The British royals’ take on birth, Part I

The way the British royal family handles special occasions is interesting, to me anyway, because everything they do has to be examined in advance through history, tradition and protocol. Then the next day, many, many other people run out and do as close to the same thing as they possibly can.

Prince Charles with then-Princess Elizabeth
Prince Charles with then-Princess Elizabeth

Birth is no different.

The last few generations of the royal family have provided boatloads of drama that have kept the tabloids chattering and the rest of us agog — romance, opulence, star-crossed lovers, betrayal, tragedy, untimely death.

This week, in the runup to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, Birth Story is going to look at a few royal births.

We begin with Prince Charles, William's father, born at Buckingham Palace on Nov. 14, 1948, to then-Crown Princess Elizabeth, 22, and her husband, Prince Philip.

Philip famously played squash with a friend in another part of the palace during his son's birth. To be fair, in 1948 most fathers were at best pacing in hospital waiting rooms during their children's births. And, Philip did bring Elizabeth carnations and Champagne afterwards.

Just two weeks after Charles's birth, in a letter recently sold at auction, Elizabeth wrote a cousin, a bridesmaid at her 1947 wedding,"The baby is very sweet, and Philip and I are enormously proud of him. I still find it hard to believe that I really have a baby of my own!"

Photo by Cecil Beaton

Queen Elizabeth adds a birthday

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 85th birthday today with a commemoration that mingled an important tradition of the Easter season in Great Britain with the real birthday of the oldest British monarch ever to occupy the throne.

Queen Elizabeth II on her 85th birthday
Queen Elizabeth II

Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, at the London home of her maternal grandfather, the fourteenth Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.

Today, with just a week and a day to go until the wedding of the queen’s grandson Prince William to Catherine Middleton, the monarch attended Maundy Thursday service at Westminster Abbey on her birthday.

She gave “Maundy money,” specially minted silver coins, to 85 men and 85 women, the number representing the years of her life. The recipients were retirees chosen for their “tireless work for the Church and their communities,” according to an article in The Telegraph.

The custom, which draws from the explicit example of humility and service Jesus gave his apostles by washing their feet at the Last Supper, is hundreds of years old in England. It replaced an earlier practice in which the king would wash the feet of the poor on Maundy, or Holy, Thursday.

However, British monarchs had drifted away from distributing Maundy money personally, leaving the task to the clergy, until George V, Elizabeth’s grandfather, revived the tradition in 1932, according to an article that year in Time magazine.

Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne when she was 25, and has ruled for 59 years. In 2007, she passed “mad” King George III, who died in 1820 at the age of 82, to become the oldest British monarch. Only Queen Victoria has had a longer reign.

The queen celebrates her birthday officially in June.

Chris Jackson / Getty Images