The guest of honour was only two months old but was dressed in the fanciest duds of anyone at his christening. While his mother was dressed in white Dior, Archie wore the royal family’s ornate satin-and-lace christening gown. His ultra private christening was held on Saturday, July 6 at the royal family’s private chapel in Windsor Castle and featured a combination of the new and old, refreshing and controversial.
Like all royal babies, Archie wore the family’s christening robe. It’s actually a replica of the one made for the christening of Queen Victoria’s eldest child, Victoria, in 1841. By the beginning of this century the gown was becoming increasingly fragile. So Queen Elizabeth II commissioned her dresser and personal designer Angela Kelly to make a hand-made replica. That has been used at all subsequent christenings starting with her grandson, James, in 2008.
Another tradition was having the Archbishop of Canterbury do the baptism and having it done at the Lily Font, which otherwise stays with the Crown jewels at the Tower of London. Like the christening dress, the Lily Font was commissioned for Princess Victoria’s baptism in 1841. For more information on the traditions, see my Maclean‘s FAQ article.
This was the first of Prince Charles’s grandchildren to be baptized at Windsor Castle. The christenings of both Prince George and Prince Louis were at the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace in London while Princess Charlotte’s was at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Sandringham Estate.
While the men wore shades of blue and white, the women wore hues of pink, white and cream. The more careful colour coordination of royal outfits at such events is a fairly recent practice and one that ensures no one person is looking “out of place” in photos that will be seen for generations to come. As well, the royal women wore styles of hats and dresses very similar to those worn by them previously, so as to not take any attention away from Archie and his parents.
Meghan wore a white Dior outfit, with a matching hat topped by a festive gathering of veil. The choice of white is reminiscent of the outfits worn by Kate at the christenings of her children.
Unlike the official photos released after the christenings of the children of Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, the one released for Archie’s included the family of Harry’s mother, specifically Lady Jane Fellowes and Lady Sarah McCorquodale, the sisters of Diana, Princess of Wales. Both Harry and William are very close to their aunts and their cousins, who often attend major events in their lives. So seeing them in an official photograph was a lovely touch.
Harry and Meghan’s penchant for keeping seemingly innocuous details private continued with their son’s christening. They decided to break with tradition and not release the names of his godparents. It’s like when they didn’t reveal where Meghan gave birth, causing rampant speculation on social media and in the press even though the location would eventually be revealed on Archie’s birth certificate.
This time, however, they may have stymied the curious. Even though Church of England baptismal information is public (for a fee), there appears to be a royal exception to the records law.
Normally the names of the godparents are a very minor part of the story of the christening. People just want to see some images of the baby and his parents and then move on. The names of the godparents would be a minor part of a story, soon to be forgotten by most. But, by deliberately holding back expected information, they’ve turned it into a multi-day news story blasted around the world.
In addition, Duke and Duchess of Sussex sparked even more scrutiny when they decided not to allow photographers or reporters to watch as guests and family enter and leave the chapel. It’s just a few minutes on either side of the service, but offers the first peek at a baby since it was a newborn, allowing the media their own visuals, not the carefully curated images released by the royals. That decision again spawned days of headlines, just at a time when the public was told that the renovations to their home, Frogmore Cottage, were more than two million pounds, and climbing.
The term being bandied around is the Streisand effect, named after the actress/director/singer who sued a photographer who took photos of her home (ironically, he wasn’t a paparazzo but taking photos of the California coast for an erosion project). The subsequent attention meant everyone was suddenly interested. As Wikipedia states, it’s a “phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread it is increased.”
Together, the decisions holding back the godparents’ names and barring the media from gathering a few minutes of visuals were self-inflicted PR wounds. What could have been a nice summer story of a royal couple christening their child was instead overshadowed by controversy.