With the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge expecting baby no. 3 this month, we decided to look at some of the most relatively unknown royal baby traditions — and why they exist. From royal gun salutes to who breastfeeds the baby – there’s a lot that goes into being born royal.
Royals used to give birth at home, until Princess Di created a new tradition
For generations it was tradition for royals to give birth at their royal residences. Queen Elizabeth II was born at a private family home in London; while her sons Charles, Andrew and Edward were born in Buckingham Palace (Princess Anne was born at Clarence House). Princess Diana was the first royal to break tradition when she gave birth to William and Harry at St. Mary’s Hospital – Kate Middleton followed suit, giving birth to Prince George and Princess Charlotte at St. Mary’s. Although there were rumours that Kate would give birth to baby no. 3 at home, it was recently confirmed that she would stick with the new royal tradition and give birth in a private hospital wing at St. Mary’s.
The royals have a designated OB-GYN to perform royal births
Previously, it was Marcus Setchell. He was the Queen’s obstetrician-gynecologist, and he postponed his retirement to deliver Prince George. Before that it was Sir George Pinker, who delivered Princes William and Harry.
The Queen gets notified first
Before details of the birth are released to the public, the Queen and other senior members of the royal family will be notified. When Prince George was born, Prince William called and notified his grandmother on an encrypted phone, according to royal protocol.
Forget Twitter – the first public birth announcement will be made on an easel
Before Twitter and Instagram, it was custom for news of royal birth announcements to be attached to the railings at Buckingham Palace. The tradition continues to this day – although it will be displayed on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, through the South Centre gate. After senior members of the royal family are notified, a royal aide will be ushered by a police escort to the forecourt where the bulletin will be posted. The bulletin will let the public know the gender of the baby, but it won’t bear the baby’s name.
As an added bonus – an unofficial town crier announces details of the birth to the crowds waiting outside! This age-old tradition can be traced back to Medieval England where town criers announced news to the public, since many were illiterate back then. It’s only afterwards that official announcements will be made on social media.
Royal births are celebrated with a bang. Literally.
Gun salutes marking the baby’s birth will take place in London later that day – an age-old tradition that marks the birth of every prince or princess. The basic royal salute is 21 rounds, but the number of rounds will increase for the occasion depending on the location. Sixty-two rounds will be fired for about 10 minutes by soldiers in London’s Hyde Park and the Tower of London (that’s an extra 20 rounds because it is a palace and 21 for its City of London location). At Green Park, a 41-gun salute by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery will take place (the basic 21, plus an extra 20 rounds because it’s a royal park).
Breastfeeding is common for royal moms these days
Historically, some royal mothers shunned the idea of breastfeeding. According to The Telegraph, “Queen Victoria found the idea of breastfeeding repellent, considering it the ‘ruin’ of intellectual and refined young ladies.” Queen Elizabeth II was breastfed and decided to continue the tradition with her children (although Princess Margaret reportedly wasn’t a fan of it). Princess Diana opted to nurse William and Harry –and it’s believed (although not confirmed) that Kate Middleton did the same with her children.
What’s in a name … or three, or four?
There’s been a flurry of bets on what the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge plan to name their royal baby, but, as a tradition, the public likely won’t find out the royal baby’s name until a day or two after its birth.
Royal babies are also given three or four first names, often names that honour previous monarchs, and they rarely use last names. There was one notable exception – after the Queen took to the throne in 1952, Prince Philip reportedly asked that the Royal Family take his surname and be known as the House of Mountbatten. It wasn’t until 1960 that the Queen decided her descendants should carry the last name Mountbatten-Windsor, which included Philip’s last name in the mix.
Royal babies have godparents just like everybody else – but royal tradition dictates they have much more than the standard two. Princess Charlotte has five godparents, while Prince George has seven.
The royal baby wears a recycled gown at its christening
The royal christening is a huge event for the baby, being its first official public appearance and all — and babies get christened in a royal christening gown. The original gown, made of silk and lace, was commissioned by Queen Victoria and first used at the christening of her daughter, Princess Victoria, in 1841. It was worn by 62 royal babies after that, including Princess Elizabeth at her christening in 1926, and up until Lady Louise Windsor in 2004. A replica of the christening gown was made after that, first used at the christening of James, Viscount Severn in 2008.
Prince George and Princess Charlotte are the most recent royal babies to be christened in the replica gown – and their little sibling will be christened in it, too.
Royals have to officially register their babies
Royals have many privileges, but just like the rest of the English public, they must register their child’s birth within 42 days.