20 May 2018

Meghan's First Baby

Photo: Alexi Lubomirski/Kensington Palace
Before I get started, I want to emphasize that I detest baby-bump watches. Also, as a woman who struggled and never succeeded with fertility, I am highly sensitive to the extremely personal nature of fertility, pregnancy and motherhood. I cannot even imagine how much more stressful these can be with the public and photographers always looking for any indication of an anticipated royal delivery. Several of our favorite royal ladies have faced challenges in this arena. All of them deserve to be treated respectfully and allowed their privacy.

All new marriages, however, inevitably lead to baby speculation, especially when the couple states that they want to have a family. Such is the case with the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who were more commonly known as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle before their wedding on May 19, 2018. The recent birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's third child during the run-up to the wedding has only helped to fuel speculation and comparisons.

Shortly before Harry's brother Prince William married Catherine Middleton and they became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, I wrote a post entitled Kate Middleton's First Baby. I encouraged everyone to be patient in their baby expectations because modern royal mothers tend NOT to have children as quickly as earlier royal ladies. While The Queen and the late Diana Princess of Wales each delivered a son before her first wedding anniversary, most contemporary royal brides have given birth a year and a half to two years or more after they married. Catherine's first baby, Prince George, arrived 27 months after her 2011 wedding.

I cited several possible reasons for these longer childless periods in contemporary royal marriages: a desire to focus on the marriage before expanding the family, an intentional period of adjustment to new royal duties and expectations, and the biological reality that most royal brides in the last 20 years have been older than their predecessors leading more of them to experience more challenges in conceiving as quickly as they might like.

The former Sofia Hellqvist with husband Prince Carl Philip of
Sweden and sons Prince Alexander and baby Prince Gabriel

Photo: Erika Gerdemark, Royal Court, Sweden
Since the Cambridge wedding, however, there have been two very notable exceptions to this delayed-family approach. The two younger Swedish princesses, Princess Madeleine and Princess Sofia, were both around 30 when they married. Each had her first child less than a year after her wedding and each had a second child around the time of her second wedding anniversary. Princess Madeleine even had a third child in March 2018. That's three babies before her fifth anniversary.

Could these quick Swedish pregnancies be an example of what Meghan and Harry hope to achieve? With Meghan's 37th birthday in August, an earlier first child could make it easier to have a second or even a third.

Of course, Meghan and Harry may yet decide to wait to start their family while they focus on their relationship and their public roles together. After all, women are having babies at later ages these days, particularly with the availability of reproductive assistance. And, there are certainly cases of earlier royal mothers having had children into their 40s whether they started at age 19 or age 39. Within the British Royal Family, one example of this is Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott. A world traveler, Alice did not marry The Queen's uncle Prince Harry Duke of Gloucester until shortly before her 34th birthday. Her first child Prince William of Gloucester was born a week before her 40th birthday and her second child Prince Richard of Gloucester arrived almost three years later. William was killed in a flying accident in 1972, leaving little brother Richard as the current Duke of Gloucester. As for Alice, she died at 102 as the longest lived member of the BRF, surpassing her sister-in-law Elizabeth The Queen Mother who only lived to be 101! (Read my profile of Princess Alice or my post about The Queen Mother.)

Zara Phillips Tindall
By Land Rover MENA via Wikimedia Commons
On the other hand, Harry and Meghan might also wish to have their children while their Cambridge cousins are still young, so that they can grow up together as playmates and friends. Harry and William have always had close relationships with their own first cousins on both the the Windsor and Spencer sides of their family. Windsor cousin Peter Phillips lent them courage when they first faced the public after Diana's death and cousin Princess Eugenie of York has often been credited with finding girlfriends for Prince Harry -- though she did not introduce him to Meghan. As a mark of these special friendships, Spencer cousin Laura Fellowes Pettman and Windsor cousin Zara Phillips Tindall are godmothers to William's first two children.

Whenever Meghan and Harry announce a pregnancy, whether it is this year or five years from now, we will speculate as usual on the baby's gender, name and birth date. In this case, though, we will have one more big question to ponder:  will their baby be royal? Under the 1917 Letters Patent governing royal status, only the monarch's children, male-line grandchildren, and the first son of the first son of the Prince of Wales are entitled to be Royal Highnesses and to have princely rank. As a great-grandchild of the monarch (unless Charles has succeeded by that date), little Baby Sussex would not be "royal" and would instead be styled as the offspring a Duke. This means that a girl would be The Lady Name Windsor and a first-born son would be able to use Harry's secondary title as the Earl of Dumbarton.

