Back in the land of my birth, there has been a great deal of excitement about the recent christening of the third in line to the throne — his royal highness Prince George of Cambridge, the 3-month-old son of Prince William and Princess Catherine.
George Alexander Louis was christened last week at St. James’ Palace in what, in spite of seven godparents, was a comparatively low-key ceremony for the royal family. The occasion was much smaller than the larger ceremonies his father and grandfather enjoyed at Buckingham Palace. It is thought that the choice of St. James’ Palace’s Chapel Royal was significant as it is where Princess Diana’s body rested for five days before her funeral in 1997. She is, of course, the child’s grandmother.
The christening’s style, the fact that this was the first official appearance of William and Kate since their son’s birth and William’s obvious comfort in holding his baby once again demonstrated the royal couple’s determination to modernize while maintaining important traditions.
A christening, of course, welcomes a child into the church, but there are a number of unique christening traditions observed by the royal family, all with a regal flavor, including:
• The christening gown usually is a special white robe and often is a family heirloom or purchased with the intention of being worn by future children. Prince George wore an elaborate outfit made of delicate Honiton lace and white satin by Angela Kelly, an exact replica of the one worn by every baby born to the British royal family since 1841, when Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Vicky, was baptized. This new replica gown was brought into use in 2008 to help preserve the 170-year-old original that, not surprisingly, was showing signs of wear.
• Photographs usually are taken as an important reminder of the day, but history was made last week when the official photographs of Prince George’s christening included the queen and three future kings — princes Charles, William and George. The last time four generations of British monarchs were photographed together was 1894, when Queen Victoria held the baby, the future Edward VIII, surrounded by her son, the future Edward VII, and grandson, the future George V.
• The water that the clergyman used to mark the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead came from the River Jordan and was held in a special royal silver font used for every royal christening since 1841. The most senior member of the Church of England, the archbishop of Canterbury, performed the ceremony.
• The cake served after the christening included a tier of fruit cake taken from William and Catherine’s 2011 wedding cake.
• Prince George was the first royal baby to be honored with a christening coin from the Royal Mint. The design was approved by the queen, and the coins are available to anyone. The smallest and simplest costs 13 British pounds (about $21) but rise to 50,000 British pounds ($80,000) for a version containing a kilogram of gold.
George’s baptism into the Church of England is more historically significant than most because he is in line to become king. This makes him, according the English law, the supreme governor of the Church of England, a title first taken by King Henry VIII when he broke from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century.
Many loyal British subjects who lined the streets outside St James Palace in London wore outfits featuring the British Union Jack flag, proved that this baby’s christening is far from an everyday occurrence. While it is easy to get carried away by the glamour of these royal occasions and the outfits of the lovely new mother and her sister, Pippa Middleton, it actually is quite sobering to think about the long line of tradition symbolized by the christening.
Being a republic, America has no royal family of its own. There is, therefore, a huge American interest in the royal family of its British cousins. But in my experience, much of that interest focuses on the glitz and glamour, rather than the historical significance. I came across this quote from the British Times newspaper, written by Philip Howard shortly after the birth of Prince William in 1982, that I think articulates the significance that the British place on the royals: “The birth of any baby is a landmark on the life of its family. The birth of a royal baby in the direct line of succession is a national landmark, because the baby personifies, in its small person, the tribal history of a race from its remote beginnings with the first kings of England 12 centuries ago.”
God bless America, and God save the (future) king!
Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. Email her at email@example.com or go to www.lesleyfrancispr.com.