There are clear guidelines to be observed when The Queen or a member of the Royal Family is to attend an official function. Efficient liaison between the host's office and Buckingham Palace is essential.
While one would wish to accord pre-eminence to senior members of the royal family and their retinues, common sense should also prevail. Whereas in some situations social rank may still be deemed to be of utmost importance, at the majority of functions considerations such as professional status and age are now treated as equally determining factors.
The nature of the occasion provides the most telling guide and should offer indications as to the relative significance of guests. Clearly, a guest of honour must be seated so as to reflect his or her status, and, by way of example, the chairman of a host company, the MP of the constituency in which a function is held, a foreign dignitary whose country is being honoured, or a benefactor should all be recognised and seated appropriately.
Precedence: Lord Mayors and Mayors
The Lord Mayor of London has precedence throughout his City immediately after the Sovereign, and elsewhere immediately after earls. Other lord mayors and mayors (lord provosts and provosts in Scotland), as well as council chairmen, have precedence immediately after the royal family on their own civic premises, and after the lord-lieutenant elsewhere in their city or borough.
On occasion these guests may as a courtesy yield their precedence to a guest of honour, or, for example, to an archbishop at a church function, to the Speaker of the House of Commons or the Lord Speaker at a parliamentary function, to the Lord Chief Justice or the Master of the Rolls at a legal function, etc. Outside their areas of jurisdiction all (except the Lord Mayor of London) have no precedence other than that which courtesy, or the occasion, may demand.
Ambassadors, high commissioners and chargés d'affaires should be placed at the top table, their relative precedence being strictly observed (The London Diplomatic List, published at two-monthly intervals by HMSO, gives a roll of the heads of diplomatic missions in London in order of precedence).
As a general rule diplomatic representatives from countries that do not enjoy diplomatic relations with each other should not be invited to the same function. When, as sometime happens, it is necessary to invite them, care should be taken to avoid placing them near each other.
Precedence: Top Table
Ministers of the Crown and privy counsellors should be placed at the top table. Important dignitaries of the established church are placed high among the guests. High dignitaries of other churches should, as a courtesy, be accorded status immediately after those of the same rank from the established Church.
When a function takes place within premises belonging to an organisation, a senior representative of that organisation should be invited and placed high among the guests.
When the principal guest is the Sovereign or other head of state, a member of the Royal Family, a prime minister, a member of the Cabinet or someone of comparable importance, the need to invite some or all of the following, and their partners should be considered:
The lord-lieutenant of the county
The lord mayor, lord provost, mayor or provost of the city, borough etc.
The high sheriff of the county
The chairman of the county council
Those who accept would be placed in this order of precedence after such principal guests.
Refer to the Address Expert for all questions relating to correct forms of address.