Friday, 28 June 2013

A History of Royal Babies

Official portraits of the future King Edward VIII holding his brother George in 1903, the then Duchess of York holding Princess Elizabeth in 1926 and Princess Diana with her baby Prince William. Pictures via Getty Images/ Wire Image

Due to the immanent arrival of the future Royal Baby I recently began to think about the history of royal babies and how they have been announced in the past.

When Queen Victoria gave birth to the future King Edward VII on 9 November 1841 a special edition of the London Gazette announced that evening "This great and important news was immediately made known to the Town, by the firing of the Park and Tower guns." As it was custom for cabinet ministers to attend royal births at the time, the public often noticed when these politicians pulled up at the palace gates and this led to the news leaking before it was officially announced.

The tradition of politicians acting as witnesses and verifying royal births started with the birth of King James II's son, Prince James Francis Edward Stuart in 1688. The official announcement was delayed until the Queen's husband, Prince Albert appeared before a special meeting of the Privy Council, a group of advisors to the Sovereign. Once the birth was confirmed there were celebrations up and down the country; in Cambridge the bells of St Mary's rang out and  in Liverpool the news was announced to those in a theatre before the performance began.

Because of the importance of succession and lineage in England it is vital that all Royal births are officially recorded, however King George VI, the Queen's father, declared the tradition to be "archaic" and due to the fact that it has no legal basis he officially scrapped it weeks before the birth of Prince Charles, 22 years later.

When the Queen was born on 21 April 1926, the then Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks had to first see her for himself so he could then release the news through official channels.

All 15 kingdoms of the Commonwealth that have the Queen has their head of state passed a bill ending discrimination against women in the succession to the British throne, meaning the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's first child will become monarch, regardless of gender. But other traditions have continued, including the publication in the London Gazette and the Court Circular as well as the posting of a notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace.

The Foreign Office has, in the past, been responsible for notifying the UK's overseas territories, while Buckingham Palace has directly contacted all the Commonwealth realms with news of a royal birth.

For the Queen's own birth, the circumstances were slightly different as it was not obvious she would one day succeed to the throne. She was third-in-line after her uncle, the future King Edward VIII and her father, George VI who became king following his brother's abdication in 1936. Yet this did not stop a crowd from lining up outside her home in 17 Bruton Street in order to see the latest royal descendant. A month later, the interest was still so intense that Queen Elizabeth at times had to be taken out of the back door for her morning airing.

By the time Prince Charles - a direct heir - was born in 1948, the media landscape had changed significantly and the news was immediately broadcast on the BBC, with the announcer stating: "Listeners will want us to offer their loyal congratulations to Princess Elizabeth and the Royal Family on this happy occasion." Those at home could hear for themselves the crowd at Buckingham Palace shouting: "We want Philip; we want the King."

When Prince William was born 33 years later, on 21 June 1982, a notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace informed the world the Princess of Wales "was safely delivered of a son" and both mother and baby were "doing well". But the crowds outside pushed away any notion of decorum and formality, shouting: "Nice one, Charlie, let's have another one" while the announcement was immediately broadcast on the television and radio before headlining the next day's papers.

Princess Diana defied tradition by leaving the hospital just 24 hours later, and standing on the steps to give the world a glimpse of the swaddled baby. The clamour for the first shot of the child was massive. However the interest in the new Royal baby is likely to be nothing the Royal Family have ever seen before. Because of the Internet as soon as the baby is born news will be spread across the globe in a matter of seconds. The first shot of the baby will also be worth a lot of money, increasing paparazzi interest.