Meghan Markle, Prince Harry & the End of "Old Etiquette"

Find out which royal rules, if any, will remain in place for the couple's upcoming wedding

By Rebecca Macatee Jan 10, 2018 1:00 PMTags

When Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry, the "old etiquette" need not apply.

The countdown is on to May 19, when the royal and the about-to-be former actress will say "I do" at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Expect a most celebratory atmosphere to envelop the U.K. in the weeks leading up to the big day—which happens to be a Saturday, your first indicator that all won't be according to the usual royal protocol.

But while the ceremony itself will almost certainly include traditional elements, it will most likely adhere to a new, more modern set of wedding etiquette rules than what we've seen utilized by past generations, or even by Prince William and Kate Middleton just seven years ago. 

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This will be the first wedding for Harry and the second for Meghan, who was previously married to producer Trevor Engelson from 2011 to 2013. There are "old-fashioned traditions...[and] certain things that you 'don't do'" with a second wedding, says British etiquette expert Grant Harrold, but these "old-fashioned rules" aren't necessarily relevant for Harry and Meghan's big day.

"We're talking about the 21st century," Harrold, a former butler for Prince Charles, tells E! News exclusively. "And we're talking about a very modern young couple—a new generation of royals."

And whether's it's a royal wedding or a regular one, a second-time bride can "yes, absolutely" wear a white dress, says Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of manners maven Emily Post and co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast.

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Under "old etiquette," couples "almost tried to make a second wedding a very discrete situation," Post tells E! News. "I think that so many people have come to find partners at different points in their lives who fit them so well and wonderfully, and [they] want to be able to celebrate that, and their family and friends want to be able to celebrate that."

Post says a bride "can do absolutely everything that she did for her first wedding"—and so can the groom, if it's his second time down the aisle. "The only difference would be—and this is one that usually gets ignored—but folks who were invited to [his or] her first wedding are not obligated to give a gift at [his or] her second wedding."

Gift registries are "fine" for encore weddings, says Post—although we're betting Harry, 33, and Meghan, 36, already have a toaster and all the kitchenware they need. The future spouses may actually follow William and Kate's lead and ask guests to donate to charity rather than actually give them wedding presents.

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Of course, William and Kate did still receive gifts from around the world when they wed back in 2011, and Harry and Meghan are likely to as well. And just as William and Kate became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they married, Harry and Meghan will also have new titles bestowed upon them by the queen.

"It is likely that they will become a duke and duchess, but it is not a guarantee," William Hanson, another leading royal etiquette expert in the U.K., tells E! News. "They will be given something—Prince Harry might become an earl, and then the wife's title would be countess...but I highly suspect he will become the Duke of Sussex and thus she will become the Duchess of Sussex."

Meghan, an American, will go through the process of becoming a British citizen just like any other applicant. This may take some time, but it hasn't delayed the bride-to-be from getting an early start on her royal role. In late 2017, the Suits star not only started making public appearances with Harry, she also spent Christmas with Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of the royal family. This was "huge," says Harrold, and it's a clear indication of how certain royal "rules" are becoming more relaxed. 

Another indication of the monarchy modernizing? Harry and Meghan's engagement photos. Hanson points out how these portraits "are very lovely but much more intimate," adding, "[They're] not very royal, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. If you compare them to William and Catherine's [engagement] portraits which were a little more formal and more traditional, these are pushing the royal boundaries, and probably for the better."

That's not to say, though, that certain traditions don't still have a place in the royal family. As Hanson puts it, "You have got to remember that the monarchy is an institution that goes back thousands of years, so we can't suddenly become too soap opera-y or too informal. There's a time and a place for formality."

Picking up on protocol and royal etiquette won't be too difficult for Prince Harry's future wife. Harrold says as an American woman marrying a prince in the U.K., Meghan "will of course have things to learn from an etiquette point of view, but the chances are she'll probably already know of them, or she'll find them very easy. Nothing will be too complicated for her to pick up on."

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"The thing about etiquette is, it's always evolving. Rules are always changing," says Harrold. He points out how Meghan politely declined to take a selfie with a fan during a royal appearance—a clear indication that she's on board with what appears to be "one of the newer rules" for royals. "It's not a problem—it's how it works," he adds. 

When Meghan was a public figure without any official ties to royalty, there were times in which it would have been appropriate for fans to have asked for her autograph. But now? "No more doing that," Harrold says. "You can never ask a royal for an autograph. They're not allowed...because you know, it's a royal signature, therefore autographs will be something that she'll no longer do."

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Like her future husband and brother- and sister-in-law-to-be, Meghan seems fairly down-to-earth and approachable—but there are still certain rules to follow when meeting any member of the royal family, and Meghan still has plenty of more family members to meet.

"It's not just as simple as walking up to them," says Harrold. "I would always strongly recommend if you really do want to go up and say hello to them, it's a case of hopefully knowing someone they know and just saying, 'It'd be wonderful to meet them. Is it possible for you to introduce us?' It's always good to have an introduction rather than just go up to someone, but that's kind of the same with etiquette in general in the U.K."

As a Brit or a citizen of the Commonwealth, men should offer a neck bow and women should offer a curtsy when meeting a member of the royal family. At this point, the royal can choose to extend his or her hand for a handshake (but not the other way around). Americans aren't required to bow or curtsy, but as Hanson points out, "it is a nice sign of respect."

Even royals do this for senior members of the royal family—which means Meghan "will have to curtsy when she sees the queen...[or] anyone higher than Prince Harry," says Hanson. "That does include Prince George and Princess Charlotte and the unnamed unborn baby—although in reality, she is not going to curtsy to a baby."

This will likely only take place at "some of the more formal events" when Meghan is taking on "a ceremonial role," Hanson notes. "But it won't be a lot—and it's more—you're not bowing or curtsying to the person, you're bowing or curtsying to the office, and to what they represent."