Royals are expected to follow a lot of rules, but sometimes they decide to go rogue and do what they want anyway. Usually, the rule-breakers are younger royals (we're looking at you, Fab Four), but sometimes even senior members of the royal family step out of the traditional lines. The most recent royal rule-breaker is pretty damn senior in The Firm—it's Queen Elizabeth herself.
If you've watched The Crown, then you know all about Elizabeth's historical unwavering dedication to doing thing by the royal rule book, even if it meant, say, breaking her sister's heart and not giving her the green light to marry the man of her dreams or upsetting her husband by refusing to take his last name. The point is: Elizabeth has always taken the rules of being royal very seriously—which is why it's such a shock that she's been breaking them (even subtly) lately.
What royal rule has Queen Elizabeth broken?
Traditionally, members of the British royal family are expected to be apolitical in public. This means they can't vote or even express political views.
According to the royal family's website, Queen Elizabeth must remain “strictly neutral with respect to political matters” and is “unable to vote or stand for election.”
How did Queen Elizabeth break the royal rule about politics?
As with so many things in current British politics, it was about Brexit, the U.K.'s controversial decision to leave the European Union, which has continued to be the subject of intense, heated debate since it was voted on in 2016.
The Queen's Brexit reference came during a speech honoring the centenary of the Sandringham Women’s Institute (WI) this week. In her speech, the Queen called for civility and respect in what many interpreted as a reference to the increasingly toxic Brexit debate in England.
In the speech, she said:
“The continued emphasis on patience, friendship, a strong community-focus and considering the needs of others are as important today as they were when the group was founded all those years ago.
"Of course, every generation faces fresh challenges and opportunities. As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture. To me, these approaches are timeless, and I commend them to everyone.”
This wasn't the first time Elizabeth has made comments that seemed to reference Brexit. During her Christmas address, she said:
"Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding."
It's important to note that Elizabeth's comments, while seemingly tied to Brexit, don't include a clear stance on whether the monarch thinks England should stay in or leave the European Union, meaning she's still working to keep her personal political beliefs private.
What do people think about the Queen's Brexit references?
Opinions are mixed about whether Elizabeth should be making even the veiled comments she's making about Brexit.
"I don’t think Her Majesty should be wading in," Sean O’Grady, an editor of The Independent, who supports a second referendum, wrote, according to the New York Times. "It would have been much better to stay silent and allow the politicians and people—through a Final Say referendum—to resolve things."
What role does Meghan Markle play in the Queen's rule-breaking?
It's possible that the Queen has been inspired (or at least emboldened) to talk politics by her new granddaughter-in-law, Meghan Markle.
Meghan has broken plenty of royal rules and protocols since joining the royal family, but the rule about political opinions is the one that many familiar with the former actress' activism have always thought would be the most difficult for her to follow. Meghan is (or was, anyway) an outspoken advocate of several liberal causes, like women's rights and animal rights.
Of course, this isn't the first time Elizabeth has made waves by making a statement that was interpreted as being political. In 2014, before Meghan joined the royal ranks, the Queen was criticized for saying, on the eve of a referendum on Scottish independence, "I hope people will think very carefully about the future." The comment was interpreted as being pro unionist.