As the final preparations are made for the christening of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, it’s clear that this special family day will also be filled with the traditions that have marked royal baptisms for centuries. While William and Kate’s daughter will grow up in a very modern environment, her first big public event will also follow the pattern set over decades of royal baptisms.
The baby princess will most likely be wearing the christening gown that her brother, George, was dressed in for his big day. The cream lace and satin outfit was commissioned by The Queen and produced by her dressmaker, Angela Kelly, and her team in 2008. It is a replica of the famous Honiton lace dress which was made for the christening of the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1841. That gown was used for royal baptisms for decades but is now too fragile to be worn. Charlotte will be the most senior royal girl to wear this new version of the dress yet.
There are two fonts in the Church of St Mary Magdalene at Sandringham where Princess Charlotte will be christened but royal tradition usually dictates that the baptism takes place at the silver gilt Lily Font which again was commissioned by Queen Victoria. It is a precious and truly stunning item and is usually kept with the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.
The water used for royal baptisms always comes from the River Jordan where the Bible says that Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. The water for Charlotte’s christening has now been brought to the UK so, just like her brother and father before her, this little princess will be baptised with this highly significant and symbolic water.
The christening of senior royals is usually carried out by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the new fourth in line to the throne will be no different. She will be baptised by Justin Welby who also carried out the service for her brother, Prince George. The Duke of Cambridge was christened in 1982 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, while Prince Charles was baptised by Dr Geoffrey Fisher who held the office at the time. One of the best known Archbishops, Cosmo Gordon Lang, presided over the christening ceremony of The Queen in 1926.
But some traditions are ready to be reshaped by William and Kate. Of course there have to be official photos – in that regard, royal christenings are the same as every other celebration of new life that goes on around the world. But the Cambridges are breaking new ground by asking Mario Testino to do the photographic honours for Charlotte. He is, of course, well known for the iconic images of William’s mother, Diana, that he took in the late 1990s and he was the man responsible for the equally well known engagement portraits of William and Kate released as they prepared to wed. The portraits from Charlotte’s christening are likely to become just as popular.
There have been several royal christenings at St Mary Magdalene over the last century or so but it’s likely that this one will differ slightly from those others in another regard. William and Kate are unlikely to choose a long list of royal godparents – the sponsors they picked for George were family friends and it’s expected we’ll see the same when the names of Charlotte’s godfathers and godmothers are released. In centuries past, the honour usually went to kings, queens, princes and princesses (in Victoria’s reign, mostly to the monarch herself) but this 21st century royal couple will most probably be consolidating a new tradition and sticking with names largely unknown to the wider public.
This time tomorrow we will know who they are and their names will join many others in the history books as godparents at a royal christening. For although there is a family feel to this special day – our first chance to see William and Kate in public with both their children – this is also an important event in the story of the Monarchy. The christening of Charlotte Elizabeth Diana will be a moment filled with royal tradition.
Photo credit: Michael Button via Flickr