Behind the Headline: British Royal Baby is Born!

A town crier announces the arrival of the youngest member of the British royal family outside St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, West London. Image from AFP.

A town crier announces the arrival of the youngest member of the British royal family outside St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, West London. Image from AFP.

The Duchess of Cambridge delivered an 8 lb. 6 oz. baby boy today at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. The new baby is the great-grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, and the third-in-line to the British throne after his grandfather (Charles, the Prince of Wales) and father (Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge). As of now, the baby’s name has not been announced, so for now he is simply called the Prince of Cambridge.

President Obama offered his congratulations to the royal couple, stating “We wish them all the happiness and blessings parenthood brings. The child enters the world at a time of promise and opportunity for our two nations. Given the special relationship between us, the American people are pleased to join with the people of the United Kingdom as they celebrate the birth of the young prince.”

Prince Charles told the press “Grandparenthood is a unique moment in anyone’s life, as countless kind people have told me in recent months, so I am enormously proud and happy to be a grandfather for the first time and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing the baby in the near future.”

As for the new royal parents themselves, they simply said “We could not be happier.” (Perhaps they were too tired to say anything more?)

The announcement of the baby’s birth was made the traditional way, with a brief announcement placed on an easel in front of Buckingham Palace for the public to see. Cannons will be fired and flags flown in celebration across London and the United Kingdom. Economists predict the news will give the British economy a brief boost, as people buy cakes, party gear, booze, and royal memorabilia to celebrate the news.

So what’s the big deal about a baby?

Royal Baby Pacifier image from CNN Money

It is true that celebrities have babies all the time. However, the British royal family are far more than just any other celebrity, in spite of how the press may sometimes treat them like it.

Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s head of state and formal, symbolic leader. She is the head of the British state religion, the Church of England. She is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. She appoints the Prime Minister, other government leaders, ambassadors, and judges. She calls for elections, opens and closes Parliament, gives royal charters to various organizations such as the BBC, the Bank of England, the University of Cambridge, and the Royal Opera House, and can issue pardons. If you want to become a British citizen, you must swear an oath to the Queen, as must soldiers, police officers, government and court officials, and even the British Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

The royal family, in addition for providing the heirs to the throne when the reigning monarch eventually dies, are also a key support system, aiding and assisting the Queen in her duties. Each member of the royal family is the official commander of several military units, the patron of numerous charities, or the head of various British organizations. For example, the Duke of Cambridge is the Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Navy Submarine Service and the President of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

What’s more, the British royal family is not just important in the UK. Australia, Canada, Jamaica, and New Zealand are just a few of the 15 countries that all share the same monarchy as the British. Each of these countries was once a British colony, but instead of winning independence in a war as the United States did, they won it through diplomacy and gradual change. As a result, they still mint the Queen’s image on their coins and still fly the Union Jack beside their national flag on certain holidays. If that isn’t enough, the Queen is also the head of The Commonwealth, a loose alliance of 53 countries – most, but not all, of whom were once British colonies – that seeks to reduce poverty and promote democracy among its 2 billion combined citizens.

Okay, but the British royals don’t really have any power anymore.

British Royal Family portrait from The Backbencher

No, they don’t have very much “hard power” – the ability to compel people to do things. Most of those roles I described above are ultimately a sort of political fiction. The Prime Minister and Parliament have all the actual “hard power”, and the Queen just rubber-stamps whatever it is they decide. This trend doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.

Having said that, the British monarchy has plenty of “soft power” – the ability to persuade people. The British royals are almost always paying visits to charities across Britain and the world, bringing camera crews with them to showcase the important work that these charities do for the less fortunate. The royal family’s official website and Facebook page are filled with pictures of the royals feeding the homeless, meeting children with cancer in hospitals, shaking hands with disabled veterans, and so on. The royal family may not decide policy, but they do what they can to highlight and bring attention to important issues. As one columnist put it, “the Sovereign has… three rights—the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn.”

Besides, even though the British royal family may not be as powerful as they once were, they still are important in one crucial respect. They are what makes the United Kingdom, well, the United Kingdom. They are a core part of that country’s identity, right down to its name. Without them, we’d have to call the country “the United Republic”.

So, what will the new baby’s life look like?

Princess Di and Family image from BBC News

There is no telling for absolutely sure what the future brings. Having said that, it’s almost certain that one day this newborn prince will be the new King. In the meantime, he will almost certainly be baptized into the Church of England sometime in the coming weeks. This BBC column predicts that the prince will be mostly raised by his parents, instead of the once-traditional practice of having royal babies raised by nannies. The fact that his mother came from an ordinary, middle-class British background will almost certainly play a role in his upbringing. He will almost certainly live a life in front of the watching eye of the press, just as his parents and grandparents have. He will probably serve in the military, as all British royals must. He will probably spend a fairly long time waiting to take the throne, as he has three generations ahead of him. He will probably get a whole bunch of noble titles, most of which will be given to him when he marries. Indeed, he will probably wind up with a life of luxury but not very much choice. Who knows, though? Maybe his generation will be the one that finds the right balance between duty and being oneself. We’ll just have to wait and see.