Royal watchers around the world were overjoyed with the announcement that Britain’s Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton), have welcomed their third child. It is anticipated that the newest little prince will be baptized with water from the River Jordan (where, according to Christianity, Jesus was baptized), like a long line of royals before him. Here are some facts about royal births through the ages, including why this one breaks with tradition.
Until recently, centuries-old laws of succession gave male heirs priority and required that the crown be passed to a monarch’s sons, in order of birth; a daughter could only inherit the throne if she had no male siblings. However, the rules were revised in the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 so that a monarch’s male and female offspring have an equal right to the throne, and a younger boy could not jump ahead of his older sister in the line of succession. As a result, Princess Charlotte (born in 2015) has become the first female royal heir to not be pushed down the order of succession by a younger male sibling. She remains fourth in line for the throne after her brother Prince George (born in 2013), her father Prince William, and her grandfather Prince Charles. The royal couple’s brand new second son is fifth in the line of succession, one spot ahead of his uncle, Prince Harry.
The son of Prince Charles (who was born at Buckingham Palace in 1948) and the late Princess Diana (born in 1961 at a home leased by her aristocratic parents in the English village of Sandringham), William was delivered at London’s St. Mary’s Hospital on June 21, 1982. His arrival was announced with a proclamation signed by his doctors and placed on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.
In one notable instance, Home Secretary John Robert Clynes traveled to Scotland in 1930 to witness the birth of Princess Margaret at Glamis Castle. Margaret, the daughter of the future King George VI and sister of Elizabeth, the future queen, was born two weeks after her due date but Clynes had to remain in Scotland on alert until she made her debut.
As is tradition, the most recent royal arrival was heralded with the placement of a gilded easel bearing a framed notice announcing the royal birth in front of Buckingham Palace. The announcement will remain on display for approximately 24 hours as is customary. The practice of posting a bulletin after a royal birth goes back to at least 1837, when Buckingham Palace became the British monarch’s official residence. In addition, the Union Jack flag was raised above Buckingham Palace to mark the newest prince’s arrival. Additionally, for the first time in royal history, an official announcement about the baby’s entrance into the world will be made via social media.
Queen Victoria’s road to motherhood got off to a rocky start in 1840, when, four months into her first pregnancy, an unemployed Londoner named Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate her while she was riding in a horse-drawn carriage with her husband Prince Albert. (Victoria escaped unharmed and Oxford, the first of at least seven people who tried to attack or murder the queen, later was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental institution.) Victoria went on to become the first monarch to give birth under the influence of chloroform, whose anesthetic effects were discovered in the late 1840s and which her physician administered when Victoria delivered her eighth and ninth children, Prince Leopold, born in 1853, and Princess Beatrice, born in 1857. The queen’s experiences helped popularize the use of anesthesia among London’s upper classes. However, Victoria maintained a sour attitude toward pregnancy, which she derided as an “occupational hazard” of being a wife, and labeled her own babies ugly and frog-like and refused to breastfeed them.
In one historic example, James Francis Edward, prince of Wales, was a topic of controversy from the time of his birth in 1688. Until James’ delivery, his mother, Mary of Modena, the Catholic second wife of King James II, had suffered a number of miscarriages and was childless. Following James’ arrival, rumors circulated widely that Mary was never pregnant to begin with (or had experienced another miscarriage) and snuck an imposter baby into her bed via warming pan, in an effort to produce a Catholic male heir, an alarming prospect to England’s Protestants. That same year, James II was ousted and Mary fled the country with their son. As an adult, the prince (whose royal blood proved legitimate, despite the conspiracy theories) tried unsuccessfully to reclaim the British crown and was dubbed the Old Pretender.
Although Henry VIII fathered three legitimate children who survived—daughters from his wives Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and a son, Edward, by Jane Seymour (who died shortly after the boy’s birth), Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn also experienced multiple miscarriages and stillbirths, leading experts to believe Henry was the source of the fertility troubles. Syphilis once was speculated to be a factor in the king’s reproductive issues; however, this theory has been discounted and more recent research suggests a blood group incompatibility (involving the Kell antigen) between Henry and his wives might have been at the root of his problems.