The History Behind The Royal Family Autograph Ban

It's well known that the British royal family has a long and imposing list of rules they must follow due to strict protocols. Several of the mandates indicate what royals are specifically prohibited from doing, as reported by CBS News. That includes voting and sharing political opinions and views. No flying with a fellow direct heir to the throne after a certain age, meaning King Charles and Prince William must take separate flights when travelling together, and when Prince George turns 12 he will have to fly separately from his father, Prince William. Eating shellfish is off the plate, so to speak, as the risk of food poisoning is too great.

And no signing autographs. The reason for the ban on autographs is sensible –  if someone has a copy of a royal's signature, there's a possibility of forging the signature and committing fraud. As evidenced by the other rules followed by the royal family, one of the purposes of following the protocols is to avoid risk as much as possible. 

According to The Telegraph, King Charles reportedly has a stock response of simply explaining that he's not allowed to do so when someone asks for his signature. He did famously break protocol once in 2010 when he paid a visit to the Lostwithiel area after the destructive Cornwall floods leveled several houses and businesses in the region. Upon meeting local couple Tony and Meg Hendy, whose house was drenched and full of mud, Charles asked if there was anything he could do to help them.

Royal autographs are incredibly rare

The Telegraph reported that Meg Hendy replied, "Can I be really cheeky please, Sir, and can I have your autograph for my young son Tom? I'm not sure if you do autographs but it would make his day." The then-Prince of Wales broke royal protocol and proceeded to ask one of his assistants for a piece of paper, wrote "Charles 2010," and presented it to the Hendys, even going so far as to apologize for the shaky writing, explaining he "never writes while standing up." 

It seems unlikely that the Hendys would consider selling this very rare autograph from the man who has since become the King of England, but if they were to do so, it would likely be a profitable sale. As Paul Fraser, chairman of Just Collecting, wrote on LinkedIn, the majority of Charles' correspondence, along with that of other members of the royal family, is signed via autopen, making handwritten signatures all the more rare. Items featuring Charles' signature have already gone up in price since he ascended to the throne as Charles III. A Christmas card signed by Charles and the late Princess Diana that sold for £3,500 (or about $4,048) in 2021 is now valued at £4,500 (or about $5,205). Charles is now using the signature "Charles R," with the R standing for "Rex," in his new role as king. Genuine, hand-signed "Charles R" autographs are expected to be even rarer than other versions of his signature, driving up the prices for all of Charles' signatures. 

Younger royals might be less concerned with protocol

King Charles is not the only member of the royal family to break protocol and sign an autograph, although when Meghan Markle did so, her workaround cleverly avoided using her actual signature. In January 2018, per People, Markle embarked upon her first round of official visits alongside her then-fiance, Prince Harry. As they greeted well-wishers outside Cardiff Castle in Wales, 10-year-old Caitlin Clark asked Markle for an autograph. The future Duchess of Sussex took a pen and wrote "Hi Kaitlin" — with a K — and embellished the greeting with a heart and smiley face. Clark didn't mind the misspelling, telling reporters, "I don't really care. My heart is still racing. I've never got a royal autograph before. This is going to make everyone jealous." 

Markle is not the only younger royal to break a protocol regarding requests from the public. In May 2022, per Suggest, Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, visited Scotland and met with the Wheatley Group, an organization that works with houseless people. While touring a building run by the group, they took a selfie with a well-wisher. Protocol discourages royals from taking selfies; not only was Queen Elizabeth reportedly not a fan of them, but it's considered improper to turn one's back on a royal. According to another posting at Suggest, many have speculated that William and Kate plan to modernize the monarchy and be more approachable and less closed-off from the public. Perhaps royal selfies will soon be commonplace.