Sure, many kings, queens, and other royal folks wear crowns, have fancy titles, and live in the lap of luxury and privilege. But examples of royals doing normal things reveal they can be more common than they appear.
Many royals throughout history have secretly slipped beyond their walls to rub shoulders with commoners. (Some contemporary British royals even have jobs outside the monarchy, but that's another story.) Free from the constraints of courtly protocol, they've been able to chat with their subjects to see how they were doing, or in more modern times, maybe take their kids to a fast food restaurant. Many have done these activities incognito to blend in and avoid detection.
No matter how diligently royals have tried to disguise themselves, however, the fact that history has recorded these clandestine outings proves they weren't as secret as they were probably meant to be. These not-so-secret trips also helped bolster the image of some royals as popular men and women of the people. And many more secret outings are likely lost to history.
Spain's King Juan Carlos I Rode Around On A Motorcycle, Saving Stranded Motorists
Former King of Spain Juan Carlos I escaped the confines of royal life by riding his motorcycle. He was also sure to wear his helmet with a visor for extra disguise.
The king's motorcycle rides once put him into unexpected contact with a subject: He rescued a stranded motorist who had run out of gas. After dropping the man off at a gas station, the king later admitted:
I didn't want to take off my helmet when we got there. But he kept saying he wanted to thank me, and asking my name. So I took off my helmet, said, "My name is Juan Carlos," and shook his hand. He was really quite surprised.
- Age: 82
- Birthplace: Lazio, Europe, Eurasia, Province of Rome, Rome
On May 8, 1945, all of London erupted with joy on V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day, when Germany finally surrendered to the Allied forces.
Queen Elizabeth II - then a 19-year-old princess - and her younger sister Princess Margaret desperately wanted to be part of the celebrations. So they went among millions of people on the streets of London to celebrate - and even joined a conga line. As the queen remembered decades later:
When the excitement of the flood lights being switched on got through to us, my sister and I realized we couldn't see what the crowds were enjoying. My mother had put her tiara on for the occasion, so we asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves. We cheered the king and queen on the balcony and then walked miles through the street. I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief. [...] I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.
Elizabeth and Margaret's cousin Margaret Rhodes was with them, and she claimed:
It was like a wonderful escape for the girls. I don't think they'd ever been out among millions of people. It was just freedom - to be an ordinary person.
- Age: 94
- Birthplace: Mayfair, London, London, England
In the 1980s, while hanging out in London with musician Freddie Mercury, comedian Kenny Everett, and actress Cleo Rocos at Everett's home, Princess Diana found out the trio was going to cap off their night by going to the high-profile gay bar the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
According to Rocos, Diana wanted to go, too, but worried about attracting too much attention, so she agreed to go in disguise.
Rocos later recalled:
She just wanted the thrill of going in, undetected, to order one drink, and would then leave right away, she promised. By this point she had tried on the outfit Kenny [Everett] had intended to wear - a camouflage army jacket, hair tucked up into a leather cap, and dark aviator sunglasses.
- Age: Dec. at 36 (1961-1997)
- Birthplace: Sandringham, England
England's Henry VIII was apparently a huge fan of disguises - even though they sometimes awkwardly backfired. He once met his future bride Anne of Cleves incognito in hopes that her heart would recognize his. It didn't.
According to another story, Henry struck out again when walking disguised around London at night to see how good the city constables were at their job. The problem? He was armed with a walking stick that looked like a weapon. Concerned that a man was suspiciously armed, one of the constables questioned the disguised king and locked him up for the night.
Going against type, Henry didn't imprison or execute the constable - he actually rewarded him for his diligence.
- Age: Dec. at 56 (1491-1547)
- Birthplace: Eurasia, Greenwich, United Kingdom, London, England