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Times Queen Elizabeth II Broke Protocol (And Why)

Updated April 8, 2021 6.4k votes 974 voters 57.3k views12 items

List RulesVote up the most surprising times Queen Elizabeth II broke protocol.

As the longest-reigning monarch in British history, Queen Elizabeth II represents tradition enduring in a rapidly changing world. But at times Queen Elizabeth broke protocol for a variety of reasons.

Since becoming queen in 1952, Elizabeth has largely followed established protocols that govern what she can do in public or her household, or how people can behave around her. These rules are meant to preserve the rank and dignity of the queen, the people surrounding her, and the monarchy as an institution.

But even the queen knows that some protocols can be cast aside. Whether by honoring the life of a mentor like Winston Churchill, sneaking into crowds to celebrate the end of a cataclysmic world conflict, or brushing aside precedent to get with the times, Queen Elizabeth II has demonstrated again and again that some rules are made to be broken.

  • Photo: Edvvc / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    She Appeared In A James Bond Short Video For The 2012 London Olympics

    Sometimes Queen Elizabeth II breaks protocol for PR or politics - and sometimes she breaks protocol just for fun.

    In 2012, the eyes of the world landed on London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Danny Boyle-directed opening ceremony celebrated British history and culture, and included cameos from a number of famous Brits.

    The ceremony also featured a short film in which James Bond meets Queen Elizabeth II before taking her to the Olympics. 

    Filmmaker Danny Boyle preferred to have the real queen, not just an actress, in the film. When he discussed the idea for the film with the palace, Elizabeth was enthused and delighted by the proposal and wanted to be sure she would get to deliver lines. As remembered by the queen's former dresser Angela Kelly:

    There are few occasions on which Her Majesty will agree to break protocol, but in 2011 when film director Danny Boyle approached the Royal Household, he had a request to make that we simply could not refuse. [The Queen] was very amused by the idea and agreed immediately. I asked then if she would like a speaking part. Without hesitation, Her Majesty replied: "Of course I must say something. After all, [James Bond] is coming to rescue me."

  • Photo: Philip Allfrey / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 2.0

    She Reportedly Attended Her Former Housekeeper's Funeral In 2019

    As the world's most recognizable living royal, Queen Elizabeth II fully understands her star power: She knows that she will attract attention, wanted or not, wherever she goes. Consequently, the queen adheres to a policy to not attend events in which her presence would detract from the issue at hand. That's why British royals in general and Elizabeth in particular generally stay away from funerals - they don't want to take the spotlight away from the person being honored and mourned.

    Elizabeth has made some exceptions over the years. She attended Winston Churchill's service in 1965, for example. She has also attended funerals of a less political and more personal nature. When her longtime Windsor Castle housekeeper Annette Wilkin passed in 2019, Elizabeth decided to attend her private service. Royal correspondent Rebecca English described Elizabeth's decision as "a rare honor" that demonstrates how highly the queen regarded Wilkin.

  • Photo: S Kozakiewicz /

    She Changed The Rules So Boys Don't Automatically Leap Ahead Of Girls In The Line Of Succession

    For centuries, tradition and law had it that the sons of British kings and queens would leapfrog over their older sisters to inherit the throne. That's what happened when Henry VIII skipped over his two elder daughters Mary and Elizabeth to give the crown to his young son Edward when he passed; and when Edward VII became monarch instead of his older sister when Queen Victoria passed in 1901.

    But that all changed in the 21st century. According to the Perth Agreement in 2011 and the subsequent Succession of the Crown Act in 2013, birth order, not gender, would be the ultimate determining factor of an individual's place in the line of succession. 

    The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's daughter, Charlotte, was the first princess whose place didn't change after the birth of her younger brother Prince Louis in 2018.

    Elizabeth explained the significance of the change: "It encourages us to find ways to show girls and women to play their full part."

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    She Bowed To Princess Diana's Casket

    Video: YouTube

    Princess Diana passed in a car crash in August 1997. Because Diana was technically no longer a member of the royal family - she had divorced Prince Charles in 1996 - Queen Elizabeth II saw the incident as a tragic private matter and focused her efforts on supporting her young grandchildren, Diana and Charles's sons Princes William and Harry, while they were at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

    The public, however, wanted more from the queen and labeled her reaction as cold and uncaring. The press heaped even more pressure on the royal family, adding to the public's perception that the queen was unfeeling, remote, and perhaps even unneeded in a modern country. 

    Elizabeth acted swiftly to defuse the situation. According to biographer Sally Bedell Smith:

    [T]he queen grasped the gravity of the situation - not only that her absence was endangering the monarchy itself, but that she needed to fulfill her role as the nation's leader in a time of crisis.

    So Elizabeth returned to London and gave a televised speech that acknowledged the loss of her one-time daughter-in-law. During the public service, the queen departed from protocol to bow her head as Diana's casket passed by on its solemn procession to Westminster Abbey. The queen is supposed to bow her head to no one, but she made an exception for the "People's Princess."