15 April 2019

UK: «Private birth plans»

We are getting closer to yet another royal birth in the United Kingdom – today it is exactly 6 months since the pregnancy was announed – and last Thursday Buckingham Palace released an «operational note» to the media facilities «ahead of the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's baby»:
«The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are very grateful for the goodwill they have received from people throughout the United Kingdom and around the world as they prepare to welcome their baby. Their Royal Highnesses have taken a personal decision to keep the plans around the arrival of their baby private. The Duke and Duchess look forward to sharing the exciting news with everyone once they have had an opportunity to celebrate privately as a new family.»
This means first of all that we will not know if the Duchess will give birth in a hospital or at home at Frogmore before the birth has taken place. Secondly, there will not be a photo call outside the Lindo Wing at the St. Mary's Hospital in London like after the births of the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

However, in the same operational note the media was also told that «Within a few days of the birth, the Duke and Duchess will take part in a photo call within the grounds of Windsor Castle». And furtheremore, the media has been informed that «A large fixed position for broadcasters and reporters will be facilitated on the Long Walk in Windsor. This will only become open for access once it has been announced that The Duchess is in labour. The facility will be operational from 6am until 11pm and for up to 72 hours after The Duchess has given birth».

So much for keeping the birth «secret». Of course the media – and far too many royalty watchers and «experts» – have worked themselves into a frenzy with screaming headlines about «break of protocol» and whatever. The Norwegian tabloid VG produced one of the most silly headlines ever: «Prins Harry og hertuginne Meghan vil holde fødselen hemmelig» («Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan is going to keep the birth a secret»). But then went on by saying that «Prinseparet vil vente med å kunngjøre at babyen er kommet til de selv har rukket å feire begivenheten privat», which more or less taken from the last sentence of the first quote above.

If only people could calm down for a minute or two ... or three. As the editor of the blog Peearage News, Michael Rhodes, has put it, «The idea that the Sussexes are breaking ‘protocol’ and ‘royal tradition’ by having a private royal birth is wrong. The hospital photo shoot is a modern move. The birth of the Queen’s children were private affairs. Edward wasn’t seen in public until he was 3 months old.» Rhodes later went on by writing that «If some people understood the difference in the words ‘private’ and ‘secret’ then the Duke & Duchess of Sussex would not be suffering from the barrage of criticism thrown at them by irrate Twitterers....and Press».  I couldn't have said it better myself.

I think the parents to be have made a wise decision. We will get the happy news soon enough anyway.

Many people have asked about possible royal titles for the Sussex baby. As no press release concerning a Letters Patent has been given yet, I think we can safely assume that the Sussex baby will not become a Prince or Princess. This means that the baby, if a girl, will be styled Lady X Mountbatten-Windsor, while a boy by courtesy will be styled Earl of Dumbarton, which is the Duke of Sussex's second (lesser grade) title.

For the record, when I commented on the title issue back in October, I didn't make any predictions on what the Queen would decide. I only wrote what I personally thought would be the best solution. The number of «working royals» are bound to drop for natural reasons in the years to come, so in that regard it would be wise to give a royal title to the Sussex baby as well. Many have argued that the Letters Patent published in January 2013 signalled that only the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be Prince or Princess. In other words, the LP would have been worded differently if all possible grandchildren of the Prince of Wales were to receive a royal title.

That is a reasonable argument. However, there is nothing that could have stopped the Queen from changing her mind some time in the future if she saw it necessary. At the time Prince Harry had not settled down anyway. There are good arguments for limiting the number of Princes and Princesses, but there are in my opinion equally good reasons for including the Sussex baby.

As it stands today, the future Sussex baby, whether it be Earl of Dumbarton or Lady X Mountbatten-Windsor, will in accordance with the terms of the Letters Patent of 30 November 1917 become Prince or Princess when the Prince of Wales succeeds to the throne. But it is not unreasonable to expect that the Letters Patent in due time will be modified to reduce the number of potential princes and princesses, or that the monarch in some form or another will «let it be known» that the Sussex baby will continue using «the birth title» under the new reign even without a changed LP. We will obviously know sooner or later.

Updated on Monday 6 May 2017 at 22.00 (orthographic mistake corrected).

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