The world of royals and nobles includes a fascinating collection of intriguing terminology, curious names and fascinating phraseology. 

Many of these terms date back numerous centuries, with their origins in the royal courts of the ages, often during medieval times when life and society were vastly different to what they are today. 

As a result, it can sometimes be confusing as to what certain royal terms and regal references mean. 

One such term is the idea of a Royal Standard. 

What Is The Royal Standard? 

The Royal Standard is a heraldic flag used by the royal family. 

Royal Standard of the United Kingdom
The Royal Standard of the United Kingdom – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Its most famous use is when flown above a palace or royal residence to indicate that the sovereign is present. 

For example, throughout much of the 20th and early 21st century, visitors to London, England would delight to see the Royal Standard flag hoisted high above Buckingham Palace, as that would mean that the Queen was resident, rather than away at one of her castles or on a royal tour elsewhere in the world. 

Since the death of Queen Elizabeth, the sight of the Royal Standard being raised above Buckingham Palace now indicates the presence of the new King of England, King Charles III

The Royal Standard is not only used for the main royal residence of the British Royal Family, i.e. Buckingham Palace. This historic flag is also used when the king or queen is resident in their other country estates, castles or palaces. For example, the British Royal Standard may also be seen flying high above the Balmoral Estate in Scotland, the Sandringham residence in Norfolk, or Windsor Castle in Windsor. 

Other Uses Of The Royal Standard

The most famous use of the Royal Standard is to indicate when a monarch is in residence, yet this is not the only time this noteworthy flag will be seen in royal circles. 

Those who line the pavements to witness members of royalty being driven from one venue to another, particularly during state occasions or formal events, will no doubt be familiar with the distinctive small flag that is attached to the front of royal cars or carriage. 

This is another use of the Royal Standard, in diminutive form, to reflect the presence of royalty, usually the reigning monarch, within the vehicle. 

Members of royalty often travel in convoy with their extended family members or entourage, and so the respective flags displayed on the front of royal vehicles can indicate which ones are carrying members of royalty. 

Although this is another common use of the Royal Standard, it takes a keen eye to spot which flags on the front of cars are the official mark of royal occupants, as some members of royalty have their own personal flag (which is not the Royal Standard.) 

Additionally, some non-royal individuals may also travel with a flag flying on the front of their car to represent their own status or that of another nation. 

For example, when the President of the United States or other global leaders visit another country, they will often display their nation’s flag on the state vehicles as they travel to ceremonies or formal events. 

Diplomatic officials may also travel in cars with the relevant flag flying, as a way to demonstrate that they are in diplomatic service, along with the nation that they represent. 

The Royal Standard & State Funerals

Throughout the lifetimes of many royals, they will have been surrounded by images and representations of the Royal Standard, yet there is one final appearance that will signify the end of their role, and their life. 

The sight of the Royal Standard flag at the state funerals of high-ranking royals is one of the most iconic and historic images relating to royal funeral ceremonies. 

For the many millions who watched the numerous funeral services and lying-in-state ceremonies that were carried out for the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2022, the Royal Standard was a common appearance, as it was ceremonially laid over the coffin whenever it was transported between venues, or at rest within the churches, castles and royal halls. 

This last connection with the famous flag, one that has been such an enduring part of a monarch’s life, is a poignant end to a royal tradition. It’s a tradition that goes with the sovereign even beyond their death, as the Royal Standard flag is historically buried along with the deceased king or queen. 

Controversy & The British Royal Standard

As you might expect with such a noble and historic royal tradition, there are some strict rules and regulations when it comes to the use of a Royal Standard. This is especially true in the matter of royal funerals when a Royal Standard flag is customarily draped over the coffin. 

When Princess Diana, the former Princess of Wales, died in 1997, there was great speculation about whether her coffin would be covered with the Royal Standard. This was because Princess Diana had lost her HRH status during the divorce agreements when her marriage to Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, ended

As the Princess was no longer deemed to be an official high-ranking member of the British Royal Family, there was some discussion over whether it would be appropriate or correct protocol for her coffin to be covered with such a historic flag, that had been the sole right of sovereigns and royals for centuries. 

Ultimately, however, it was decided that a Royal Standard could be used for the transportation of the coffin as it was flown from Paris where she had died, as well as during the official funeral ceremonies. While this may have been seen by some as a break from tradition and beyond the ancient rules regarding the use of the Royal Standard, for many it was seen as a mark of the respect of the royal family for the woman who was the mother of the heirs to the British throne.  

The Royal Standard is a well-known and highly recognisable image that has come to represent much more than the presence of royalty or sovereigns. It has become a visual reference of many centuries of royal heritage, as well as an iconic symbol of modern royalty that is recognised around the world.