This baby was delivered unto the people at 4:24 Monday afternoon, weighing eight pounds and six ounces, a presumably adorable boy. Throngs gathered outside of Buckingham Palace awaiting the official announcement to be posted, as is tradition, on the gilded easel.
“It is an important moment in the life of our nation,” said Prime Minister David Cameron of the new arrival, according to Britain’s ITV news. “But I suppose above all it’s a wonderful moment for a warm and loving couple who got a brand-new baby boy.”
This baby is . . . an important baby?
Yes — he is the future king of Great Britain. Which is only slightly less momentous than a future queen would have been — this year, Parliament finally repealed an ancient succession rule that gave heirs the preference over heiresses, regardless of birth order.
Amid the pomp and general celebration, one finds something both archaic and strange about declaring any baby’s arrival “important,” any more so than every baby’s arrival is “important.” When we talk about this baby, what we are really talking about is the powerful vortex he inhabits: the intersection of celebrity worship, royal worship and the burgeoning baby-industrial complex.
His Royal Highness — the name has not yet been announced — was born into a world in which a British market research firm recently estimated that celebrations surrounding his birth would inject $400 million into the British economy, and in which photos of star offspring can fetch $15 million (as People magazine reportedly paid for photos of Angelina Jolie’s twins in 2008). A world in which sites such as Babyrazzi.com exist to stalk A-list toddlers, in which Forbes magazine a few years back published an earnest analysis of the “most influential babies.”
Historically, the arrival of a much-anticipated baby meant more than a cash influx. Sometimes, the birth changed history, as when King James II unexpectedly had a son. After the 17th century Reformation, there was a strong anti-Catholic feeling in England. James II had sired two Protestant daughters with his first wife, but when she died, he converted to Catholicism and married an Italian princess. “If the new queen had produced a daughter, the heir would have been the existing Protestant daughters,” and all would have been well, British historian John Ashdown-Hill said.
Instead, the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart resulted in the Glorious Revolution. For more than a century, Catholics were prohibited from holding seats in Parliament; for more than three, monarchs were prohibited from marrying them.