends P.S. Arts’ The pARTy at NeueHouse Hollywood on May 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

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Actress Meghan Markle attends AOL Build Presents “Suits” at AOL Studios In New York on March 17, 2016 in New York City.

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WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA – JANUARY 20: Actress Meghan Markle attends ELLE’s 6th Annual Women In Television Dinner at Sunset Tower Hotel on January 20, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for ELLE)

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Meghan Markle attends the 12th annual CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards at Spring Studios on November 2, 2015 in New York City.

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Meghan Markle attends the Prada presents The Iconoclasts with Michael Wilkinson and Tim Martin event during the 2015 New York fashion week. Photo by BFAnyc.com.

Meghan Markle attends the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s 13th Annual An Enduring Vision Benefit at Cipriani Wall Street on October 28, 2014 in New York City.

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Meghan Markle attends Wes Gordon runway show during MADE Fashion Week Fall 2015 at Milk Studios on February 13, 2015 in New York City.

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Meghan Markle attends the UK Premiere of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” at Odeon Leicester Square on November 11, 2013 in London, England.

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NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 08: Model Meghan Markle poses backstage at the Herve Leger By Max Azria fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2014 at The Theatre at Lincoln Center on February 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week)

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Meghan Markle attends the London Global Gift Gala at ME Hotel on November 19, 2013 in London, England.

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Meghan Markle attends the Tory Burch fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring at David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on September 10, 2013 in New York City.

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Meghan Markle attends the Novak Djokovic Foundation New York dinner at Capitale on September 10, 2013 in New York City.

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Meghan Markle attends the Gala Tribute To Cate Blanchett during the 51st New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on October 2, 2013 in New York City.

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Megan Markle arrives on the red carpet at the 2013 MuchMusic Video Awards at Bell Media Headquarters on June 16, 2013 in Toronto, Canada.

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Meghan Markle attends USA Network 2013 Upfront Event at Pier 36 on May 16, 2013 in New York City.

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Meghan Markle attends the ELLE’s Women in Television Celebration at Soho House on January 24, 2013 in West Hollywood, California.

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Meghan Markle arrives at NBC Universal’s 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards after party held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 13, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.

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Meghan Markle attends The Paley Center for Media’s presentation of An Evening With “Suits” at The Paley Center for Media on January 14, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.

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Meghan Markle arrives at the GQ Men of the Year Party at Chateau Marmont on November 13, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

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Meghan Markle attends TV Guide Magazine’s 2012 Hot List Party at SkyBar at the Mondrian Los Angeles on November 12, 2012 in West Hollywood, California.

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Meghan Markle attends the HBO Luxury Lounge Featuring L’Oreal Paris And New Era Cap – Day 1 at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles on January 14, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.

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Meghan Markle arrives at the 13th Annual InStyle And The Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Toronto International Film Festival Party at the Windsor Arms Hotel on September 11, 2012 in Toronto, Canada.

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Meghan Markle attends the USA Network’s and The Moth’s Storytelling Tour “A More Perfect Union: Stories of Prejudice and Power” at the Pacific Design Center on February 15, 2012 in West Hollywood, California.

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The Mystery of Meghan’s Untraditional Style

Supposedly broken tradition: There’s a royal dress code. Markle’s swerve: She’s not following it.

Since news of the engagement, Markle has been spotted in ripped jeans, without panty hose, and wearing messy buns. Many of these styles are, indeed, uncommon for a royal, but here’s where it serves to be reminded that Markle technically isn’t a royal yet. It seems like fiancées do get something of a grace period while learning the rules. Princess Diana, after all, posed for a pre-wedding photo call with Prince Charles while wearing khakis and rubber rain boots. Other royal fiancées likewise have been spotted dressing like, gasp, relatively normal women. If anything, though, it seems that Markle’s wardrobe is becoming more traditionally royal in the lead-up to the wedding. Let’s starting tallying her supposed protocol breaks once she actually gets the title.

Her Handbags

Supposedly broken tradition: Royal women only wear clutches. Markle’s swerve: She prefers purses and even in one case a cross-body bag.

There’s a narrative out there that Windsor women only carry clutches. It’s supposed to discourage people trying to shake hands with royals at events (royals are meant to initiate the handshake). This, though, is quite obviously contradicted by the fact that the Queen herself is almost always seen with a handbag. Markle has been seen with a few clutches, but she too seems to prefer handbags with short handles. She has also been seen wearing cross-body bags, but, again, this can be chalked up to her fiancée status. Again, we have to look to Sophie Rhys-Jones, who was spotted wearing all manner of different bags during her engagement period as well.

Hugging Is Supposedly Forbidden

Supposedly broken tradition: Royals don’t hug members of the public. Markle’s swerve: She does.

But so did Princess Diana.

So, next time you read about Markle breaking tradition, keep in mind that it might be because she’s not yet a royal, and that some other royal at some point also probably broke the same tradition.

Related: How Meghan Markle is Helping Redefine Standards of Beauty

Royal Engagement Portraits Through the Years: From Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pose for one of two official engagement photos at Frogmore House in December, 2017 in Windsor, United Kingdom. Photo by Alexi Lubomirski via Getty Images.

Photo by Alexi Lubomirski via Getty Images

Prince William and Kate Middleton pose for photographs in the State Apartments of St James Palace on November 16, 2010 in London, England. The couple became engaged during a holiday in Kenya having been together for eight years. Photo by Chris Jackson via Getty Images.

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Sophie Rhys-jones And Prince Edward on The Day Of Their Engagement. Photo by Tim Graham via Getty Images.

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Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer pose outside Buckingham Palace following the official announcement of their engagement. Lady Diana, 19, had been a friend of the Royal Family all her life. Prince Charles, 32, was regarded as one of the world’s most eligible bachelors. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Prince Andrew with Sarah Ferguson at Buckingham Palace after the announcement of their engagement. Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images.

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Princess Anne and Mark Philips Engagement In London On 1973. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images.

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Princess Anne and her fiance, Captain Mark Phillips. Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images.

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Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones in the grounds of Royal Lodge after they announced their engagement. Photo by Hulton Archive via Getty Images.

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Princess Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at Buckingham Palace shortly before their wedding. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

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The first official picture after the announcement of the engagement of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, the former Prince Philip of Greece, at Buckingham Palace. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

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