How Queen Elizabeth Reportedly Broke Royal Protocol after Princess Diana’s Death
The death of Princess Diana in August 1997 caused unprecedented actions by the Queen as a sensitive and challenging situation led to her breaking royal protocol.
After news of Princess Diana’s fatal car crash in Paris broke, the British nation experienced a period of grief on a scale previously unheard of as thousands gathered to mourn the death of the “people’s princess.”
Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a Gina Fratina gown and the Queen Mary Tiara, attends a farewell banquet on April 29, 1983, in Aukland, New Zealand. | Source: Getty Images.
The Queen’s duty to her family and the nation put her in a difficult situation. She had to protect the two Princes who just lost their mother but also had to respond to public feeling while adhering to royal protocol.
As the public gathered outside Buckingham Palace, they noticed that the palace’s flag was not displayed while every major building in London was flying the Union Jack at half mast. The public wanted answers and saw the absence of the flag as a sign of indifference.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother outside Westminster Abbey, London for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales on September 6, 1997. | Source: Getty Images.
However, in the royal biographer, Penny Junor’s 2017 book, “The Duchess: The Untold Story,” she explained that a lack of compassion had nothing to do with it.
“The Royal Standard only flies when the monarch is in residence, and it never flies at half-mast because technically the country is never without a monarch – a fact expressed in the age-old saying, ‘The King is dead long live the King’. Therefore, while every other flag in Britain was lowered, there was no flag flying at Buckingham Palace,” she said.
The Prince of Wales, Prince William and Prince Harry look at floral tributes to Diana, Princess of Wales outside Kensington Palace on September 5, 1997, in London, England. | Source: Getty Images.
From Penny’s perspective, the royal family’s reaction up until that point highlighted problems within the monarchy as she added. “It seemed symbolic of everything that was wrong with the monarchy – stiff, hidebound and out-of-touch – compared with everything that was so perfect about Diana, who was warm, compassionate and loving.”
The public demanded that the royals do away with protocol and eventually, the Queen caved. On the day of Princess Diana’s funeral, for the first time in history, the Union Jack got raised to half-mast over Buckingham Palace.
The break in protocol became a permanent change as the flag flies from the Palace when the Queen is not in residence.
Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Earl Spencer, Prince William, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, follow the coffin of Diana The Princess of Wales towards Westminster Abbey for her funeral service on 06 September 1997. | Source: Getty Images.
Since Princess Diana’s death, the flag also got flown at half-mast after the deaths of other Royal Family members, and at times of national mourning, like the 2005 terrorist London bombings and the attacks in Christchurch in 2019.
The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales at Westminster Abbey in London, September 6, 1997. The line-up of family members as the coffin leaves the Abbey after the ceremony. | Source: Getty Images
When Prince Charles went to Paris to retrieve Princess Diana’s body, he insisted on taking a royal flight. While the Queen would not agree to this at first, she later relented.
Since Princess Diana and Prince Charles got divorced in 1996, she got stripped of her royal title and therefore had no right to royal traditions, according to protocol.
Earl Spencer, Prince William, Prince Harry, Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh follow the coffin to the funeral cortege of Diana, Princess of Wales as it arrives at Westminster Abbey on September 6, 1997, in London, England. | Source: Getty Images.
The break in protocol continued when Diana’s coffin made its way to Westminster Abbey draped in the Royal Standard. A flag otherwise strictly reserved for the royal family and the monarch.
And then came the moment that stunned the nation. On the way to Westminster Abbey, the cortege passed Buckingham Palace. The Queen and the rest of the royal family stood at the west gate, and as the coffin passed, the Queen bowed.
Prince Charles accepts flowers after he and Prince William, and Prince Harry arrived at Kensington Palace in London, Friday, Sept. 5, 1997. | Source: Getty Images.
While it was a clear break in tradition, the gesture of respect got welcomed by the public, who had questioned her lack in showing emotion.
The way Princess Diana died became a hot topic among conspiracy theorists and people worldwide alike.
While ongoing investigations continued to uncover new information, a top forensic pathologist claimed that Princess Diana’s injuries shouldn’t have killed her.