However, this rule has been bent or overridden at least three times. In 1948, when The Queen was still a Princess, her as-yet-unborn children would have been female-line grandchildren and were not eligible for royal titles. So, the babies she had during her father's lifetime would have been styled as children of their father the Duke of Edinburgh. Charles would have been known as Earl of Merioneth and his sister as Lady Anne. The Queen's father felt this styling was not appropriate for the children of his heir and granted all of Elizabeth's future offspring royal status. Prior to her accession, they were HRH Prince Charles of Edinburgh and HRH Princess Anne of Edinburgh.

Lady Louise Windsor walking ahead of William, Catherine,
Meghan and Harry on Christmas Day 2017.
By Mark Jones via Wikimedia Commons
In 1999, the rule was changed in the opposite direction in order to deny royal status to children who should have been entitled to it. At the time of The Queen's youngest son Prince Edward's marriage, it was announced that his future children would not be styled as male-line grandchildren. Instead, they would be treated as children of an earl since he had been created the Earl of Wessex. Thus, Edward's daughter is The Lady Louise and his son James uses Edward's secondary title of Viscount Severn. Otherwise, we would know them as HRH Princess Louise of Wessex and HRH Prince James of Wessex, just as Prince Andrew's daughters are HRH Princess Beatrice of York and HRH Princess Eugenie of York. (Read about the controversy over their titles.)

Another exception was made during William and Catherine's first pregnancy. Under the 1917 rules, a son would have been His Royal Highness Prince Name of Cambridge, but a daughter and any subsequent children of any gender would just be children of a duke. This would have made their three children HRH Prince George of Cambridge, The Lady Charlotte and The Lord Louis. During this same time period, the royal succession laws were being changed to allow equal rights for daughters. I believe this desire for gender equity as well as a desire for sibling parity influenced The Queen's decision to grant royal status to all future children of Prince William. (Interestingly, in Norway, where gender-blind succession was introduced in 1990, only the oldest child of the heir is a Royal Highness, while his/her younger children are just Highnesses.)

Will The Queen make an exception for Prince Harry's children? If she doesn't, the current century-old guidelines would make them Lord/Lady (or Earl of Dumbarton for the first son), but they would automatically be elevated to royal princes and princesses when their grandfather Charles becomes King.

Diana was not actually born Lady Diana; she
received a title upgrade at age 14.
By Nick Parfjonov
While this type of title changing might seem strange, it is quite common among royalty and the aristocracy. Even William and Harry's mother Diana experienced something similar. When she was born, her father had not yet acceded as Earl Spencer. As the daughter of Viscount Althorp, she was The Honourable Diana Spencer until her grandfather died. Then, as the daughter of an earl, she became Lady Diana Spencer. In another example, upon Prince Charles' accession to the throne, Prince William will automatically gain the titles of Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay while retaining his current title Duke of Cambridge. He will not become Prince of Wales until his father gives him that title. Until that moment, Catherine will be the Duchess of Cornwall as well as Duchess of Cambridge, and she will be called Duchess of Rothesay when in Scotland.

The decision about Harry and Meghan's children could be entirely dependent on their personal choice. Like his Uncle Edward and Aunt Anne The Princess Royal (whose first husband declined any kind of titles for himself or their children), Harry and Meghan may opt to give their children a more "normal" life by not making them royal. On the other hand, the monarch, whether it is Elizabeth or Charles, may not wish to make a difference between Harry's children and his brother's, and therefore prefer to give them royal status.

We shall see. In the meantime, let us pray that Harry and Meghan's family plans go as smoothly as possible. And, let's avoid trying to figure out whether or not she is pregnant until she decides to let us know!


  1. Well it is peoples nature to start looking at a new bride belly if it start to show a little enlargement.Every one should start when it fits them and the couple feel it is time to get pregnant, not when people want them to have children.

  2. Thank you for spelling this out so thoroughly! May I ask: is it known why Edward’s kids were denied status and Andrew’s kids were allowed it?

    1. You're welcome! Andrew's children were titles according to the standing rules as a matter of course. Edward made his decision to downgrade his children's titles a full decade later, well after the numerous royal controversies of the early 1990s. At that time, we were simply told that he and wife Sophie preferred the lesser titles. It has generally been assumed that they felt there would be too much pressure and media focus if their kids were royal highnesses. There is some indication that their older brother Charles, the future king, believes a more 'slimmed down' royal family is more appropriate in an era when their function and cost are increasingly questioned.

  3. This is so interesting! Thank you for such a well written and well researched piece!

  4. This is so interesting! Thank you for such a well written and well researched piece!