Royal Baby Traditions We Didn’t Know Existed
The world let out a collective sigh of relief when it found out the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—William and Kate, as we still affectionately call them—were expecting their first child in 2013. We cooed at the idea of finally having a royal baby of our very own to fawn over (from afar, of course); since William and Harry had grown well past cute royal baby status, though still cute by all accounts. Now, we had the adorable Prince George to watch waddle around Kensington Gardens. Then, in 2015, we welcomed the first baby girl in the immediate line of succession with Princess Charlotte. And alas, we’ve struck gold again with the announcement that the royal couple is currently expecting their third child. Whew, these kids just keep pushing Prince Harry farther down the line of succession.
So we’ve been on a constant emotional wave of getting to witness royal babies’ firsts for four years now, and the world has been just enamored with the time-old traditions followed when involving the births and childhoods of royal heirs to the British monarchy. These customs can throw even our most insane Southern baby traditions out of the window. From who’s allowed (and who’s required?) in the delivery room to the gaggle of first names (and what exactly is a Prince’s last name?) given to a royal child, here are some historic royal baby traditions we had no idea existed.
Did You Know?
Apparently a lot goes into being born royal.
Giving Birth At Home
Traditionally, royal babies were always given birth at home in the royal residences. Queen Elizabeth II was born at a private family home in London and later gave birth to her sons Charles, Andrew and Edward in Buckingham Palace and her only daughter, Princess Anne, at Clarence House, also a royal property. Princess Diana was the first to break the mold by giving birth to both Prince William and Prince Harry at St. Mary’s. Likewise, Duchess Kate gave birth to both Prince George and Princess Charlotte at St. Mary’s, but is rumored to be considering an at-home birth for the next royal baby. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced they were expecting their third child this September.
Allowing Fathers in the Delivery Room
Throughout history, royal dads-to-be were customarily not allowed in the delivery room. For instance, when the Queen went into labor with Prince Charles, her husband distracted himself at the Palace by playing squash and pacing about the grounds. Breaking this time-old tradition, Prince Charles accompanied Princess Diana in the delivery room during the births of their sons, making it obvious that some traditions were bound to break due to modern norms. Prince William was present for both births, and surely intends to be there for the third.
Requiring Official Witnesses During Birth
As recent as the early 1900s, government officials were required to witness the birth of a royal baby to ensure legitimacy. When Queen Elizabeth was born in 1926, the Home Secretary was present in the room, though her father was not. After her birth, the custom was put in retirement—to the future royal mothers’ relief, no doubt. The Home Secretary now just relays the news to other important government officials that the royal birth has occurred.
Making the Birth Announcement
Historically, the birth announcement was hand-written—now more officially typed on royal letterhead—by the doctor immediately after the birth and sent in a car to Buckingham Palace to be displayed on an easel in the front of the palace for the public, documenting the baby’s gender (but not name). The easel is still used today to announce royal births to the public, but social media has made announcing the birth even more accessible. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced the birth of Princess Charlotte on Twitter at the same time as the easel was going up.
Crying Out the News
An unofficial town crier announces the birth to the public, as well, referencing the medieval tradition that was common when many citizens could not read or write. The current town crier is Tony Appleton, but he holds no legitimate royal position for the job. Just an enthusiastic demeanor for all things royal baby related!
Saluting the Royal Birth
There’s a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London in honor of the birth and another 41-gun salute from Green Park, near Buckingham Palace. The military showmanship and fanfare is used a festive sign of welcome and respect for the new royal baby and to help the public celebrate.
Making the First Appearance
The first appearance after birth used to be at the Christening; but with the new custom of giving birth at St. Mary’s, a quick public appearance of the new parents and royal baby to a curious, excited crowd (that’s been waiting possibly for days) is allowed when leaving the hospital to return to Buckingham Palace. Duchess Kate paid tribute to Princess Diana with a similar pale-blue polka dot dress when introducing Prince George, now third in-line to the throne, to the public.
Registering the Births
Even royal parents have to register their birth with the government for public record within 42 days—it’s the law! No skirting around it, folks.
Revealing the Gender
The gender of the royal baby is not announced to the public at any time during the pregnancy and, historically, was not known to the royal parents-to-be. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge reportedly did not know the gender of Prince George before giving birth. Rumors are swirling that they already know the gender of their third child, after announcing their pregnancy in September, though. The gender is revealed to the public on the announcement easel at Buckingham Palace (and, more recently, Twitter!).
