Royal baby: How births have been announced

Official portraits of the future King Edward VIII holding his brother George in 1903, the then Duchess of York holding Princess Elizabeth in 1926 and Princess Diana with her baby Prince William. Pictures via Getty Images/ Wire Image Traditional portrait photos show (left to right) the future King Edward VIII holding his brother George VI, the Queen Mother holding Princess Elizabeth, and Princess Diana with Prince William

Announcing the birth of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's first child poses a challenge for the Royal Family - how can it honour more stately tradition and protocol when the news will be known round the world in moments?

When Queen Elizabeth II's great-grandfather, the future King Edward VII, was born to Queen Victoria on 9 November 1841, the rules governing the announcement of royal births were practically set in stone.

"This great and important news was immediately made known to the Town, by the firing of the Park and Tower guns."

So reported a special edition of the London Gazette published that very evening in order to officially record this particular royal delivery.

King Edward VII by Sir George Hayter This 1841 portrait of the young King Edward VII fed the public appetite for any insight into royal life

But even before the guns had been fired or the Gazette published, news had already been spreading by word of mouth.

Politicians had been seen pulling up at the gates of the palace after "special messengers" were dispatched to get them.

It was the custom of having cabinet ministers in attendance for royal births which led to the news leaking.

Reaction to King Edward VII's birth

The official wording of the announcement was delayed until the Queen's consort Prince Albert appeared before a special meeting of the Privy Council - a group of advisors to the Sovereign.

But once the birth was verified, the news spread quickly with the Queen's subjects reacting in delight.

In Cambridge, the bells of St Mary's rang out, while people shouted loud hurrahs, in Kingston-on-Thames, a supper of game was served in honour of the birth, while in Liverpool the news was announced to those in the theatre before the special messenger sent up there was told to move on to his next stop - Dublin.

Source: The Times (1841)

Buckingham Palace used the Court Circular to clarify the circumstances of what happened in a bid to correct any "erroneous" accounts about the Queen's "accouchement" - confinement after child birth.

On 10 November, the public was informed that while there were very few people in the delivery room, other important figures, such as the prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, were in the palace grounds.

The practice of politicians acting as witnesses and verifying royal births had been in place since the birth of King James II's son - Prince James Francis Edward Stuart - in 1688.

There had been rumours the baby, whose mother was the King's Catholic second wife Mary of Modena, had been stillborn and replaced with an imposter smuggled into the royal birth chamber in a warming bed pan.

"An official announcement was still made, despite at least 80 witnesses at the birth, in order to confirm that a legitimate son had been born," says historian Amy Licence, who is researching a book on Royal babies.

The values placed on succession and lineage means it is vital for all Royal births to be officially recorded, she adds.

Princess Elizabeth in 1927 Royal children tend to gather interest whatever they are doing - even if it involves being taken out for a stroll

The custom persisted to the Queen's own birth on 21 April 1926, with the then Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks obliged to see her for himself so he could then release the news through official channels.

But the Queen's father King George VI, declared the custom to be "archaic" and without legal basis and officially scrapped it just weeks before she gave birth to Prince Charles 22 years later.

Overseas interest in the baby

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
  • The 15 realms of the Commonwealth that have the Queen as their head of state, have already been involved with legislative changes when it comes to this birth.
  • All supported a bill ending discrimination against women in the succession to the British throne, thus meaning the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's first child will become monarch, regardless of gender.

But other traditions have continued, including the publication in the London Gazette and the Court Circular as well as the posting of a notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace.

There has always been and always will be global interest in children born to royalty, says royal historian Hugo Vickers. When that child is likely be "another future monarch", that attention often intensifies. Therefore, he adds, it is necessary for royals to have plans and procedures in place about how to inform the world of the birth.

The Foreign Office has, in the past, been responsible for notifying the UK's overseas territories, while Buckingham Palace has directly contacted all the Commonwealth realms with news of a royal birth.

