13 Times the British Royal Family Broke Official Protocol

Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's decision to step back from royal duty has sparked countless debates about what this fairly unprecedented break from royal protocol means. While the queen has issued an official statement saying that she and her family "are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family," she did add that "we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family."

Though the Duke and Duchess's decision to split their time between England and Canada appears to have been settled, it's likely to remain a contentious one—at least as far as the public and media are concerned—for quite some time to come. Of course, Harry and Meghan are far from the first members of the royal family who have chosen to break away from the establishment's age-old rules and conventions.

From the simple laying of a commemorative wreath to the Abdication Crisis of 1936 (not to mention a king who wasn’t even buried in England), Britain’s royal past is full of rule-breakers and convention-changers. Here are just a few of them.

1. Prince Charles represents on Remembrance Sunday // 2017

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales lays a wreath on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II during the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at The Cenotaph on November 12, 2017 in London, England
Prince Charles lays a wreath on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II during London's annual Remembrance Sunday Service on November 12, 2017.
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

In November 2017, the Queen (as usual) attended the annual Remembrance Day celebrations in London. But in a break from tradition, she opted not to place a poppy wreath at the foot of the Cenotaph Memorial as part of the ceremony, and instead asked Prince Charles to present it instead. Charles has represented the Queen in this way at every Remembrance Day since.

This wasn’t the first time the Queen chose not to take an active role in these Remembrance Day celebrations (royal tours and pregnancies had on occasion prevented her in the past), but her decision not to take part in 2017 was seen as a significant break from usual protocol. There was no ulterior motive, however: At the age of 91, the Queen had reportedly decided that the long and emotional ceremony was an arduous one, and Prince Philip’s decision that year to likewise step back from royal duty also likely affected her decision.

2. Prince George’s non-royal godparents // 2013

Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge greet Queen Elizabeth II as she arrives at the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace for Prince George's christening in 2013.
Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge greet Queen Elizabeth II as she arrives at the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace for Prince George's christening in 2013.
John Stillwell - WPA Pool /Getty Images

It’s a longstanding tradition that the godparents of royal babies are selected from within the confines of the royal family itself. But in 2013, Prince William and Kate Middleton broke with that tradition by selecting just one of Prince George’s seven godparents from their royal relatives: Zara Tindall, the eldest daughter of Princess Anne and a cousin of Prince William, was one of the seven names on the list. The other six included friends of the couple, including Oliver Baker, a friend theirs from their time together at St. Andrews University.

3. Catherine's Middleton family Christmas // 2012

Prince William and his pregnant wife Catherine leave King Edward VII hospital in December 2012, where the Duchess was being treated for acute morning sickness.
Prince William and his pregnant wife Catherine leave King Edward VII hospital in December 2012, where the Duchess was being treated for acute morning sickness.
Indigo/Getty Images

Kate Middleton was suffering from such severe morning sickness during her pregnancy in 2012 that Prince William elected to go against centuries of royal traditional and spend Christmas morning with her at the Middleton family home, rather than at Sandringham Palace. The couple then rejoined the rest of the royal family on the Sandringham Estate the following day. 

While the press seemed to sympathize with Catherine's pregnancy plight, and understand why she'd want to spend private time with her family, they weren't quite as kind when Harry and Meghan announced in November 2019 that they planned to make their first Christmas with their son Archie a more private affair and spend extended time with Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland. 

4. Windsor trumps Buckingham Palace for Harry's christening // 1984

Young Prince William entertains the royal relatives and godparents who gathered at Windsor Castle on December 21, 1984 for the christening of Prince Harry.
Young Prince William entertains the royal relatives and godparents who gathered at Windsor Castle on December 21, 1984 for the christening of Prince Harry.
Lord Snowdon via Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

It’s traditional for royal christenings to take place at Buckingham Palace, but in 2013 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge again broke from convention by arranging to have Prince George’s christening take place in the little-known Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace in London instead. They weren’t the first to break the rules, though. Back in December 1984, Prince Charles and Princess Diana had Prince Harry baptized in the chapel of Windsor Castle.

