Are Harry and Meghan breaking tradition — or setting trends?

Much has been made of how Prince Harry and Meghan may be breaking with tradition when it comes to the pending arrival of their first child. But the history of royal births is full of different trends coming to the fore.

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Prince Harry and Meghan want to keep plans for the arrival of their baby private. (Facundo Arrizabalaga/Associated Press)

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Amid the anticipation around the pending arrival of Prince Harry and Meghan's first child, much has been made of how the Duke and Duchess of Sussex may be breaking with tradition.

Certainly some things will differ from the most recent high-profile arrival of a royal baby. (That would be Prince Louis, who was born on April 23, 2018.) At that time, proud parents Prince William and Kate stood on the steps of a hospital in central London, before a gaggle of photographers, and gave the world its first view of the little prince a few hours after his birth.

Not so for Baby Sussex. Harry and Meghan want a more private arrival and a chance to celebrate as a family before word spreads publicly of the newest royal — a decision that hasn't gone down well with some devoted fans but impressed other observers.

That things may be changing is nothing new. The arrival of royal babies has always been evolving, with children born in a variety of circumstances.

Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William leave St. Mary's Hospital in London on April 23, 2018, with their new baby boy, Prince Louis. (Hannah Mckay/Reuters)

"When we look at the history of royal births, we don't see over centuries the environment surrounding royal births remaining the same," said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and author. "We see different trends coming to the fore and they're often a combination of the cultural trends of the time but also royal parents shaping those cultural trends."

In the absence of information from official sources, there's been rabid speculation around pretty much everything related to Baby Sussex. Meghan might be having or hoping for a home birth at Frogmore Cottage. Midwives may be involved. If it is a hospital birth, various locations have been mentioned — just not St. Mary's Hospital, where William and his three children were born.

Will Meghan have a home birth at Frogmore Cottage, near Windsor Castle? Some media speculation has suggested she would like to.

And yet, in all that, there are echoes of days gone by.  If, for example, Meghan does go the midwife route, she would hardly be the first royal mother to do so.

"In Tudor times, it's interesting that the birthing chamber is an exclusively female space, with ladies in waiting and midwives," said Harris, author of Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting.

As childbirth became more medicalized, male doctors came to be delivering royal babies. Sometimes, what the royal mother did also had an influence on broader society.

"There was some stigma surrounding the use of chloroform in childbirth until Queen Victoria used it" for the birth of her two youngest children in the 1850s, said Harris. "It helped make anesthesia in childbirth more socially acceptable."

Royal births at home (or at the palace or castle) were the order of the day for generations. Prince Charles, for example, was born at Buckingham Palace in 1948. The first royal birth in hospital came in 1970, with the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Kent's younger son, Lord Nicholas Windsor.

There were press photos of the duchess leaving hospital with the baby, but the hospital photo call that seems to stand out particularly in many people's minds is that of Charles and Diana with William in 1982.

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, leave St. Mary's Hospital with Prince William on June 22, 1982. (John Redman/The Associated Press)

"Because Diana was the most photographed woman in the world and had become famous in her own right, in addition to her role as Princess of Wales, there was also simply a lot of interest in Diana as a person, and William was second in line to the throne," said Harris.

Such a scene won't happen this time for a child who will be seventh in line. What will happen? Well, we're waiting to see. But count on one thing that's reflective of how royal communication has been evolving: amid everything else, there will be a post on Instagram.

About that baby name

Readers of the last Royal Fascinator were generous in sharing thoughts on potential names for Harry and Meghan's child. Several favoured Elizabeth and Diana. Lily was also popular. Some readers offered a potential moniker in keeping with the royal pattern that can run to three or four names.

Leslie Holmes, of Calgary, likes "Alexander Charles Philip" for a boy and "Victoria Diana Elizabeth" for a girl.

Cathy McColl, of Waterloo, Ont., favours "James Arthur Philip George" for a boy. "If it's a girl: Caroline Alexandra Mary." McColl hopes they don't opt for Elizabeth this time around. Alexandra and Mary are also part of Queen Elizabeth's name,  so she's not forgotten in that suggestion, McColl said.

Sandy Borradaile, of Oshawa, Ont., favours a name with a more current feel. "I hope that Meghan can come up with an appropriate name that isn't old-fashioned or following royal etiquette or protocol — that's what George, Charlotte and Louis are for," she wrote.

"I can certainly live with Lily (for Lilibet) and Elizabeth, or even Margaret, but how about something that would honour one of Harry's uncles?  After Prince Andrew, how about Andrea? It's modern, and even better, not a name that can be made fun of or the butt of jokes."

