Once & Future King
07.21.14 9:45 AM ET
Happy Birthday, Prince George! Will the Wee Royal Be the First King of the 22nd Century?
Do you remember where you were when you heard about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales? Do you remember watching the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge? Do you remember the announcement of the latest royal birth?
I’ll never forget hearing about the arrival of Prince George: I was cycling toward Hyde Park, a few streets from the hospital. Temperatures had been in the mid-80s for days. At the traffic lights a taxi driver stuck his head out of the window and shouted, “It’s a boy!” Buses, vans, and cars sounded their horns, gun salutes rang out, the bells of Westminster Abbey pealed, and everyone cheered. It was a rare moment of collective London joy. The royal family have a special way of touching our lives.
Every day in the United Kingdom more than 2,000 babies are born—and every one of them will change their parents’ lives. But when Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge took his first breath, at 4:24 p.m. on July 22, the world was waiting. Reporters, photographers, and royalists had been camped outside the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital for days—the same hospital where Princess Diana had given birth to Prince William 31 years before. The future King of England’s first appearance was little more than a tiny fist, emerging from a cocoon of white blankets. “He has a good pair of lungs on him,” were Prince William’s now-famous words as he stood on the steps of the hospital with his wife and new son.
It’s been a busy year for the third in line to the throne: from that high-profile debut in front of the international media to the christening at St. James’s Palace in October, and his first royal tour of Australia and New Zealand, this baby has captured the hearts and minds of the world.
Ever since his first appearance, retailers have been amazed at the so-called Prince George effect—like his mother, he wields serious fashion clout. It has been called the “golden hem of Windsor”: whatever George or Kate wears instantly sells out. When he left hospital in an aden + anais cotton swaddle with tiny birds on it, there was a 600 percent increase in sales of that baby blanket. It was the same with the Rachel Riley sailboat dungarees he wore in New Zealand and a pair of red-and-white striped dungaree shorts in Australia. (There’s even a website dedicated to his outfits.)
The stylish new family have been a breath of fresh air for the British monarchy. Kate and William are wildly popular with the public, and they’re shaping up to be thoroughly modern parents. It was Prince William who fitted the car seat for his precious newborn at St. Mary’s Hospital—and again William, not a chaffeur, who drove them home. He even took paternity leave from his role as an RAF rescue pilot. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge appear determined to make this future king’s childhood as normal—or at least informal—as possible.
They have been honest about the challenges of new parenthood, too, with William admitting in an interview with CNN that George was keeping them up at night: “He’s a little fighter. He wriggles around quite a lot and he doesn’t want to go to sleep that much.” We also learned that he was a colicky baby, hungry all the time, who needed solid foods as well as breastfeeding: far more information than we would have known of any previous king. Last month we saw the duchess in skinny jeans holding Prince George as they watched William playing polo on Father’s Day. The future king even took a few shaky first steps.
George is the first offspring of a “commoner” in 350 years to become heir to the throne. So what kind of royal will he be? Will he serve in the armed forces like his father, grandfather, and uncle? Will he be passionate about environmentalism like Charles, or global humanitarian causes like his late grandmother Diana? He is likely to inherit sporty genes—whatever events they attend, the duke and duchess can be relied upon to get involved, from cricket to yachting to hockey (even DJing in Adelaide on their recent tour).
George’s birth marks only the second time that three generations of direct heirs to the throne are alive at the same time. With such long-lived relatives, when is the 1-year-old likely to become King George VII? No one can deny there’s something of an heir backlog within the House of Windsor! Queen Elizabeth II is still healthy and active at the age of 88, suggesting that 65-year-old Prince Charles may well not succeed until well into his 70s. If and when Charles takes the throne, he will be the oldest heir to do so: a record previously held by William IV, who was 64 years old when he became king in 1830. By this reckoning—if Prince William doesn’t take the throne until middle age—George himself could be the first king of the 22nd century.
But will there be a crown to inherit? The royal family has gone through ups and downs in recent decades, with many Republicans calling it an outdated, unelected, and anachronistic institution. However, following the queen’s jubilee, the royal wedding, and now the prince’s birth, opinion polls show that support among the British public is about 80 percent.
And what of the rest of the world—he went down a storm on his recent Antipodean tour, but will George actually rule over them, too? A gradual decline of the monarchy in the Commonwealth means that only 16 of the 53 member nations now recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state. Some have credited George with neutralizing the growing republican movement in Australia—indeed, the Australian Times reported that he “could prove to be the change that was needed for Australia to renew its commitment to the Commonwealth.” However, the Belfast Telegraph observed that “it is hard even to envisage the future for a royal child born in the age of Twitter.”
Being heir to the throne, which essentially involves waiting decades for your parent to die, has never been the easiest of public positions. As he reaches the milestone of his first birthday, Prince George is still mercifully unaware of the crown he one day will wear and the historical significance he one day will assume. It’s impossible to predict when he will become king, or even what kind of United (or disunited) Kingdom he will reign over. As our national anthem goes, let’s hope it’s “happy and glorious…”