The official protocol for meeting with the pope requires any female to be dressed in a long black dress with high collars and a black mantilla over the head and shoulders. The Catholic tradition has been maintained for centuries, and it obliges women to be dressed in all black when meeting with the pope, and this tradition is still continued and maintained. Although we may associate black with mourning, the color black historically signifies humility and piety.
Even non-catholic women of nobility, like the Queen of England, for example, adhere to this rule. But there are only seven women in the world who are allowed to subvert this and wear all white. To wear all white in front of the pope is commonly referred to as Le privilège du blanc, translated as “the privilege of the white.”
This term is only ever applied to a reigning Catholic queen or princess as the privilege is bestowed upon them by the pope himself. Receiving Le privilège du blanc requires good Catholic standing and marriage to another Catholic monarch. A Catholic monarch may also gain the privilege through dispensation by the pope.
As of 2017, there are only seven catholic monarchs who have Le privilege du blanc.
1. Charlene, the Princess of Monaco, who received dispensation from Pope Benedict XVI in 2013.
2. Queen Sofia of Spain, who ascended the throne when her husband became king in 1975.
3. Queen Paola of the Belgians, who ascended the throne in 1993 after her husband became king.
4. Maria Teresa, who became the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg in 2000 after her husband’s accession.
5. Another monarch who has received the privilege is Queen Mathilde of Belgium, who only recently ascended the Belgian throne in 2013 after her husband’s accession.
6. Queen Letizia of Spain, Queen Sofia’s daughter-in-law and replacement since 2014 when Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos abdicated in favor of their son, Felipe IV.
7. And lastly, the Princess of Naples, who received a dispensation from Pope Pius XI in 1929.
Though there could have been eight monarchs awarded Le privilège du blanc, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands is married to the Protestant King Willem-Alexander, and thus she has not been afforded the privilege, thus making seven.