Just over three months after his birth, Prince George, was christened. Tradition in the royal family has long held that christenings be held in Buckingham Palace’s Music Room. William and Kate elected to break from tradition, however and hold the ceremony in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace.
Not all traditions were dispensed with, however. The ceremony was conducted by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and maintained the royal custom of minimalism – a mere twenty-two guests were invited, with only senior royals and immediate family members gracing the guest list. The attendees spanned four generations of the royal family. Interestingly, the birth of George marks only the second time in history in which three generations of direct heirs to the throne have co-existed (the first being during the latter parts of the Victorian Era).
Having only a small ceremony is one of the many traditions acquired by royal christenings over the past few centuries. Another is the customary wearing of a family gown, first created for the christening of Princess Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria). Since its debut, the gown has been worn by more than sixty royal babies, including that of Queen Elizabeth II.
As one might expect, the condition of this gown has deteriorated a great deal since it was first conditioned. It needed to be especially treated; after every outing it was washed by hand in sterilised water before being stored in an air-tight vault in Buckingham Palace. It became clear that the robe would eventually fall to pieces, and so it was finally retired in 2004, after being worn at the baptism of Lady Louise Windsor and now resides in the Museum of London.
Shortly afterward, a replica was created by Angela Kelly, who has been the Queen’s personal assistant since 2002. This is the gown which has been used in every ceremony since, beginning with the 2008 christening of James Viscount Severn, Lady Louise’s younger brother.
Queen Elizabeth’s baptism occurred when she was just over five weeks old – and passed without a great deal of public interest, as she was not expected to be Queen at the time. This is in sharp contrast to Prince Charles, who certainly was – though he is still waiting, sixty-six years after his ceremony! When Charles was born, Elizabeth was not yet queen. In attendance was her husband – the Duke of Edinburgh, along with her father and then then King George VI.
William’s christening was conducted in 1982 and was one of the many which took place in the Music Room of Buckingham palace. The ceremony was performed by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie. Dr. Runcie also presided over the christening of Prince Harry two years later, in 1984 – though that ceremony took place in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor.
Most christenings in the Queen’s immediate family are conducted by the archbishop of Canterbury; there are, however, a few exceptions. Of these, the most notable recent memory is that of the christening of Princess Beatrice, whose ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of York and of Princess Eugenie, whose ceremony was performed by the Bishop of Norwich. The Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward, was christened by the Dean of Windsor, as were his two children, James and Louise (though the office was held by different men, namely Robert Woods in the first instance and David Conner in the latter two.)
The more modern flavour introduced into Prince George’s christening reflects the fact that the bridge between royalty and the people has been strengthened through Kate and William. What the next royal christening has in store will likely be along similar lines as it will be Prince William’s and Princess Kate’s second child, due April 2015.