Gaining an audience with the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church is an incredible honor. It’s only natural that those who do get to meet the pope treat the occasion with the proper reverence and respect that it deserves.
For centuries, the Catholic Tradition has been that women wear all black garments when meeting with the pope, as these colors historically signify piety and humility. The protocol for papal audiences required that women wear a long black dress with a high collar and long sleeves with a black mantilla worn over the head and shoulders. Even non-catholic women of nobility, like the Queen of England, adhere to this dress code.
So why are seven women in the world allowed to wear white?
Le privilège du blanc, or “the privilege of the white,” is a term describing the custom where certain designated women are allowed to wear a white dress and veil during audiences with the pope, rather than the traditional black dress. A reigning Catholic queen or princess is given this privilege at the behest of the pope.
The requirements for the privilege are being a Catholic in good standing and being married to another Catholic monarch. They may also gain the privilege through a simple dispensation by the pope. However, a catholic monarch does not have to always adhere to the Le privilège du blanc, called “declining the privilege.” If they decline to wear white clothing it does not disallow them from wearing white clothing in the future, as long they still retain the privilege.
Today, only seven catholic monarchs have the privilege. Although Queen Maxima of the Netherlands is Catholic, her husband King Willem-Alexander is protestant and thus she is not afforded the privilege. The seven who do have it are:
- Queen Sofía of Spain – Accession of husband to the Spanish throne in 1975
- Queen Paola of the Belgians – Accession of husband to the Belgian throne in 1993
- Maria Teresa, The Grand Duchess of Luxembourg – Accession of husband to the Luxembourgish throne in 2000
- The Princess of Monaco – Dispensation from Pope Benedict XVI to the House of Grimaldi in 2013
- Queen Mathilde of Belgium – Accession of husband to the Belgian throne in 2013
- Queen Letizia of Spain – Accession of husband to the Spanish throne in 2014
- The Princess of Naples – Dispensation from Pope Pius XI to the House of Savoy in 1929