This year, Trooping the Colour will take place on June 17, and as part of that tradition, various members of the Queen's family will join her up on the balcony at Buckingham Palace. This isn't just a casual family jaunt into the open air — there's a strict protocol about who gets an invite. And of course there's drama about who stands where.
Who stands on the balcony?
There's no fixed list of attendees, since the group is tailored to each occasion. It will however always include the monarch and his or her spouse, plus the first and second in line to the throne, along with their spouses. One steadfast rule is the familiar "no ring, no bring," so no boyfriends or girlfriends allowed. This means we won't be seeing Meghan Markle up there unless it's preceded by a proposal.
Who started the tradition?
As with many recent royal practices, this one was started by Queen Victoria. During the opening celebrations of the Great Exhibition in 1851, she was the first monarch to utilize the balcony as a way to greet her subjects. Seven years later she also instigated the family going out onto the balcony to acknowledge the crowds who had gathered for the wedding of her daughter Princess Victoria, and an iconic royal wedding tradition was born.
Who stands where?
The Queen and Prince Philip usually stand in the centre of the balcony, unless it's a royal wedding, in which case the bride and groom take center stage. There are no designated spots for the different members of the family — so it's not a case of Prince Charles always being on the left, or Prince William always on the right — but on most occasions the first and second in line to the throne — Charles and William — plus their wives and children will always be grouped around the Queen.
On which occasions do the family appear?
The most regular — and the one with the largest group — is Trooping the Colour, the annual celebration of the sovereign's birthday, which is always held on a Saturday in June. After the Queen inspects her troops, she and her family process in carriages back to Buckingham Palace where they make their traditional balcony appearance. Invitees include descendants of the Queen, her sister and her cousins, plus their spouses. The group often tips the 30+ mark, and for the Queen's 90th birthday last year, there were over 40 family members gathered.
Ever since the wedding of Princess Victoria in 1858, it has been customary for royal brides and grooms to acknowledge the crowds below. The image of kissing newlyweds on the balcony has become so iconic, it is perhaps surprising to note that it has only happened on three occasions.
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were the first to kiss for the crowds, followed by Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson—who joked around pretending they didn't hear the request, before obliging. On William and Kate's wedding day, they kissed twice as the crowds cheered wildly.
Not all royal couples end up on the balcony on their wedding day though, as some marry outside London. Prince Edward and Peter Phillips both chose to get married in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, and Zara Phillips' wedding took place in Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh.
Major anniversary of the monarch's coronation always ensure a little balcony action, but with a far smaller group. For the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, which marked 25 years on the throne, there were just nine people present: the Queen, her husband, their four children, and her mother, sister, and cousin. For her Golden Jubilee (50 years) in 2002, it was a larger crowd, made up of her children plus their spouses and offspring.
The Diamond Jubilee (60 years) marked a stark contrast with the previous celebration; just five figures stood beside the monarch. With Prince Philip in the hospital, it was Prince Charles, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry taking center stage. The message was clear — here was the stripped-down future of the royal family.
Coronations and Major State Occasions
There have been less than a handful of balcony appearances following a coronation — and the most recent was of course that of the Queen's in 1953. She appeared on a jam-packed balcony with her attendants and her family, including a young Prince Charles. She was also present for her father King George VI's coronation appearance when she was 11.
In times of war, a balcony appearance is sometimes deemed appropriate. It's a reminder that the monarch is not merely a ceremonial figurehead — the kings and queens are a potent national symbol for their people, and their appearance cements that relationship.
On August 4th 1914, when the UK officially went to war with Germany, King George V was called out onto the balcony three times by the crowds below, who were looking for reassurance from their head of state.
To commemorate the end of World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared alongside the King and Queen and their daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The family made eight appearances throughout the day, and during the final one, Elizabeth and Margaret slipped into the crowd to experience the celebrations with everyone else.