What color Charlene chooses to wear during her state visit alongsidePrince Albert II next week has major significance as she is one of seven women in the world that has been given “the privilege of the white” – or the ability to wear white when meeting with the pope.
Called le privilége du blanc in French or il privilegio del biacno in Italian, the special tradition is extended solely to designated Catholic queens and princesses and is usually reserved for important events at the Vatican like private audiences, canonizations, beatifications and special masses. According to protocol, other women who meet with the pope are asked to wear black clothes and a matching mantilla, or a lace veil worn over the head. First Lady Michelle Obama followed this rule in 2009 when she joined President Barack Obama in visitingPope Benedict XVI.
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Of course, wearing black (or white) is not required for women who meet with the pope. As head of the Church of England, Queen Elizabeth II has previously worn black and a mantilla when meeting with Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, but she hasn’t followed the protocol in more recent visits.
Currently only seven women hold the privilege of the white – Queen Sofía of Spain, Queen Paola of Belgium, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Queen Letizia of Spain, Princess Marina of Naples and, of course, Princess Charlene. The tradition is not extended to non-royal female Catholic heads of state (like former Argentinian president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) or Catholic wives of non-royal heads of state (like former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy) nor is it extended to Catholic wives of non-Catholic monarchs (like Queen Máxima of the Netherlands).
It is also not given to every Catholic monarch’s wife as Princess Marie of Liechtenstein and Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso of Lesotho apparently do not have the privilege. The women traditionally need to be the queens of a “Most Catholic Majesty” or Rex Catholicissimus – either as consort or in their own right as regnant – a title given to Catholic monarchs by the pope and is considered hereditary unless taken away by the pontiff.