History Unfolding

Posted April 30, 2015

What a treat it is to watch history unfold right before our eyes! We are witnessing the latest chapter in a centuries-long tradition, one destined to marry the old and the new. As I write, thousands of people are glued to the Twitter hashtag #royalbaby, waiting for any scrap of news that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, has gone into labor with her second child. In addition, dozens of news cameras are lined up in front of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, west London, where Catherine will be admitted, hoping to catch a whiff of royal activity. Various websites have live stream feeds in place as well. All of these decidedly modern aspects are being combined with rituals steeped in history, as Prince William and his young family reshape a monarchy.

One way this is being accomplished is by changing the way the new arrival will be announced. In the past, the first official notice of the birth was displayed on an easel at the gates of Buckingham Palace. While the palace will still employ the easel, the expectant couple has decided to alert the world first on Twitter. 1 The couple will also baptize their new baby in an exact copy of the 174 year-old traditional christening gown worn by all royal babies, since the original is too delicate to be worn anymore. The location of the event is unknown, but it is safe to assume the Cambridges will choose to return to the Royal Chapel at St. James Palace where Prince George was baptized in 2013. 2

As for privacy, the Duchess has another trailblazer, Queen Elizabeth II, to thank for the privacy she and Prince William will enjoy in the delivery room. In 1948, before Prince Charles was born, the tradition of the British Home Secretary observing the royal birth was found to be unnecessary by the queen and government officials agreed. 3 The reasoning for the custom dates back to an incident that took place in 1688 where it was alleged by rivals to the throne, that King James II's son had been stillborn (if his wife had been pregnant at all) and a "pretender" had been smuggled in to replace him. The baby ensured a continuation of a Catholic dynasty, upsetting powerful Protestants in the country. There was no excitement for this royal prince, named James Francis Edward. Ultimately, because of the political climate in the country at the time, his birth and the spectre of resurgent Catholicism cost his father the throne. 4

In terms of succession, if the new baby is a girl, she will be third in line to the throne. Before Queen Elizabeth, with the agreements of the Commonwealths, changed the rule of primogeniture before the birth of Prince George, a princess would have had to succeed any other sons her parents may have in the future. 5 The new baby, whether a boy or girl, will also receive a royal title that will negate the need for a surname. The Duke and his wife chose Cambridge to serve as their last name, when one is used, and it will probably act as their childrens' as well. 6

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1 Denham, Jess. "Royal baby: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to break tradition and announce birth on Twitter before Buckingham Palace easel." UK Independent (27 April 2015). Electronic edition. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/royal-baby-duke-and-duchess-of-cambridge-to-break-royal-tradition-and-announce-birth-on-twitter-before-buckingham-palace-easel-10207586.html: accessed 30 April 2015.
2 Hasan, Lama. "Prince George's Christening to Break With Royal Tradition." ABC News (22 October 2013). Electronic edition. http://abcnews.go.com/International/prince-georges-christening-break-royal-tradition/story?id=20642605: accessed 30 April 2015.
3 Moore, Keith. Westcott, Kathryn. "10 curious things about the royal birth." British Broadcasting Corp. (22 July 2013). www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22983365: accessed 30 April 2015.
4 Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. "James II of England."  (2001). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_II_of_England: accessed 30 April 2015.
5 Nix, Elizabeth. "7 Surprising Facts about Royal Births." The History Channel (12 July 2013). http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-surprising-facts-about-royal-births: accessed 30 April 2015.
6 Moore, Keith. Westcott, Kathryn. "10 curious things about the royal birth." British Broadcasting Corp. (22 July 2013). www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22983365: accessed 30 April 2015.

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