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

Uxbridge Gazette - - Past Times -

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.

18TH CEN­TURY

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.

19TH CEN­TURY

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

Marie An­toinette

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