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British RoyalsFeaturesQueen Elizabeth II

An ancient tradition hitting the headlines again – what is the ‘kissing of hands’?

When The Queen appoints her 15th prime minister, she’ll do so with an ancient custom called the kissing hands ceremony. What is this element of a government change?

Buckingham Palace has confirmed that, on 6 September, The Queen will receive the out-going Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, for a farewell audience at Balmoral followed by an audience with the new Prime Minister—either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak—afterwards.

In the audience with the new Prime Minister, The Queen will ask that person to form a government in her name. The kissing hands is, at this point, merely a symbolic gesture, a name for the proceedings, but at one point in history, the prime minister was actually required to kiss the sovereign’s hand to show their loyalty to the sovereign and the crown.

The formal audience will likely be described in the Court Circular as ‘kissing hands’ even though no physical interaction takes place.  

For example, on 24 July 2019, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked to form a government, this was the announcement: “The Queen received in Audience The Right Honourable Boris Johnson MP this afternoon and requested him to form a new Administration. Mr Johnson accepted Her Majesty’s offer and kissed hands upon his appointment as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.”

Finally, a photograph of the moment The Queen meets with her new prime minister to ‘kiss hands’ will likely be distributed.

This is the first time in The Queen’s reign that these audiences will not take place in England, owing to The Queen’s increasingly limited mobility and an urge to keep the Prime Minister’s diary schedule sorted well in advance.

Though the kissing hands ceremony usually happens in England, it’s not the only country where it’s happened, incidentally: The Queen’s great-grandfather, Edward VII, once summoned his new prime minister, H.H. Asquith, to Biarritz, France in order to kiss hands, at a time when the prime minister was expected to physically perform the action.

About author

Jess Ilse is the Assistant Editor at Royal Central. She specialises in the British, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Royal Families and has been following royalty since Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. Jess has provided commentary for media outlets in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Jess works in communications and her debut novel THE MAJESTIC SISTERS will publish in Fall 2024.