The royal family doesn’t usually engage with gossip, at least not publicly. But Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, seem to have drawn the line at reports claiming they provided “guidelines” to their future neighbors before moving into Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.
The controversy stemmed from an article published by British tabloid The Sun on July 26. “Warnings were made at a recent residents’ meeting [when] the issue of the Sussexes’ move to the private Home Park estate was raised,” the newspaper claimed. “Don’t approach or instigate conversation if you see the Royal couple,” “Don’t pet or stroke their dogs, even if they come over to you” and “Don’t ask to see baby Archie” were among the alleged orders given to local residents.
“The Duke and Duchess had no knowledge of this briefing and no involvement in the concept or the content,” a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said in a statement sent to the Daily Mail. “This was a well-intentioned briefing to help a small local community know how to welcome two new residents and help them with any potential encounter.” The Duke and Duchess’ press office did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.
There are no specific rules for “commoners” when spotting members of the royal family in public, though it is customary to bow or curtsy, Kensington Palace’s website says.
Dispelling the gossip, the spokesperson asserted that no “handouts” were given to residents, and that the meeting was run by a “local manager,” rather than a representative from the palace. A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said “an overly protective” official must have issued some kind of rules without the knowledge or approval of the Duke and Duchess, The Sun claimed. Crown Estates, which runs Home Park, the estate which houses Frogmore, did not immediately return TIME’s request for comment.
“You have all sorts of people who live in that area, in grace-and-favor and staff housing. They know what to do,” says Marlene Koenig, a British and European royal historian. “I certainly do not believe that Harry and Meghan issued these statements.”
The privacy that the couple has strived for since their marriage last year has often incurred a well of criticism, and rumors like this one “just adds fuel to the fire,” Koenig says.
Actor and comedian Billy Eichner said in a Jimmy Kimmel Live! interview that, before meeting the royals at the London premiere of The Lion King on July 14, he was been briefed on protocol via email — including whether to bow (yes) and how to address Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (“Your Royal Highness”). “They are very intense about it,” Eichner said, though he didn’t specify whether these rules came from The Lion King‘s production team or the royal family themselves.
According to official guidelines for greeting British royals, “there are no obligatory codes of behavior when meeting The Queen or a member of the Royal Family.” Traditional guidelines, however, do include slight bows (for men) and curtsies (for women), as well as addressing the royal by “Your Royal Highness. In other words, it’s not uncommon for non-royals to come prepared to a royal meeting.
Still, Eichner said he had a “lovely” conversation with Meghan Markle, with whom he shares Northwestern University’s acting program as an alma mater. “[Prince Harry and Meghan Markle] were very, very nice, and totally chill and down-to-Earth.”
In spite of all the claims, the royal family did recently release guidelines for conduct — to put an end to online harassment. In March, Kensington Palace rolled out their own rules for how online users should interact appropriately with Kensington Palace, the royal family and Clarence House (Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall). “The aim of our social media channels is to create an environment where our community can engage safely in debate and is free to make comments, questions and suggestions,” the royal family’s website explains of the guidelines. Inappropriate comments include anything “defamatory of any person” or anything that “deceives others.”
Comments that “promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age,” are also subject to deletion from royal family members’ social media pages.