GOOD HEIR DAYS
The arrival of a royal baby has been a source of public interest for centuries. LAUREN TAYLOR looks back on the heirs and graces of royal childbirth
THE arrival of little baby Louis has made headlines around the world. The Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her third child in the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in London... just as she did with Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
But hospital births are a relatively new tradition for the royal family. Most prince and princesses throughout history have been born in palaces and castles.
If you think the media circus around royal babies is big now, such events were of major importance in the past, largely because of the divine power and political importance that was traditionally attached to the monarchy.
16TH AND 17TH CENTURY
BACK in the 1500s, royal births in Britain were preceded with a procession in which thousands of members of the public would follow the expectant mother to the place she planned to give birth. She would address the crowds before the labour.
Childbirth was dangerous at the time and many women died. When Queen Elizabeth I was born in 1533, royal wives were told to write a will before the birth.
Protocol at the time was for the room to be kept dark. Tapestries were draped over the windows and very little fresh air was allowed in. The conditions were supposed to replicate the womb.
UNTIL the mid 1700s, childbirth was a women’s business and men were never present. Royal births were also very public, especially in the French court. It’s been well documented that 200 people watched Marie Antoinette give birth in 1778. She was almost crushed by the huge group of people who poured into the bed chamber when the doctor announced that the baby was coming. Excited spectators were reportedly climbing on furniture to get a better view.
In Britain, it was a more modest group, ranging from around 40 people to a handful of VIPs, who attended to witness royal births.
FORCEPS to help free a stuck baby had been introduced, but were considered controversial. But when Princess Charlotte died in 1817 after giving birth to a stillborn baby following a 50-hour labour, there was a national outpouring of grief.
Her physician Sir Richard Croft was criticised for not using forceps and afterwards they came to be used as standard during tricky births.
Women were given no pain relief during childbirth (the pain was seen as punishment for original sin) until the mid-19th century. Although chloroform was discovered as an effective relief in 1847, it was seriously frowned upon until Queen Victoria demanded pain relief for her eighth labour in 1853. Chloroform was then used widely to ease the pain and was inhaled from a handkerchief. It also paved the way for other pain relief methods.
Most opted for what was known as ‘twilight sleep’ – a concoction of various drugs to make royal and noble mums unconscious for a ‘painless’ birth. However, taking it erased the memory of the birth altogether and there were reports of women becoming psychotic and screaming in pain under the influence of the drugs.
EARLY 20TH CENTURY
QUEEN Elizabeth II was born by caesarean section in 1926 and became the first British monarch to be born in a private house since the Middle Ages.
Traditionally the home secretary attended royal births and Sir William Joynson-Hicks was present at the Queen’s birth. A parliamentary member had to traditionally be there to witness the birth, confirming the newborn heir’s royal lineage. This tradition ended in 1936 after the Queen’s cousin Princess Alexandra was born.
In keeping with the custom for fathers not to attend births, Prince Philip did not attend Prince Charles’ birth in 1948 – he was said to be playing squash, followed by a swim.
LATE 20TH CENTURY TO TODAY
PRINCESS Diana was a true trailblazer in the royal family. She was the first to break with established royal birth tradition when she opted to have Prince William in a hospital – the private Lindo Wing of St Mary’s in Paddington, west London.
This has become the new tradition, with The Duchess of Cambridge following suit for her three labours.
Prince Charles was present for the birth of his two sons, but some traditions have never changed and news of the royal birth of the latest prince was announced on an easel attached to the railings of Buckingham Palace and marked by gun salutes across London.
...200 people watched Marie Antoinette give birth in 1778. She was almost crushed by the huge group who poured into the bed chamber
The birth of the new prince was made public in the traditional manner – an official statement was placed on an easel outside Buckingham Palace, above
The Duchess of Cambridge has had all three of her children at the Lindo wing of St Mary’s hospital, London
A proud Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Charles in 1948
Elizabeth, Duchess of York, with her daugher, the future Queen, Princess Elizabeth in 1926
Elizabeth I circa 1570. After her birth, expectant royal wives had to write their wills