For a holiday weekend, these last few days have had their share of excitement, from fireworks, Wimbledon, and women's World Cup Soccer. But there was also a much quieter event on Sunday afternoon that had special appeal to us who like history and tradition. Two-month-old Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was baptized at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, surrounded by doting family, paparazzi, and a cheering crowd of royal supporters.
There has been plenty already written about how the princess cried, what her mother wore, and how her older brother had a small meltdown at the end of the day (as two-year-olds are entirely entitled to do, princely or not.) Of course the little princess made history simply by being born: thanks to recent changes in the laws of succession, she is the first British princess who cannot be displaced by any future younger brothers, and is now officially fourth in line for the throne. Considering how well Britain has done - and continues to do - under its queens, this is a fine thing indeed.
But I was fascinated by one of the lesser historical features of the christening that no cameras were permitted to capture. In fact, its very arrival in Sandringham from the Tower of London (where it is considered part of the Crown Jewels) was so shrouded in secrecy and high-level security that the man personally responsible for its care has never had his photograph taken with it, in case he might be identified and linked to the priceless treasure's whereabouts.
The Lily Font has been used for all royal baptisms since 1840. Made of silver gilt, the elaborate font features a design of water lilies (lilies in general represent purity, and water lilies are considered a symbol of new life) and harping putti (because putti are babies.) The font was ordered through the firm of E.&W.Smith, and made by Barnard & Co., at the sizable cost of £189 9s.4.d.
The font was ordered by Queen Victoria for the birth of her first child, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, who was born November 21, 1840; her baptism was not until February 10, 1841, her parents' wedding anniversary. That ceremony took place at Buckingham Palace, and earned the Queen's praise: "Albert and I agreed that all had gone off beautifully and in a very dignified manner."
Dignity was important to both Victoria and Albert. The Lily Font was not the first royal silver baptismal font. An earlier one had been made for Charles II in the 1660s. Unfortunately, Charles and his queen, Catherine of Braganza, had had no children between them, but the font had been put to good use for the christenings of a number of his illegitimate children with various mistresses. Not surprisingly, this association was distasteful to Victoria, who did not want her children to use the same font as Charles's royal by-blows - no matter how many other legitimate royal children had made use of it in the 18thc.
Princess Victoria was duly baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with water brought from the River Jordan, exactly as Princess Charlotte was this weekend. From the news photos, the current royal family seemed every bit as happy with the results as Victoria and Albert had been.
Still, one wag wrote in a letter to The Telegraph (London): "Does an archbishop using water from the river Jordan in the Lily Font make you more christened than any old vicar using tap water in a stone trough?" Well, no; but it certainly must have made for a beautiful and history-laden ceremony.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.