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Audience (head of state)

An Audience is a formal meeting that takes place between a head of state and another person at the invitation of the head of state. Often the invitation follows a request for a meeting from the other person. Though sometimes used in republics to describe meetings with presidents, the term Audience is more usually associated with monarchs and popes.

In the past strict dress codes had to be followed by those granted an Audience. Men were required to wear a Mourning Suit or White Tie and Tails, while women when meeting popes were required to wear full length black dresses and mantillas (black veils) unless they were a Catholic King1, when they could wear white. Formal dress is now normally reserved for diplomatic Audiences. In the 1990s, a Roman Catholic priest in Ireland provoked a controversy by claiming that then President of Ireland Mary Robinson had breached Vatican protocol by not wearing black, by wearing jewellery and by not wearing a mantilla, for an Audience with Pope John Paul II. The Vatican immediately rubbished the claims, pointing out that the traditional form of dress worn for Papal Audiences was no longer obligatory but now optional, and no offence was meant or caused by Robinson's decision to wear a dark green unveiled outfit. It was also noted how no-one commented when her predecessor, Patrick Hillery, wore a lounge suit rather than a Morning Suit when attending Papal Audiences.

Modern popes grant large Papal Audiences to crowds in St. Peter's Square or the Pope Paul VI Hall. In the United Kingdom, Audiences with the British monarch are usually listed in the Court Circular, which is published daily by the broadsheet press. The British Prime Minister has a weekly Audience with Queen Elizabeth II, usually every Tuesday evening during parliamentary time.


1 The honorific title Catholic King, which was awarded by popes, is applied irrespective of sex, to a very small number of monarchs. Only two monarchs and their spouses currently hold the title; the Kings of Belgium and Spain and their Queens consort.