Who doesn’t love a royal baby? While the royal women giving birth might change, the level of public interest does not – from the crowds who thronged to welcome Princess Anne in the world in 1950, to those awaiting news of the first child of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, due any week now.
Princes and princesses were traditionally born in royal residences – as avid viewers of The Crown will know. Queen Elizabeth II was born in the London home of her maternal grandparents in Mayfair – and when she was ready to start a family, children were born in Buckingham Palace. A royal-style home birth, you could say – which of course, they made fit for a Queen.
Royal mothers would bring in doctors and midwives for the birth, setting up makeshift maternity wards in the palace. Queen Elizabeth gave birth to Princes Charles, Andrew, and Edward in what was called the Belgian Suite according to the Telegraph, which had been “specially converted into a temporary maternity unit for the purpose”.
Before Princes Charles was born in 1948, royal births used to require a witness – so the British home secretary would attend to “verify” the event. This tradition was (perhaps unsuprisingly!) abandoned as the Queen requested greater privacy.
Her second child, Princess Anne, was born in Clarence House, where the royal family lived between 1949 and 1953 while Buckingham Palace was renovated following damage during World War II. Public interest was huge – on 12 August 1950, well-wishers waited outside Clarence House, in London, to await the news.
Royal births were announced via a public notice outside Buckingham Palace or the royal residence in which the child was born, and would give updates on how the mother and baby were doing. The sign below, posted after Prince Charles was born, reads: “Her Royal Highness, the Princess Elizabeth, has had a good night and is making satisfactory progress.
“The infant prince continues to do well.”
It was Princess Anne who broke the tradition of giving birth at the palace with her son, Peter Phillips. Gone where the royal-style home births – Anne was the first royal to give birth in the now famous Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in London – welcoming Peter in 1977 and Zara in 1981.
The private maternity wing reportedly now costs around £5,000 per night, and is said to be among the most exclusive maternity wards in the UK. This change of tradition brought about a new key moment in royal births: the moment the baby was introduced to the crowds on the Lindo Wing steps.
So why the change? Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams says there’s a remoteness to palaces and, in a media-conscious age, royal births are now arranged with regard to the “eagerly-awaited photo opportunity” which will now travel around the world.
“There is no doubt that the Lindo Wing is the perfect setting for a photo opportunity of the baby with his or her parents,” he tells HuffPost UK. “When a senior member gives birth it is a global event.”
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The moment a royal steps outside has become a cause for celebration – and has created some iconic pictures. In the 1970s, Princess Anne’s midwife, Delphine Stephens, carried her two-day-old son Peter Phillips into the car to leave the hospital – giving the public their first glimpse of the prince. (Spot the Paddington Bear bigger than the baby in the back of the shot!)
Four years later, in 1981, Princess Anne carried three-day old Zara from the maternity unit into the car herself.
Among the most famous pictures, is that from 22 June, 1982, when Princess Diana emerged in those now famous doors the day after giving birth to Prince William, who was wrapped in a white blanket and held by his dad, Prince Charles. Two years later, on 15 September, Prince Harry was born in the very same maternity ward, marked by that same perfect shot – and some fantastic hair from Princess Diana, and a red suit later echoed by Kate Middleton.
In recent years, the Duchess of Cambridge stood on those steps to mark the arrival of Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – the baby always wrapped in a white blanket, crowds applauding, with the car awaiting for them to get inside.
Despite the royals now giving birth in the age of social media – the announcement that Charlotte was born was first made on Twitter – Fitzwilliams says the charming tradition of posting news of the royal birth on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace has been continued.
Will Meghan Markle follow the trend? Staff at the Lindo Wing have been advised not to book leave in the spring, the Telegraph has reported – sparking rumours that she does plan to have her baby there. “[They] have been asked not to take holiday in April,” a source told the publication. “Everyone thinks it’s got something to do with the royal baby, but no one is confirming anything.”
Meghan and Harry are, however, set to move into their new home, Frogmore Cottage in Windsor – about 20 miles from Kensington Palace – any day now. And, according to some reports, this makes it unlikely that Meghan will travel back to London to give birth.
Instead, rumours have circulated that the Duchess of Sussex will give birth at the Mulberry Birth Centre at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey. The hospital is more scaled back than the Lindo Wing, and doesn’t offer private care for maternity patients. But inside there is a birthing pool in a suite with mood-changing lights.
But until Meghan gives birth, it’s all speculation. Not long to wait, now.
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