5. Prince William's history-making hospital birth // 1982

Prince Charles and Princess Diana leave the Lindo Wing of Londond's St. Mary's Hospital with baby Prince William on July 22, 1982.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana leave the Lindo Wing of London's St. Mary's Hospital with baby Prince William on July 22, 1982.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

Remarkably, when Prince William was born in the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London in 1982, he became the first heir-apparent in British royal history to have been born in a hospital. Before then, tradition had long dictated that all royal births take place in a royal residence, and be attended by private physicians.

6. Princess Diana promises to love and honor—but not obey // 1981

Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles ride in a carriage after their wedding at St. Paul's Cathedral July 29, 1981 in London.
Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles ride in a carriage after their wedding at London's St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981.
David Levenson/Getty Images

When the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) married the Duke of Edinburgh (then Philip Mountbatten) in 1947, questions were raised over the wording of the Church of England’s marriage vows—and, in particular, how appropriate it was for the future Queen to say that she will “love, cherish, and obey” her husband. After all, surely the Queen shouldn’t have to obey anyone? Regardless of the controversy, the Queen stuck to convention and read the established vows. But when Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981, she chose not to. Obey was omitted from the ceremony wording, and Diana instead declared that she would simply “have, hold, love, and cherish” her husband. The word was likewise omitted from both Prince William and Prince Harry’s marriage ceremonies in 2011 and 2018, respectively.

7. The Queen's State Opening of Parliament day dress // 1974

The British State Opening of Parliament ceremony commencing in the House of Commons with on October 29, 1974.
The British State Opening of Parliament ceremony commencing in the House of Commons with on October 29, 1974.
Evening Standard/Getty Images

It’s customary for the UK Parliament to shut down temporarily at the end of each parliamentary session (usually dictated by the calling of an election), and then be reopened by the monarch, amid much pomp and circumstance, once the new session begins. The State Opening of Parliament, as it’s known, is an elaborate affair involving full royal regalia, the sovereign’s traditional state robes, a parade of royal carriages across London, and no less than two crowns taken from the Royal Collection: The monarch wears the George IV State Diadem on their way to and from the House of Lords, but delivers their customary Speech from the throne wearing the considerably larger and more ostentatious Imperial State Crown. In February 1974, however, a snap general election was called by Prime Minister Edward Heath, and the Queen, who was in New Zealand at the time, was compelled to cut her royal visit short and attend a somewhat hastily-arranged State Opening of Parliament on March 12.

As a result, in a considerable break from tradition, the 1974 Opening was a more dressed-down affair, with the Queen wearing a day dress rather than full royal regalia; arriving at the House of Lords by car, not carriage; and delivering her speech wearing the lighter State Diadem, rather than the Imperial State Crown. She wore the same crown to the 2019 State Opening, too, although that was probably for more pragmatic reasons: the Imperial State Crown weighs more than two pounds, and the 93-year-old Queen appears to be not too keen on wearing it. “You can’t look down to read the speech,” she explained in a 2018 BBC documentary. "You have to take the speech up. Because if you did, your neck would break [and] it would fall off.”

8. Princes Charles's public school education // 1956

A general view of Hill House School near Knightsbridge in London, England.
A general view of Hill House School near Knightsbridge in London, England.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

It might seem strange today, but it was once customary for all members of the royal family not to attend any form of public education. Instead, they were taught at home by private tutors, or else in closed-door military and naval academies. Elizabeth II broke with that traditional in 1956, when she sent 8-year-old Prince Charles to Hill House School in Knightsbridge, London. After two years there, he moved to Cheam Preparatory School in Berkshire, and then on to Gordonstoun boarding school in Moray, in the far north of Scotland, in 1962. His time at Gordonstoun was apparently not a happy one, though: Charles later described the school as being like “Colditz in kilts.”

9. Queen Elizabeth II's non-political birth // 1948

The Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) at the christening of their daughter Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) in 1926.
The Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) at the christening of their daughter Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) in 1926.
The Print Collector/Getty Images

In one of the strangest royal traditions, it was once customary for the British parliament’s home secretary to attend the birth of all new members of the royal family. According to legend, this tradition was started in 1688 when rumors emerged that James II and his Queen Mary of Modena (who had suffered through a tragic series of miscarriages, stillbirths, and children who had died in infancy) tried to cover up the supposed death of their eleventh child, James Stuart, by smuggling a healthy baby into the queen’s bedchamber in a warming pan.

