Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Royal Births

Doesn't everyone (who isn't the new parent who has to get up several times a night to tend to the newborn) love a baby? Aren't they (when they're not crying, fussing, tired, smelly) adorable? When a royal birth occurs, we get the best of the situation without actually having to get involved. Sure, some of us might knit a sweater or crochet a blanket for the royal arrival that will eventually be given away to charity, but for most royal watchers it will just be a reason to buy Majesty magazine or Hello. We might even go on to Internet boards and discuss the names, ask questions about line of succession, titles, but it will usually end there.

We get to see just enough photos of them without actually having to find a way to lie to the new parent about how pretty/handsome their baby looks. Valuable tip: since most babies are downright ugly, I've found saying "he/she/it's so clean!" is a good non-committal response. Thankfully most royal parents demand privacy for their newborn so we don't get inundated with photos we don't care about.

Some of us might heave a sigh of relief at not having to buy a shower, Christmas, birthday, gifts for the baby who will no doubt have everything they could possibly ever wish for. Or the pressure of choosing names those royal watchers will judge mercilessly - we have close relatives for that. However, even royal parents don't escape this, in Queen Victoria's time she had an edict; all girls and boys have Victoria or Albert amongst their given names. The future George VI was born on December 14 - the anniversary of the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's beloved consort. To mollify the Queen, the parents named him Albert and he was christened Albert Frederick Arthur George. His maternal grandmother did not like the name Albert and prophetically announced that she hoped the last name "may supplant the less favoured one". It eventually did when the prince unexpectedly became King George VI. When Prince Albert's second daughter, Princess Margaret, was born, he wanted to name her 'Ann Margaret' but King George V vetoed this and eventually she was called Margaret Rose.

Yes, the birth of a baby is truly a magical event.

Most royal births have taken place at home and it would have been unthinkable to do otherwise. In Queen Victoria's time, almost all of her children were born at Buckingham Palace. Quite a few of her grandchildren were born there or at Windsor Castle. The old Queen actually liked to be present at the birth's whenever possible. When her granddaughter, Princess Victoria of Hesse gave birth to Princess Alice (mother of the present Duke of Edinburgh), the Queen made certain the baby was born in the same room and bed that Princess Victoria herself had been born. She motivated the labouring mother by telling her the reasons why she disliked the room they were in. When Princess Alexandra (later Queen Alexandra) delivered prematurely, the Queen thought that the princess was doing this deliberately to avoid her presence.

However, until Prince Charles was born in 1948, most royal mothers could not avoid the tradition of the birth being witnessed by a minister of the Crown. This custom had it's origins in the famous 'warming pan' plot of 1688, when it was believed that Mary of Modena, Queen Consort of James II, had had another woman's baby smuggled into her bed to pass off as the legitimate heir. Since then, to prevent any uncertainties of legitimacy, a government minister was present, albeit in an adjoining room. For the birth of the future Edward VIII in 1894, Queen Victoria decided that only one Cabinet minister would be required, and from then on the Home Secretary was called upon to attend. The birth of Princess Alexandra of Kent in 1936, was the last occasion where the Home Secretary was present; King George VI having directed that a minister need not be required to attend the birth of those not in direct line of succession.

King George V and Queen Mary's children were born at York Cottage on the Sandringham estate, with the exception of their first child, Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) who was born at White Lodge, Richmond Park. The present Queen was born in her maternal grandparents home, 17 Bruton Street, thus making her the only future monarch to be born in a location that had a door number. The building was eventually torn down but there is a plaque on the present building, marking it as the birthplace of the Queen. Princess Margaret had more illustrious surroundings for her birth, Glamis Castle, where according to legend, King Duncan was murdered by Macbeth in 1040. Three of the present Queen's children were born at Buckingham Palace, except for Princess Anne, who was born at Clarence House.

It is now the norm for British royal babies to be born in a hospital. Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie were born at the Portland Hospital. St. Mary's Paddington has been the location of several royal births; the first one in 1974 was Alexander, Earl of Ulster (son of the present Duke and Duchess of Gloucester). Most notably, Prince William's birth took place at St Mary's and he was the first direct heir to the throne to be born in a hospital. Diana was seen as a trailblazer by deciding on a hospital birth, despite at least five previous royal babies having been born at the same hospital. Although Diana had the best of modern medical technology and pain relief available, there are advantages to having a baby within the confines of a palace - privacy. Having to face the world media 21 hours after the birth must have been an exhausting moment for her. No new mother ever looks her best and she was no exception. The second time around she looked as though she could carry out a days worth of engagements after handing the baby off to a nanny.

An heir usually warrants a 41 guns salute and a gold-framed birth announcement on the gates of Buckingham Palace, everyone else normally gets a wood frame - although it's probably a good wood frame, not one from Walmart. For those of us who can't make the trip to London, there's the Internet or the quick, two-sentence blurb on CNN. For most of us, we have to make do with an announcement in the local newspaper.

Thankfully most heirs have been male so we don't have to re-ignite the debate or go through the trouble of changing the succession laws. Those poor, poor, people in Japan, Denmark and Spain! But that's another article in itself.

© Marilyn Braun

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