Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Lily Font: Christening Princess Charlotte in Royal (and Historical) Style

Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Isabella reporting,

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.

Above: The Lily Font, 1840, by Barnard & Co.  The Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.


Moniek said...

It's certainly beautiful! I wonder what Charles' looked like!

Christine said...

Wow, it is beautiful. I don't know who the,grumbled was but he obviously doesn't get the historical aspect of the most recent baptism. Thank you for sharing the photo as I had never seen it before.

Hels said...

Oh I adore gold and silver objects, religious and secular!

The font was ordered by Queen Victoria in 1840 for the birth of her first child, the Princess Victoria. It was beautifully designed and crafted, yet it looks like Huguenot gold and silver art circa 1710, given a later dose of steriods. The water lily emblem was perfect but the harping putti??

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Moniek - When Victoria's second child, the Prince of Wales, was baptized, the Charles II font was used to support the Lily Font. I don't know if this was done to placate others who felt it should be included, or if it was intended by Victoria to show which font was more important. There is a painting by C.R. Leslie shows the two fonts, the Lily Font standing inside the older font. Here's a link:


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Hels - I have to agree, this is a very secular looking font! In fact, to me it looks more like a garden ornament than a religious piece, but either way, it's still beautiful. :)

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