Regardless of how true that story may or may not be, the tradition of having a political representative on hand to ensure that nothing untoward takes place at each royal birth remained in place right through to the mid-1900s, when it was at last quietly scrapped by George VI—just in time for his daughter (now Elizabeth II) to give birth without a political representative in the room. On his birth in 1948, Prince Charles ultimately became the first member of the royal family in 250 years not to be watched over by the home secretary; the last time this tradition was enforced was in 1936.

10. King Edward VIII's abdication crisis // 1936

The Duke of Windsor and Mrs Wallis Simpson on their 1937 wedding day at France's Chateau de Conde, Monts.
The Duke of Windsor and Mrs Wallis Simpson on their 1937 wedding day at France's Chateau de Conde, Monts.
Central Press/Getty Images

When Edward VIII renounced the throne to pursue his relationship with divorcee Wallis Simpson in December 1936, he single-handedly threw the royal family, the Church of England, and the British Empire into crisis—a brief three years before the Second World War. As breaks from royal protocol go, they don’t come much bigger than that. Edward became the third monarch in English history to abdicate, but the first ever to do so voluntarily: Richard II renounced the throne and was deposed in 1399, and upon going into exile in France amid the Glorious Revolution in 1688, James II was held to have abdicated, and parliament jointly handed power over to William III and Mary II in his place.

11. Queen Victoria's royal resting place for two // 1861

The funeral of Queen Victoria, 1901 (1909). The coffin being carried into St George's Chapel, Windsor. From Harmsworth History of the World, Volume 7, by Arthur Mee, J.A. Hammerton, & A.D. Innes, M.A. (Carmelite House, London, 1909)(Photo by The Print Col
The 1901 funeral of Queen Victoria at St. George's Chapel.
The Print Collector/Getty Images

After the sudden death of her beloved Prince Albert in December 1861, Queen Victoria began to make arrangements for an entirely new resting place where both he and eventually she could be interred together. The result was the impressive Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore House in Windsor, which was completed the following year. When Victoria died in 1901 and was interred there alongside Albert, she became the first British monarch in 174 years not to be buried at either Westminster Abbey or Windsor Castle.

12. King Edward VII's archbishop-free birth // 1841

Queen Victoria and her family, circa 1863.
Queen Victoria and her family, circa 1863.
English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The royal birthing room was apparently a crowded place: As well as the home secretary, it was also once convention for the Archbishop of Canterbury to attend any royal birth, and provide a blessing for the newborn child the moment he or she appeared. In 1841, however, that tradition was broken when the archbishop and his retinue were held up on their journey to Buckingham Palace, and turned up too late to attend the birth of Queen Victoria’s first son, Albert Edward (later King Edward VII).

13. King George I's overseas resting place // 1727

Portrait of George I (1660-1727), the first Hanoverian King of Great Britain and Ireland. He ruled from 1714 until his death.
Portrait of George I (1660-1727), the first Hanoverian King of Great Britain and Ireland.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

When the House of Hanover took control of the British throne in 1714, Britain found itself with a king who had been born in Germany; who spoke German as his first language; and who—after he died suddenly while on a visit to Germany just 13 years later—even ended up being buried there, too. King George I suffered a stroke and died while traveling past Osnabruck in 1727, and was buried in the nearby Leineschloss Palace in Leine, 150 miles west of Berlin. By not having his body repatriated to British soil, George I ultimately became the first (non-exiled) British monarch not to be buried in Britain for a staggering 528 years. Unsurprisingly, he remains to this day the last British monarch not to be buried in the British Isles.

In the 1800s, Drinking Too Much Tea Could Get a Woman Sent to an Insane Asylum

The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

If you were a woman in the 19th century, virtually anything could get you committed to an insane asylum—including drinking too much tea.

NHS Grampian Archives, which covers the region around Scotland’s Grampian mountains, dug up an admissions record from the Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum while looking into the institution’s annual reports from the 1840s. The table contains data on causes of admissions categorized by sex. In addition to those admitted to the asylum for “prolonged nursing,” “poverty,” or “disappointment in love” (one man and one woman admitted for that one!), one woman arrived at the asylum only to have her issues blamed on “sedentary life—abuse of tea.”

Intrigued by the diagnosis, someone at the archives tracked down more details on the patient and posted the case notes on Facebook. Naturally, her condition involved more than just a little too much Earl Grey. Elizabeth Collie, a 34-year-old factory worker, was admitted in November 1848 after suffering from delusions, specifically delusions about machines.

