LONDON – Prince William and Kate are seen as the new face of a centuries-old institution, keeping the best of traditions while moving forward with the times. Here are eight things to know about the royal baby in relation to royal births of the past:
Most people take a hospital birth for granted these days, but just a few decades ago the custom among royals – as it was among commoners – was to give birth at home.
Queen Elizabeth II was born at 17 Bruton St. in London, a private family home, and she gave birth to her sons, Charles, Andrew and Edward, in Buckingham Palace. Her only daughter, Princess Anne, was born at Clarence House, also a royal property.
That changed by the 1980s, when Princes William and Harry were both born at the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London.
For a long time, royals were educated in private. The queen was taught at home by her father, tutors and governesses, and never mingled with commoners at a school, college or university.
Dads in delivery
William kept his promise to be there with Kate when she gave birth, in line with the expectations of many modern parents.
Things were quite different when Charles was born. When the queen (then Princess Elizabeth) went into labor, her husband, Prince Philip, was off playing squash in the palace.
In the early 1900s – and probably before – custom dictated that government officials should be present when a royal was born. When the queen was born in 1926, for example, the home secretary was present among the doctors.
The current home secretary, Theresa May, said the centuries-old tradition required the official to attend “as evidence that it was really a royal birth and the baby hadn’t been smuggled in.” Fortunately for Kate, the practice was abolished years ago by George VI.
Royal babies tend to be officially christened several days to weeks after they are born, and there are a few potential places this could take place for the new baby.
The queen was christened in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace, while both William and his father, Charles, were christened in the palace’s Music Room.
An Easel vs. Twitter
The traditional way the palace announces a royal baby’s birth to the world is as quaint as it gets: A messenger with the news travels by car from the hospital to Buckingham Palace, carrying a piece of paper detailing the infant’s gender, weight and time of birth. The bulletin is then posted on a wooden easel on the palace’s forecourt for everyone to see.
In the old days the announcement was made to the wider public by a reader on radio, but today that’s replaced by the Internet and social media.
William and Kate have not made any public announcements about hiring a nanny to help them bring up their child. Many expect the couple to be more hands-on parents than earlier generations of royals, and some have speculated that because of the couple’s close ties with Kate’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton will also have a big role in helping Kate with the baby.
Welcome with a bang
Some things don’t really change. A 62-gun salute from the Tower of London and a 41-gun salute from Green Park, near Buckingham Palace, welcomed the baby into the world with a bang, just as it did when previous royals were born.