A cautionary tale about the queen's mysterious handbags: 'We never touch the bag'

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth
Photo: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images
  • Though we're sure she has ladies in waiting to carry her things, Her Majesty slings a bag on her arm whenever she steps out.
  • We know to never approach the queen, but we've never heard of any royal handbag protocols.
  • Former chief of protocol for the United States, Capricia Penavic Marshall, shares how she mistakenly almost offered to carry Her Majesty's purse but was quickly stopped.
  • "'We don't know what's in the bag. But we never touch the bag.'," she was told.


Capricia Penavic Marshall, who is the former chief of protocol for the United States and worked for both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, recently shared the hilarious way she found out you simply do not touch the queen's bag.

Speaking to People upon the release of her new book Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You, she described a visit to Buckingham Palace with President Obama and Michelle Obama in 2011 in which she instinctively move forward upon seeing the queen to offer to take her bag as she is accustomed to doing.

But protocol isn't quite the same across the pond.

"As Her Majesty walked out, I made a comment to my counterpart. I said, 'Oh, my goodness, Her Majesty has her bag.' And I made an ever so slight move with my left foot," Capricia said.

"He, with both of his hands, pushed me back against the wall and said, 'Do not touch the bag.' and I said, 'Oh, my goodness. I'm so sorry,.' He goes, 'We do not touch the bag.'"

The 56-year old says she apologised but she couldn't help but wonder what exactly is in Her Majesty's bag?

"'We don't know what's in the bag. But we never touch the bag.'," she recalled the man saying.

Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth, Michelle Obama
The queen meets Barack and Michelle Obama in London in 2011. Not a white handbag, but still, a bag.

The queen doesn't go anywhere without her signature Launer handbags. You're more than likely to see a black purse break her colourful skirt suits at any given royal engagement. Rumour has it it's not so much what's in the bag – though we've heard the contents include a compact mirror and lipstick – but the purpose of slinging it on her arm.

Her Majesty's got a rather subtle skill of throwing shade, as we know, and she wouldn't dream of abruptly exiting a conversation. So she lets her royal aides do it for her.

The queen moves her bag from her one arm to the other, sometimes placing it on the table at a dinner party, according to The Telegraph, to signal she wants the engagement to end within the next five minutes. And if she places it on the floor, that pretty much means Her Majesty is bored and clearly needs rescuing from a dull, tedious conversation.

You don't want to be in the room when the handbag hits the floor.   

Boris Johnson, Queen Elizabeth
The queen meets Boris Johnson, at her home at Buckingham, with her bag on her arm.