When Catherine of Cambridge graced the steps of London’s Lindo Wing she did so looking utterly flawless, as always. Beautifully blow-dried hair, a gorgeous Jenny Packham dress and of course, little Prince Louis of Cambridge in her arms. With cameras flashing and news anchoresses swooning, it may have seemed like a bit of a media circus. But the reality is, the privacy of British royal hospital births is a relatively new concept.
A full-frills affair
Flash back to the 1500s and the “Royal Book” dictated how new British princes and princesses were welcomed into the world. Among other things, it insisted that royal births be preceded by a ceremony, religious Mass and official procession to the birthing venue. After travelling to the venue, the pregnant queen was ushered into an outer chamber and offered a glass of wine before entering the inner birthing chamber.
Waiting it out
While Kate was whisked in and out of the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital relatively quickly, back in the Middle Ages mothers-to-be were inclined to spend as long as necessary in the birthing rooms. This meant that Anne Boleyn, the second and infamously ill-fated wife of Henry VIII, was supposedly confined for 12 days before giving birth.
A spectator sport
While some may argue that storming the steps of the Lindo Wing in the hope of a front page worthy photo is an invasion of privacy, it makes royal births in the 1600 and 1700s look positively tranquil. In 1688 Mary of Modena gave birth to James Francis Edward Stuart in front of 200 official witnesses, a move that was deemed necessary to prevent rumours that the baby was switched. The infamous Marie Antoinette of France was also expected to endure a public birth to quash rumours that the infant was an imposter.
Right up until 1853, royal births unfolded painkiller free. However, this all changed when Queen Victoria, amid giving birth to her eighth child, requested chloroform from her doctor.
The switch to hospitals
Today, hospital births are the norm for most mothers, royal or not. However, in the 1920s home births were still considered superior. No one batted an eyelid when Queen Elizabeth II was born at 17 Bruton Street, the Mayfair home of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, her maternal grandparents. Even in 1948 royal births were still laced with somewhat old-fashioned traditions, with Queen Elizabeth II obliged to give birth to Prince Charles in Buckingham Palace. It wasn’t until 1982, when Princess Diana gave birth to Prince William, that a British royal mother was ushered to a hospital. The Duchess of Cambridge followed suit and was supposedly attended to by a team of 20 medical professionals when giving birth to Prince George at the Lindo Wing. Of course, everyone was sworn to secrecy.
Gents in the room
While Prince William was present for the births of all three of his children, the same can’t be said for all royal daddies. In medieval times there was a firm “no men in the birthing chamber” rule, which continued right up to the 1960s, when Prince Philip reportedly joined Queen Elizabeth II in the delivery room for the birth of Prince Edward, their third son and fourth child. Inside sources reveal he was holding her hand during the birth, which made Philip the first royal father in modern history to be present for the birth of a child. Even so, this didn’t stop Prince Philip from missing the birth of his first child, with the Duke of York reportedly playing squash with his private secretary during the labour. Of course, he was quick to win back Her Majesty with a bouquet of red roses and carnations and a cheeky comment that Charles resembled “a plum pudding.”
The British royal palace has always been a stickler for tradition, and this includes the way births are announced. As per tradition, an official framed birth notice is presented outside Buckingham Palace on a golden easel. That said, the palace did break tradition after the birth of Princess Charlotte by announcing the news with a tweet reading “Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a daughter at 8.34 a.m. Her Royal Highness and her child are both doing well.”
Are you a stickler for tradition or do you prefer the modernist approach?