Yesterday the Dutch royal couple, King Willem Alexander and Queen Máxima, together with their three daughters, had a private audience with Pope Francis. Details of the 15-minute meeting remain confidential and it is said that the king requested no photos be published of it. But one photo did emerge today via L’Osservatore Romano, a standard picture of the royal family posing with the Holy Father (who seemingly continues to fail in hiding his lack of enthusiasm for such staged photographs).
Almost every single media report of the meeting I have read mentions the fact that Queen Máxima wears a black veil because she is the wife of a non-Catholic monarch, and were he Catholic, she would have the right to wear white in the presence of the Pope. But that is not true.
The privilège du blanc is accorded to a number of Catholic queens and princesses (and one duchess) who can choose to exercise this privilege (they are not bound by it). All other royal and noble ladies, and other heads of state, are expected to hold to the protocol of wearing a long black dress with sleeves and a high collar and a black mantilla (although other colours are on the increase in addition to black, but etiquette dictates the above). The privilege is granted by the Pope to specific royal families on his discretion. He last did so in 2013, when the Holy See press office confirmed that Monaco’s Princess Charlene was within her right to wear white in accordance with the privilege, which was never before accorded to Monegasque princesses.
Currently there are only seven ladies who can make use of the privilège du blanc: Queen Sofia of Spain, Queen Paola of the Belgians, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg, Princess Charlene of Monaco, Queen Mathilde of the Belgians, Queen Letizia of Spain and Princess Marina of Naples. The list used to be longer, and included the empress of Austria-Hungary, the queens of Bavaria, France, Italy, Poland and Portugal, the grand duchess of Lithuania and several German princesses. Many of these states, all traditionally Catholic, have since become republics and the privilège du blanc does not extend to presidents, prime ministers or their wives.
So the Dutch queen wearing black is not simply due the fact that her husband happens to be a Protestant.
Photo credit: EPA/OSSERVATORE ROMANO