THE ROYAL FAMILY have many weird and wonderful traditions and protocols, but there is one particularly strange one that pertained to royal births.
In a now abolished tradition, it used to be required to have the Home Secretary present for a royal birth, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is believed this was done to verify the child’s regal legitimacy ‒ in other words, to check it is the genuine descendant of the monarch and prevent “imposters”. This was done away with by King George VI in 1948 before the birth of Prince Charles, so the last royal birth for which this happened was Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s cousin, in 1936.
The tradition dates back to the so-called ‘Warming Pan Scandal’ in the late 17th century, amid rumours surrounding the pregnancy of Queen Mary Beatrice (Mary of Modena), wife to King James II.
As the couple celebrated the arrival of their newborn son James Stuart in 1688, rival families were claiming the baby was an imposter.
One rumour was that the Queen wasn’t even pregnant and another was that her child was born dead and that another baby had been smuggled into her bedchamber in a warming pan to take it place.
To combat these rumours, 42 public officials were believed to have witnessed the birth to verify that James was indeed the legal issue of Mary and James II.
Home Secretaries used to have to witness royal births (Image: GETTY)
Priti Patel is the current Home Secretary (Image: GETTY)
Visiting Cambridge University scholar Professor Mary Fissell described the occasion at St James’s Palace as “the first media circus surrounding a royal birth”.
She said the rumours were spread by cheap broadsheets in coffee houses that a different baby was smuggled in on a warming pan or into the bed through a secret door in the bedhead.
Despite the 42 witnesses, the scandal put a permanent question mark over the baby’s legitimacy and he never became King.
William of Orange and his wife Mary went on to seize the throne in 1688 in what came to be known as the Glorious Revolution.
King James II portrait (left) and painting of him fleeing the country (right) (Image: GETTY)
Since then, it has been customary for public figures to be present at royal births and from 1894 Queen Victoria declared it to be the role of the serving Home Secretary.
Tory Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks witnessed the Queen’s own birth in 1926, despite the government at the time being embroiled in a row with coal-miners, and conveyed the news by special messenger to the Lord Mayor of London.
The birth of Princess Margaret in 1930 caused some difficulty for the-Home Secretary JR Clynes.
He had remained in Scotland while he waited to witness the birth of the princess at Glamis Castle, which ended up happening two weeks later than planned, according to royal historian Hugo Vickers.
The Queen Mother holding a baby Queen Elizabeth II (Image: GETTY)
When the baby was finally on its way, Mr Clynes was already ready for bed, so had to scramble his things together and get up to the castle to witness the birth.
Ahead of Prince George’s birth in 2013, then-Home Secretary Theresa May was quizzed on the tradition while giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Tory MP Michael Ellis, chairman of the All Parliamentary Group on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, said: “Until relatively recently there was a convention that Home Secretaries attend royal births, I understand this happened with Her Majesty, the Queen.
“Do you have any plans to visit the Lindo Wing any time soon, following this convention?”
Mrs May replied: “In fact, it is no longer the case that the Home Secretary is required to attend a royal birth, but I suspect Mr Ellis with your royal connections you might have more information about these things than I do.”
She added: “The Home Secretary had to be there to evidence that it was genuinely a royal birth and that a baby hadn’t been smuggled in.”
It also used to be customary for the Archbishop of Canterbury, among other bishops, to attend a royal birth.
One exception was in 1841 for the birth of Queen Victoria’s first son Albert Edward, when the Archbishop and two companions ‒ Lord Wharncliffe, Lord President of the Council, and Lord Stanley, Secretary of State for the Colonies ‒ turned up late and missed the birth.
However, the Bishop of London did make it in time.
Source: EXPRESS CO UK