For the Queen's own birth, the circumstances were slightly different as it was not obvious she would one day succeed to the throne. She was third-in-line after her uncle, the future King Edward VIII and her father, George VI who became king following his brother's abdication in 1936.

Yet this did not stop a crowd from lining up outside her home in 17 Bruton Street in order to see the latest royal descendant.

A month later, the interest was still so intense that the child at times had to be taken out of the back door for her morning airing.

"It doesn't matter which royal is having a baby, there is always significant interest - this is the UK's first family after all," royal expert Victoria Arbiter explains.

By the time Prince Charles - a direct heir - was born in 1948, the media landscape had changed significantly and the news was immediately broadcast on the BBC, with the announcer stating: "Listeners will want us to offer their loyal congratulations to Princess Elizabeth and the Royal Family on this happy occasion."

Those at home could hear for themselves the crowd at Buckingham Palace shouting: "We want Philip; we want the King."

London Gazette sign from 1841 - when King Edward VII was born The London Gazette has provided an official record of royal births for centuries
London Gazette notice regarding the birth of King Edward VII A special edition announced the birth of the future Edward VII, the Queen's great-grandfather, in 1841
London Gazette notice regarding the birth of Princess Elizabeth Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was not expected to become Queen when she was born
London Gazette notice regarding the birth of Prince Charles The style of the announcements is archaic yet consistent says Royal historian Hugo Vickers
London Gazette notice regarding the birth of Prince Charles Prince William's birth announcement in 1982, was short, but it dominated the newspaper front pages
The Honourable Artillery Company firing a Royal Gun Salute at the Tower of London to mark the birth of a boy to the Queen in February 1960 All of the births, including Prince Andrew's in 1960 have been marked with the firing of a traditional salute
Two policeman standing either side of a royal bulletin announcing the birth of the Queen's new son, Edward, at Buckingham Palace, London in 1965 A notice pinned to the gates of Buckingham Palace carried news of the birth of Prince Edward in 1965

When Prince William was born 33 years later, on 21 June 1982, a notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace informed the world the Princess of Wales "was safely delivered of a son" and both mother and baby were "doing well".

But the crowds outside pushed away any notion of decorum and formality, shouting: "Nice one, Charlie, let's have another one" while the announcement was immediately broadcast on the television and radio before headlining the next day's papers.

Princess Diana defied tradition by leaving the hospital just 24 hours later, and standing on the steps to give the world a glimpse of the swaddled baby. The clamour for the first shot of the child was unprecedented.

A man reading the announcement of the birth of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, in the Evening News, 19th February 1960. Royal babies sell papers

Yet, while the interest in Prince William's own birth was enormous, his own child's arrival is set to be like nothing the Royal Family has ever seen before.

The duchess's pregnancy was revealed through an official announcement earlier than her predecessors because she suffered acute morning sickness. Public interest has been intense ever since.

"The British Monarchy has a website and a presence on social media, so the question is where do you put it first? The duke and duchess will have to put an announcement on the gates of the palace though because that's where the die-hard traditionalists always gather," explains royal expert Victoria Arbiter.

The internet means that once this baby is born, it is guaranteed the news will be disseminated globally in mere seconds. Yet, this is just the beginning.

"They will have to pose for a family shot. It's important for them to do it. Part of them will want to hide away and have this personal time but wherever the duchess gives birth, the world's media will be waiting outside for them," Arbiter says.

Princess Diana and Prince William Royal historian Hugo Vickers says the interest in this new royal baby is expected to be extremely high not just because Prince William is the father but also because Princess Diana is the grandmother

"We have 24-hour news now as well as the internet - something we did not have when the Queen was born. This makes for an insatiable desire for news and for people to attempt to get that first shot of the baby - which will be worth a lot of money."

"But when the child comes, Prince William will do everything he can to protect that baby. He is ready to protect Kate and his family like a grizzly bear."

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