Picking the Royal First Names
Every royal has three to four names, and they are often picked to honor previous monarchs or royal relatives. Prince George’s full name is George Alexander Lewis, and he will officially go by His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge. Princess Charlotte’s full name is Charlotte Elizabeth Diana (after William’s mother). She will officially go by Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge. Which names will be chosen often becomes a guessing game for the public until it’s announced.
Debating on Surnames
Historically, royals do not require surnames and rather are known by the name of the house or dynasty they belong to. They sign their first names only, still to this day, in the United Kingdom. In the past, the name of the ruling family changed as different lines came to power, but George V (son of Queen Victoria) declared in 1917 that his house would be called Windsor. Queen Elizabeth II, in 1960, decided to dub her and Prince Philip’s descendants the surname, Mountbatten-Windsor, to differentiate her own line from the Windsor House. It uses Prince Philip’s surname as accompaniment to hers, Windsor. For all purposes, the current royal family can use the surname Mountbatten-Windsor, but they often use their titles instead. In the Royal Air Force, Prince William went by “Flight Lieutenant Wales.” In his new school this year, Prince George will simply be going by “George Cambridge.”
Christening a Royal
A royal heir’s christening is something to behold, with all of the pomp and circumstance you’d expect. It’s the baby’s first official public appearance, and every royal baby (62 total!) has worn the same gown, from Queen Victoria’s era, until Prince George. For preservation purposes, an exact replica was made to replace the original gown for all future christenings. Prince George was christened at The Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, and Princess Charlotte was christened at the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Sandringham—both by the Archbishop of Canterbury. (The head of the church always christens the royal babies.)
It’s normal for royal children to receive much more than the standard two godparents when baptized. Prince George has seven godparents, while Princess Charlotte has five. Godparents cannot be close family members, especially immediate family members (sorry, Harry!), and are usually close family friends and favored cousins.
Accepting Royal Gifts (And Fans!)
Royal babies get their fair share of baby gifts from international leaders, royals, and friends. When Prince George was born in 2013, the New Zealand government gifted him a fine shawl made from merino wool, which is the same gift that was given to his father over three decades ago. Additionally, the royal family was showered with 610 unofficial presents—including stuffed animals, colorful toys, pictures, clothes, and sports equipment—from generous fans. Royal babies also get to rub elbows with some famous friends, such as when Prince George got to stay up late at Kensington Palace to meet Michelle and Barack Obama.
Going to School
Throughout history, royals have always been home-schooled by governesses and private tutors to receive a high-level education out of the public sphere. It wasn’t customary for royals to immerse themselves in the public until more recently. Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Margaret were the last members of the royal family to be educated at home by tutors in this traditional manner. Prince Charles attended elite private schools, with exception of his brief stint at a Scottish public school. Prince Charles was also the first heir to the British monarchy to complete a degree after graduating from Trinity College in 1970. Prince William and Prince Harry attended elite private schools until William went on to St. Andrews University (where he met his wife) and Harry completed officer commissioning training at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Keeping in the private school tradition, Prince George started school this September at Thomas’s Battersea.
Casting Off Non-Royal In-Laws
Unsurprisingly, the grandparents of the royal babies that weren’t of royal blood were historically cast aside out of the day-to-day lives of the royal children and lost the chance of having close relationships with them. It was another example of royals not immersing with “common” people too closely. Today, Duchess Kate’s family is very involved in the royal family’s life, especially with their grandchildren, and has garnered their own popularity in the public sphere. The Queen was even seen driving a Range Rover with Kate’s mother, Carole, in the front seat in 2016. The Duchess’ sister, Pippa, was recently married, and the event was a source of public interest for months leading up to the day.
Putting Male Heirs Above Female Heirs
Before you get too upset, this custom was abolished in 2013 before the birth of Prince George, making sure that no matter if he were a boy or girl, he would still become third in line. Throughout history in just about any monarch-structured country, male heirs were given preference over females. Providing a male child was first and foremost a concern for all royal brides. Now, Princess Charlotte will remain fourth in line for the throne, whether her new younger sibling turns out to be a sister or brother!
Posing for Official Portraits
For centuries, whether on oil canvas or a smartphone, official portraits of the royal family have become written in history, especially those of the royal heirs. Many official portraits are first produced at the Royal Christening, but updating every few years is a must for all British royal families. (Just check your history books!) We get lucky enough to be graced by official portraits of Prince George and Princess Charlotte on the official Instagram account of the royal family—just some adorable kids, taking adorable pictures while frolicking around the palace grounds.