Her files state that “she imagines that some species of machinery has been employed by her neighbors in the house she has been living in, which had the effect of causing pain and disorder in her head, bowels, and other parts of the body.”

Asylum employees noted that ”no cause [for her condition] can be assigned, except perhaps the excessive use of tea, to which she has always been much addicted.” She was released in June 1849.

A letter to the editors of The British Medical Journal in 1886 suggests that the suspicion of women’s tea-drinking habits was not unique to Aberdeen mental health institutions. One doctor, J. Muir Howie—who once served as a regional president for the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh, so we can assume he was relatively respectable—wrote to the publication:

Would you kindly allow me to draw attention to the fact that, among women at least, the abuse of tea frequently leads to the abuse of alcohol! My experience in connection with a home for inebriate women has led me to this conclusion. Many of the inmates, indeed, almost all of them, were enormous tea-drinkers before they became victims to alcoholic dipsomania. During their indulgence in alcohol, they rarely drink much tea; but, as soon as the former cut off, they return to the latter. In many instances, alcohol was first used to relieve the nervous symptoms produced by excessive tea drinking.

Ah, women. So susceptible to mania and vice. It's a miracle any of us stay out of the madhouse.

Remembering Tom Dempsey, the Toeless NFL Kicker Who Set a 43-Year Field Goal Record

Kicker Tom Dempsey #19 of the Philadelphia Eagles kicks off against the Washington Redskins during an NFL football game at Veterans Stadium November 10, 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Kicker Tom Dempsey #19 of the Philadelphia Eagles kicks off against the Washington Redskins during an NFL football game at Veterans Stadium November 10, 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

On April 4, 2020 former NFL legend Tom Dempsey—who set a field goal record with the New Orleans Saints nearly 50 years ago—passed away in New Orleans at the age of 73. It has been reported that Dempsey, who has been battling Alzheimer's disease and dementia since 2012, contracted coronavirus in March and his death was the result of complications from COVID-19. Read on to learn more about Dempsey's remarkable life.

 
 

Things weren't looking good for the New Orleans Saints on the evening of November 8, 1970, during a televised game against the Detroit Lions at Tulane Stadium. Though Saints quarterback Billy Kilmer had managed to connect with receiver Al Dodd on a 17-yard pass that stopped the clock, New Orleans was still down 17-16 with just two seconds left in the game. Worse yet, they were on their own 37-yard line—leaving 63 yards between them and the end zone.

Saints head coach J.D. Roberts, who had only been hired the week before, huddled with offensive coordinator Don Heinrich to quickly consider their options. There weren’t any. Suddenly, kicker Tom Dempsey, who had joined the team the year before, materialized. “I can kick it,” Dempsey told Roberts.

Dempsey would later recall that he didn’t know exactly how far the ball had to travel or that it would be an NFL record if he nailed it. If he had, he said, maybe he would’ve gotten too nervous and shanked it. But kicking the ball was what Dempsey did, even though he was born with only half of a right foot.

Heinrich sighed. There was no other choice. “Tell Stumpy to get ready,” he said.

 

Dempsey was born on January 12, 1947, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and later moved with his family to California. As a student at San Dieguito High School in Encinitas, California, Dempsey appeared unbothered by the congenital defect that resulted in a partial right foot and four missing fingers on his right hand. Dempsey wrestled and ran track. In football, he used his burly frame—he would eventually be 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weigh 255 pounds—to clobber opposing players as an offensive lineman. When coaches wanted to send opponents flying, they called in Dempsey.

After high school, Dempsey went on to attend Palomar Junior College in San Marcos, California, where he played football as a defensive end. At one point, when the team was in need of a kicker, the coach asked his players to line up and do their best to send the ball in the air. None kicked harder or farther than Dempsey, who became the kicker for the team and performed while barefoot, wrapping the end of his foot in athletic tape.

Tom Dempsey's modified football shoe is pictured
Tom Dempsey's modified football shoe.
Bullock Texas State History Museum

Playing at Palomar prepared Dempsey for a dual role as both lineman and kicker. But his strength, which made him so formidable on the field, occasionally got him into trouble on the sidelines, and he would eventually be kicked off the Palomar team for punching one of his coaches. After the incident, Dempsey tried out for the Green Bay Packers but found the physicality of professional players a little too much for him to handle. Rather than get into on-field collisions as an offensive lineman, he decided to focus solely on the aptitude he seemed to have for kicking. He eventually earned a spot on the San Diego Chargers practice squad in 1968. There, head coach Sid Gillman decided to encourage his choice of position—with some modifications.

