Thursday, July 28, 2005

Royal Christenings

The purpose of a royal christening serves, much like the christenings everywhere, as an introduction of the child to the Church. In the case of an heir to the throne, the religious significance is, perhaps greater than usual as the British Monarch, is the head of the Church of England.

Like royal weddings, a royal christening is a joyous event, symbolizing the continuity of the monarchy. In 1982, Prince William was christened on his great-grandmother's 82nd birthday. Reminicent of an 1894 image of Queen Victoria, her son, her grandson and her great-grandson, the direct succession unquestionably secured. From that point, the image of four generations has occured with the births of Queen Alexandra's great-grandson, George Lascelles in 1923, the birth of Queen Mary's great-grandson, Prince Charles in 1948, and Queen Elizabeth's great-grandson, Prince William in 1982. If the Queen lives to see the birth of Prince William's child, she will be the first sovereign to see the direct succession secured into the fourth generation since Queen Victoria.

There are some traditions associated with royal christenings:

Christening Robe
Possibly the most well known image of a royal christening is the infant in the robe. Made for the christening of Queen Victoria's first child, Vicky - the Princess Royal in 1841, it is an heirloom that has been worn by generations of royal babies. In 1894 the robe was given by Queen Victoria to the Duchess of York (later Queen Mary), all of whose children were christened in it. In the next generation it was worn by the children of King George VI, of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and of Prince George, Duke of Kent. The children of The Queen and of Princess Margaret were christened in it, and it has subsequently been used for the christenings of all The Queens grandchildren and other Royal babies, including the grand children of Princess Margaret. This robe is made of fine Honiton lace lined with white satin, and like her wedding dress, chosen by the Queen to boost the lagging lace making trade, something that was very much appreciated at the time. As the robe is now 165 years old, it has become fragile, with the movement of various energetic babies. After each christening it is washed gently, wrapped in tissue paper, and placed in storage until the next event.

Usually, royal infants are christened within a few months of their birth, when the robe is more likely to fit. In 1990 Princess Eugenie, at 9 months old, wore the robe and the pictures show her to be very uncomfortable in it.

Royal Christenings have tended to take place away from the public eye as a private ceremony; no heads of state or other public dignitaries are invited. Princess Eugenie of York, daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, was the first royal baby to have a public christening. This occured during morning service at St. Mary Magdalene, Sandringham, in December 1990. This church was also the setting for the christening of her great-grandfather, King George VI in February 1896.

Unlike royal weddings, the venue for christenings doesn't seem to follow any tradition or pattern, however in recent years the tendency has been towards Windsor, either in the private chapel or St. George's chapel. The most recent one was for Lady Louise Windsor, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Wessex. Several christenings have taken place at Windsor, including Edward VII, George V, Prince Harry and the Earl of Wessex himself.

Buckingham Palace has been the birthplace of many members of the royal family, and it has also been the setting of several christenings, mainly taking place in the Music room. The Queen's three eldest children were christened there, as was Prince Willliam. The Queen and Princess Margaret were christened in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace, which was destroyed during the Second World War. The Throne Room has also been used, namely for Queen Victoria's eldest child, the Princess Royal in 1841.

The Chapel Royal, at St. James' Palace is another popular setting, to name a few of the babies christened there: Lord Frederick Windsor in 1979, his sister Lady Gabriella Windsor in 1981, and Princess Beatrice of York in 1988.

Font and water from the River Jordan

The font used for a royal christening is the silver-gilt lily font, brought from Windsor for the occasion. This was designed by Prince Albert, for the christening of the Princess Royal, Queen Victoria's first born child. The child is christened with Holy water, from the River Jordan, a tradition that dates back to the Crusades.

Christian Names

Unlike most babies, the christening names bestowed on a royal baby tend to be longer and more numerous, culled from family tradition, flattery, and ancestors through the centuries. Queen Alexandra had 6 (Alexandra, Caroline, Marie, Charlotte, Louise, Julia), The Duke of Windsor had 7 (Edward, Albert, Christian, George, Andrew, Patrick, David), the last four paying tribute to the patron saints of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. His mother Queen Mary had 8 (Victoria, Mary, Augusta, Louise, Olga, Pauline, Claudine, Agnes). Now the amount of names given tends to be around 3 or 4. In Queen Victoria's time, she expected all of her descendants to bear either Victoria or Albert amongst their christian names. This 'tradition' ended with the birth of the present Queen, she was christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. A possible tempt of fate as these are also the names of three Queens.

The list of godparents tends be more substantial as well as more illustrious, with royal and aristocratic choices. In the past the usual practice was to honor members of the family, however this has had it's drawbacks. Prince Charles had six godparents, three of whom were so old that they were unlikely to be of any value as mentors or sources of guidance. Today godparents for royal children tend to be contemporaries of the parents.

The Queen and Prince Charles have acted as godparents to numerous children. The Queen has over twenty godchildren, amongst them Charles Spencer, brother of Diana, Princess of Wales. Prince Charles is godfather to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall's son, Tom Parker Bowles. Her former husband Andrew Parker Bowles is a godfather to Princess Anne's daughter Zara. The late Queen Mother was a godmother to Andrew Parker Bowles himself. It is interesting to note that when Diana, Princess of Wales was christened in 1961, out of the four Spencer children, she is the only one to have no royal godparents.

© Marilyn Braun 2005

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