Happy Easter, Happy Birthday

Queen Elizabeth is presented with flowers at the Easter Mattins Service at St. George's Chapel, at Windsor Castle, Britain, April 21, 2019. (Eamonn M. McCormack/Reuters)

Queen Elizabeth attended the annual Easter Mattins service on Sunday at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, along with other members of the Royal Family. April 21 holds additional significance for her — it's her 93rd birthday.

William's rising stature

There was a sense several years ago that William wasn't keen on his ultimate role. (Jane Barlow/Reuters)

There was a time when it seemed Prince William might not want the role that is his destiny.

"If you go back … 10, 15 years, no, I don't think he did want it. I think he was very reluctant," royal biographer Penny Junor, author of Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King, said in an interview.

As he was growing up, William mixed with children outside royal circles in ways no other royal children had before. "I think that he just looked at his life and he looked at other people's lives and thought that theirs was rather more enviable, and who can blame him?" Junor said.

But things seem to have changed for William. "I think he's gaining stature as he gets older and more experienced at the job and more confident in the job," said Junor. "I think he's also got great charm."

There will be a chance for that charm to be on display on April 25 and 26, when William goes to New Zealand. Kensington Palace said he will pay tribute to those affected by the Christchurch mosque attacks last month and recognize "the incredible empathy and unity displayed by the people of New Zealand."

It's a trip that has echoes of another one he made eight years ago, when he also visited New Zealand in the aftermath of tragedy (a devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch).

William looks at the destruction at the Christchurch Cathedral on March 17, 2011, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Mark Taylor/Getty Images)

Junor sees that 2011 trip as something of a turning point for William. "I think on that journey he really recognized what his position enabled him to do, the comfort he was able to bring to people and the good effect that having a visit from someone with a royal title made … to people who had lost everything."

Since then, Junor said, William has gone from strength to strength.

Look closely and there are other signs he's preparing for his ultimate role. One came with a three-week, under-the-radar stint he did last month with the British security and intelligence services.

"These agencies are full of people from everyday backgrounds doing the most extraordinary work to keep us safe," William said later on Twitter.

William took part in a three-week attachment with Britain's security and intelligence agencies. (Kensington Palace/Reuters)

For Junor, the stint was "very indicative" of him being prepared for his ultimate role. "I think particularly, too, at the moment when terrorism is such a big thing, to get a grasp of what the security services are doing on the nation's behalf is just a very good thing for him and good preparation for when he does take the reins one day."

The upcoming trip will see him visit Auckland and Christchurch. "I think he will do the job amazingly well in New Zealand," said Junor. "He's got a lot of empathy."

Royally quotable

Harry takes part in activities as he attends the official opening of the Barking and Dagenham Future Youth Zone on April 11, 2019, in Dagenham, England. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

"As someone who is about to become a father, I am acutely aware of our shared responsibility to make this world more resilient and its inhabitants more accountable for the next generation."

— Prince Harry, earlier this year, during a speech at the Commonwealth Youth Roundtable.

Royals in Canada

Prince Philip chats with members of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on April 27, 2013. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Prince Philip's most recent visit to Canada came in late April 2013. It was something of a surprise, even though he's been here frequently, having made more than 70 visits or stopovers since 1950.

The Duke of Edinburgh was 91 at the time and had bounced back after a few health scares. His wife, Queen Elizabeth, had given up long-haul overseas travel.

It was a short trip — just 24 hours or so. But it gave the longest-serving consort to a British monarch the opportunity to present a ceremonial flag to the Royal Canadian Regiment's 3rd Battalion. He became the regiment's colonel-in-chief in 1953.

"Your record is impeccable, whether at home or in deployment abroad," Philip told dozens of troops after he watched precision military parachutists from the regiment drop out of the sky over downtown Toronto. "In a world where there is so much senseless violence, the regiment has an enviable reputation for peacekeeping." 

During the brief trip, Philip also picked up a couple of honours, receiving insignias of the Companion of the Order of Canada and Commander of the Order of Military Merit. 

Royal reads

  • Our friends at CBC Archives have taken a deep dive into the impact an American woman had when she arrived in the House of Windsor — and it's not Meghan.   
  • William and Kate work hard at preserving the privacy of their young children, so it was a rare moment a few days ago when pictures emerged of Prince George and Princess Charlotte having some family fun near their country home in Norfolk. [Daily Mail] 
  • Prince Charles and Camilla have another trip coming up when there will likely be some royal diplomacy at work. They're off to Germany in May. [The Telegraph] 
  • The Netflix drama The Crown has found its Diana. Newcomer Emma Corrin will take on the iconic role in the show's fourth season. And, it seems, she's "beyond excited" at the opportunity. [The Daily Telegraph] 
  • Prince Harry is teaming up with Oprah on mental health. 
  • A movie shot in B.C. dramatizes Harry and Meghan's lives as newlyweds. [CBC]

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.


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