Gillman enlisted an orthopedist to help develop a special leather shoe for Dempsey to wear. The boot had a block of leather 1.75 inches thick at one end and was mostly flat. Instead of kicking it soccer-style, as most players do today, Dempsey was able to use his leg like a mallet and hammer the ball with a flat, blunt surface.

The shoe, which cost $200 to fabricate, came in handy when Dempsey joined the Saints in 1969. He made 22 out of 41 field goals his rookie year and found himself in the Pro Bowl. But the 1970 season was comparatively dismal, and the Saints were holding a 1-5-1 record when they met the Detroit Lions on that night in November.

With two seconds left, “Stumpy” (Dempsey found the nickname affectionate rather than offensive) trotted onto the field. At 63 yards, he would have to best the then-record set by Baltimore Colts kicker Bert Rechichar in 1953 by seven yards.

No one appeared to think this was within the realm of possibility—you could almost hear a chuckle in CBS commentator Don Criqui's voice when he announced that Dempsey would be attempting the feat. Even the Lions seemed apathetic, not overly concerned with attempting to smother the play.

The ball was snapped by Jackie Burkett and received by Joe Scarpati, who gave it a quarter-turn. Dempsey remembered advice once given to him by kicking legend Lou “The Toe” Groza: Keep your head down and follow through. He took a step toward the ball and swung his leg like a croquet mallet, smashing into the football with a force that those on or near the field compared to a loud bang or a cannon. It sailed 63 yards to the goal post, which at the time was positioned directly on the goal line, and just made it over the crossbar.

Below, the referee threw his hands in the air to indicate the kick was good, punctuating it with a little hop of excitement. Dempsey was swarmed by his teammates and coaches. Don Criqui’s attitude in the booth quickly switched from amusement to incredulity. The Saints had won, 19-17.

“I don’t believe this,” Criqui exclaimed.

Neither could fans. In an era before instant replay, ESPN, or YouTube, you either caught Dempsey’s game-winning play or you heard about it at work or school the next week. Owing to its fleeting existence in the moment, schoolyards and offices filled with stories about how Dempsey’s boot may have somehow been augmented with a steel plate or other modification to boost his kicking prowess.

No such thing occurred, though that didn’t stop criticism. Tex Schramm, an executive with the Dallas Cowboys and chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, thought the shoe was an unfair advantage that allowed Dempsey to smash the ball like a golf club hitting a dimpled target. In 1977, the NFL instituted the “Tom Dempsey Rule,” which mandates that anyone and everyone has to wear a shoe shaped like a full foot. There would be no more allowances for special orthopedic shapes.

Dempsey appeared to take it all in stride. Shortly after his victorious kick, he received a letter from President Richard Nixon congratulating him on his inspirational demonstration. Immediately after the game, police officers went in to congratulate him by handing him cases of Dixie beer. Dempsey's girlfriend (and future wife) Carlene recalled that he didn’t come home for days due to rampant partying. When he finally settled down, they got married.

 

Dempsey spent a total of 11 years in the NFL, playing for the Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Oilers, and finally the Buffalo Bills. In total, he made 159 field goals out of 258 attempts. For the next several decades, he would work as a salesman in the oil industry and manage a car lot before retiring in 2008 and settling down back near New Orleans. Over the years, Dempsey made several appearances at autograph shows, where he was regularly peppered with questions about the one kick that defined his career.

Almost as amazing as the kick was its attrition in the record books. While several other men managed to tie Dempsey’s record, it wasn’t until Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos kicked a 64-yard field goal on December 8, 2013, that it was finally broken—almost 43 years to the day. Some observers note that most of these notable field goals took place in Denver, where the air is thin and presumably more hospitable to kicking for distance. Dempsey managed it in New Orleans—and without toes.

Curiously, Dempsey’s legendary play was actually foreshadowed one year earlier. On October 5, 1969, he kicked a 55-yard field goal in Los Angeles. That was just one yard shy of the record he would obliterate the following year.

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