If you think royal baby fever is a new thing, think again. Back on April 21st 1926, when the Queen was born, there was plenty of excitement over the arrival of a new princess who – at the time – was several steps removed from the Crown and never expected to rule. No matter, as the papers of the time reported, this royal birth was a major event and those things we think peculiar to our own time – crowds and speculation and celebrations – were present on the day the Queen was born, too.
The little princess arrived in the early hours of April 21st 1926 and the later papers that day were able to carry news of her arrival. Using marvelous words including accouchement, they reported happily on the arrival of the first granddaughter of King George V and Queen Mary and the start of family life for their second son, Albert, and his wife, Elizabeth, who several called by her nickname ‘’The Little Duchess’’.
The Derby Daily Telegraph reported that the duchess had been expected to deliver later on in April, adding ‘’the new arrival was a little earlier than was expected’’. Its readers also discovered that the night before the birth ‘’it became obvious that the important event was nearer than had been imagined’’ – more information than we’re used to getting about more modern royal pregnancies.
All papers carried the official bulletin which had been released soon after the royal arrival and which remarked that ‘’previous to the confinement, a consultation took place… and a certain line of treatment was successfully adopted’’. It was the first reference to the delivery by Caesearean section and again, rather more descriptive than we might expect from the time. But just as now, those involved in the royal delivery were named with their careers and lives examined in detail by papers and readers hungry for news about this royal event.
Many papers reported that the new mother had ‘’been keeping in remarkably good health’’ and reminded readers she’d been seen at the theatre just days earlier. Some reported on the minor car accident the Duchess of York had been involved in three months earlier but, just as today, all media were keen to celebrate the fact that the baby was healthy although The Scotsman added that the little princess was slightly below average weight.
In fact, every detail of the new royal was eagerly shared. The baby princess arrived at 2.40am and The Gloucester Citizen reported that the first news of her birth was ‘’communicated to the Press Assocation at about 3.30 this morning’’. Just as today, people were eager to get news of the royal baby as quickly as possible and waiting till dawn wasn’t an option.
Within hours of the announcement, papers reported crowds outside 17 Bruton Street in London where the Duchess of York had had her baby. Journalists were also keen to tell their readers that once the sun had risen and London had come to life, proud father the Duke of York was spotted at a window looking at the crowds before withdrawing when he realized he had been seen.
There were also excited reports of visitors to the new baby with The Gloucester Citizen saying ‘numerous telegraph messengers called at the house…with sheafs of telegrams’’. Interestingly, it also remarks that among the first arrivals were ‘’two Sisters of Mercy in their picturesque black robes and white veils, and an old nurse of the Duchess of York’’.
Many papers reported on the first royal visitor following the birth. The Duke of York’s sister, Princess Mary, arrived early on with The Scotsman telling us that ‘’the crowd in an instant….closed in upon her; and a way had to be cleared for her by the policeman on duty’’. She brought with her, according to The Derby Daily Telegraph, some flowers, namely ‘a huge bunch of red carnations”. The Queen is now said to be no fan of the flowers, but let’s not blame aunt Mary for that.
Later editions of newspapers managed to tell readers of the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary at Bruton Street. They drove up to the house around 3.30pm on the day of their granddaughter’s birth, having been ‘’awaken between 3 and 4 in the morning to hear the news’’ according to The Scotsman.
The following day, the same paper rather breathlessly reported that Queen Mary was ‘’overjoyed at the news’’ and had spent ‘’much time and trouble over the selection of the infant-clothing’’. It told its readers that she had employed the services of Lalla Bill, the nanny who had cared for her own children and in particular her youngest son Prince John, to help buy new clothes. Queen Mary had also donated some ‘’treasured articles of baby clothes’’ from her own collection to her newest grandchild. Over ninety years ago, what royals wore was still big news.
All the papers also reported on the presence of the Home Secretary (at the time Sir William Joynson-Hicks) at Bruton Street at the time of the birth. The Gloucester Citizen reminded readers that ‘’at the present moment, the new Princess is the only child born to a son of the reigning Sovereign, a consideration which makes plain the importance from the Home Office point of view’’.
Royal baby fever was huge but there was little expectation that anyone was celebrating the birth of a future monarch. Instead, it was a happy event, another joyful chapter in the lives of the Duke and Duchess of York who, since their wedding, had become a very popular royal couple. But tellingly, there is perhaps a shadow of things to come.
The new baby’s uncle, heir to the throne Edward, Prince of Wales, was in Biarritz at the time of her birth and, as several papers reported, sent a telegram. Hindsight is a strange thing but while his family and country were celebrating, this prince was one step removed.
We know now that the throne that was briefly his was destined for the little girl born that grey morning in London and whose arrival filled the papers for days and weeks to follow.