Witnesses in the Delivery Room (Really!): The Wild Evolution of Royal Baby Births

When Kate Middleton and Prince William welcome their third child in just a matter of weeks (or days!), they’ll debut their new addition to the world on the steps of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital in London.

The post-birth appearance on the Lindo Wing steps has become something of a royal tradition: It’s how Princess Diana and Prince Charles introduced their sons to the world, and William and Kate followed in their footsteps. But although the Lindo Wing is synonymous with royal births today, even just 50 years ago, that wasn’t the case.

Up until the 1977 birth of the first of Queen Elizabeth’s grandchildren, Peter Phillips, royal births occurred at home. And in centuries past, they were events attended by courtiers, political officials and even the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Prince William and Kate Middleton with Princess Charlotte

Queen Elizabeth gave birth to all four of her children at home at Buckingham Palace— but still managed to break protocol by declining the presence of official “witnesses.” Up until then, the United Kingdom’s home secretary was present for all royal births, a tradition that dated all the way back to 1688 to ensure the legitimacy of an heir to the throne was never questioned, according to The Telegraph.

When Queen Victoria gave birth to her son Albert (later King Edward VII) in 1841, there were no official figures in the room — but that’s only because they arrived too late. In later births (Victoria had nine children total), she was either joined by government figures or had them waiting in the next room. Even the Prime Minister was waiting outside during the birth of her youngest child, Beatrice.

However, Victoria didn’t seem to be a fan of the crowd: By the time her grandson’s wife, the eventual Queen Mary, gave birth to her first child, David — later Edward VIII and following his abdication, the Duke of Windsor — she insisted that only the presence of the home secretary was necessary. And so that system stayed in place throughout the bulk of the early 20th century, with the home secretary present even for the birth of Princess Elizabeth, now, of course, the Queen.

The Duke and Duchess of York with Princess Elizabeth

It wasn’t until Queen Elizabeth was due to give birth to her first child in 1948 that her father, King George VI, did away with the tradition entirely. Calling the presence of the home secretary during a royal birth “an archaic custom,” he ended the decades-long tradition.

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