It’s A Boy!
CAS’s Arianne Chernock on Royal Baby Fever
After months of waiting, word came Monday that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, known more familiarly as William and Kate, had given birth to a son at 4:24 p.m., London time. The yet-to-be-named prince—third in line to the throne of England—weighed in at 8 pounds, 6 ounces. Few other details were provided of the birth as the public stood in the sweltering heat outside St. Mary’s Hospital in London and Buckingham Palace.
As word of the baby’s arrival hit the Internet, an astonishing 25,000 tweets per minute were logged. Brits and tourists were treated to clanging church bells, a 61-gun salute at the Tower of London, and fountains running blue in Trafalgar Square to celebrate the birth of the new prince, who will one day become the 43rd sovereign to serve England since William the Conqueror.
The celebration is one more indication that the British public’s support for the monarchy is at an all-time high. A survey conducted last year by The Guardian/ICM Research revealed that 69 percent of respondents say that Britain would be worse off without the monarchy. That same poll found that 48 percent of the people surveyed said they’d like the succession to skip over Prince Charles altogether, making his son, Prince William, next in line to succeed the 87-year-old Queen Elizabeth II. And as demonstrated by the endless television coverage, newspaper headlines, and magazine covers that have chronicled Kate’s pregnancy and Monday’s royal birth, even on the other side of the pond, Americans are equally enthralled by the royal family.
BU Today spoke with modern British history expert Arianne Chernock (left), a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of history, about what the birth of the new monarch means for England and why Americans seem to care so much. Her first book, Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism, received the John Ben Snow Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies. Chernock is currently at work on a second book, The Queen and I: The Right to Reign and the Rights of Women in Victorian Britain, which explores Britons’ responses to queens who reigned during the 19th century. Monday night, Chernock appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 to discuss the challenges of naming the royal baby, an announcement that could be days or even weeks in the making. Buckingham Palace took a week before announcing Prince William’s name following his birth in 1982, and Prince Charles’ name was not revealed to the public until approximately a month after his arrival.
BU Today: Why is it Americans have such a fascination with the royal family?
Chernock: I think Americans are very proud of their history. No one would deny that the American Revolution was a good thing. That being said, right up until the American Revolution, Americans felt very strongly attached to King George III and the royal family. They really felt that that was their tie to Britain and that was it was their family, too. After the American Revolution, Americans kind of reclaimed “Britishness,” especially as represented by the royal family. So you see in the 19th and 20th centuries, Americans continue to cling to the monarchy, and rejoice in it. When Queen Victoria’s son Prince Edward came to visit the States in 1860 he was greeted by throngs of people along the East Coast.
So it’s not a new phenomenon. It certainly predates Princess Diana. Often I hear “this is about Diana and the kind of cult that she created around herself,” but it actually goes back so much further than that.
Was there anything that struck you as particularly notable while you watched all the media coverage over the past few days?
Royal births always attract a lot of attention. We saw this when Prince Charles was born, when Prince William was born. But they don’t compare to the huge media frenzy we’ve seen over the last weeks and months leading up to the birth of this prince. I think this has less to do with public interest and more to do with the fact that we’ve seen an amplification of media outlets and access. The fountains in Trafalgar Square ran blue on Monday, as they did in 1948. There was a lot of harkening back to tradition. But the media frenzy this time around was unprecedented.
Do you think there will be as much media fascination for this child growing up as there was for William during his childhood?
More. I think there’s always been this fascination, but what has changed historically has been the evolution of the media. If you look at the birth of Charles in 1948, the world found out from the BBC Radio, and the notice that was posted on [the gates of] Buckingham Palace. The birth of William was big news, it was one of People magazine’s top selling issues ever. But think about the birth of this child: we had Twitter, an incredible burst of media activity around this, aided by the fact that Kate and William are modern, fashion-forward, loving people. So this gets back to the question about the American fascination. It’s not new, and his birth was big news. But this was bigger.
Is the new baby likely to impact the public’s feelings toward the royal family?
I’m a historian, so I’m not one to predict. But if William and Kate prove to be effective, passionate parents who are doing a good job raising their child, then I think that yes, this will only add to the fascination with the family, [and raise] their profile both in Britain and in the world. It kind of depends on how they are perceived as parents.
There’s been this long-standing fascination—royal births have always been treated as these momentous events—moments of national unity, kind of restoring a sense of national unity, a sense of purpose. The media and its encroachment and expectations about access have really changed. That’s something you really see shifting in the 1980s, although the beginnings of this go back to the 19th century. As parents, William and Kate will have to deal with this, how to maintain some sense of privacy while balancing access.
You were quoted in a piece in The Atlantic discussing how the parenting styles of royal parents have differed over the years. Can you talk about that?
We have seen the royal family become more important, not just the monarch, but their children as well. It’s really accelerated in the second half of the 20th century. We are really indebted to Princess Diana for her efforts to provide what was considered a more normal upbringing for her children, a more hands-on parenting style. Queen Elizabeth was often said, in the 1950s and 1960s, as being too distant in her interactions with her children, not taking them on trips. That may have not been the case in her private life, though. Certainly we’ve seen a shift towards bringing the children as much as possible but also trying to maintain some sense of privacy.
The Duchess of Cambridge has said that coming up with a name for her child would be “very difficult.” Why?
They have several names to play with, because the baby could have many names. Looking at this couple, I think they are going to try to strike a balance between tradition and modernity. This child will have several names, and I think the first name will be a traditional one. This child will not be named “Moses” or “North West.” They are going to certainly nod to tradition in the choice of name. But beyond that, this couple has quite a bit of latitude when compared to their ancestors. There have been past instances where members of the royal family have shot down former choices. Queen Elizabeth II’s parents wanted to name her sister “Ann,” but [grandfather] George V didn’t like the name so they ended up going with Margaret. Queen Victoria’s parents had a bunch of names picked out, but Victoria’s uncle didn’t like any of them and ultimately chose her name at her christening. I don’t think there will be that kind of interference this time around.
Can you explain the significance of some of the front-runners: George, James, Arthur?
All the front-runner names, not to say that they will ultimately go with one of them, are recycled. They are the names of past monarchs. Some are very old. George has particular meaning because it was the name of Queen Elizabeth’s father and her grandfather.
Had William and Kate’s baby been a girl, history would have been made since the Queen recently changed the law of succession, allowing a woman to inherit the throne if she’s the first-born child, even if she has male siblings. What do you think the long-term effects of the change in the law will be?
The Succession of the Crown Act became law in April. Kate and William’s child, had it been a girl, would have become third in line to the throne, no matter what. I think that is really significant, and we’re seeing that the aristocracy in Britain is trying to use this new law as leverage to achieve greater equality in some of the inheritance laws for the elite as well. Other countries, like Spain, that still have male primogeniture, are rethinking their laws now as well.
I almost feel now that given the expectations of a constitutional monarch in Britain, it has become a feminized role. The two longest reigning sovereigns in modern history were Victoria and Elizabeth II, both of whom had 60 or more years on the throne. The country has become accustomed to this being a woman’s job, even though the laws until this spring didn’t reflect that. It’s funny, I found a clipping from when Charles was born in 1948. Prince Philip was passing by some well-wishers and someone in the crowd yelled out, “I hope you have a boy,” when he was on his way in to see his wife. I don’t think you would hear that anymore, regardless of the law. There wasn’t the same sense now that England felt this needed to be a boy.7 Comments