When Prince William and Kate Middleton announced that they would be welcoming their third child to the family, the Internet was ecstatic (seriously, here are the funniest tweets about the Cambridge's third royal baby). The births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte drew the requisite exorbitant media coverage when they were both welcomed into the world at St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, but compared to most of the royal family history, these events were outliers. (Need a primer on who's who in the royal family? Check out our royal family tree.)
The birth of a royal child was always considered an event, but the specific setting of it was very different for several centuries. On June 21, 1982, Prince William made history by becoming the first royal baby born in a hospital. Prior to William's birth, heirs to the throne were born in palaces, castles, and other royal estates, frequently in front of bystanders, who would serve as witnesses to confirm the legitimacy of the birth.
Childbirth over the years
Childbirth over the years
A woman being helped to give birth, on a birth chair, by two midwives, each pulling on a cloth wrapped around the mother's belly, California, USA, circa 1840. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Albert the Great, De Animalibus, folio 145, Difficult childbirth, 15th, FranceParis, Bibliotheque Nationale. (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)
A wet nurse holds a newborn baby surrounded by the birth mother and the new siblings. (Photo by Jonathan Kirn/Corbis via Getty Images)
Lucy Baldwin (1869 - 1945, centre), the wife of former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, with a baby born by caesarean section, at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, London, 7th February 1930. With her are the surgeon (left) and anaesthetist, who performed the operation. Baldwin is the founder of the Anaesthetics Appeal Fund of the National Birthday Trust Fund (N.B.T.F.), which campaigns for wider provision of analgesia in childbirth. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
July 1939: In an effort to make childbirth as painless as possible, a patient inhales analgesia during labour whilst a nurse looks over her. (Photo by London Express/Getty Images)
Soldier's Son: Pregnancy And Childbirth In Wartime, Bristol, England, 1942, Sister Gwendoline Murphy hands a screaming two-day-old Peter Winston Stacey to his mother Irene for feeding at Southmead Hospital in Bristol. The babies sleep in multiple cots in the nursery and are brought back to their mothers at feeding time, 7 September 1942. (Photo by Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer/ IWM via Getty Images)
Three pyjama-clad little boys are introduced to their newborn baby sister, Janet Lewington, by the midwife after a home delivery in Mottingham, Kent, 4th August 1946. Original Publication : Picture Post - 4201 - A Baby Is Born At Home - pub. 31st August 1946 (Photo by Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A nurse in the maternity unit of a hospital keeps an eye on the pressure from the oxygen cyclinder, as they care for a lillte baby girl. January 1949. (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
An expectant mother using an inhaler to take the pain killing drug trilene during labour, watched by a hospital midwife. 29th March 1949. (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
A nurse handing a newly born baby to its mother, 1956. Original Publication: Picture Post - 9111 - Analgesia - unpub. (Photo by Grace Robertson/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
28th May 1965: Three pregnant women relax in medical 'space-suits' in an attempt to ease childbirth and raise the intelligence of their offspring. A suction pump next to the chairs lowers pressure inside the suits, while a gauge in front of them gives a constant reading. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Felix Gaillard, His Wife And Her Daughter Isabelle In 1958. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
The newly born Letts quintuplets in their incubators at University College Hospital. Father John Letts surveys his instant family of quintuplets as they lie in their incubators at University College Hospital. December 1969 Z12130-010 (Photo by WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Midwife May Guthrie-Lacy photographs the 287th baby which she has delivered at Lytham Hospital. Two day old Nicola Manton and her mother 23 year old Christine will join all the others happy snaps in May Lacy's albums. December 1969 Z12345-002 (Photo by WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
The Davis quintuplets and their parents, Jerry and Debbie Davis, pose for a family portrait, their first since the quintuplets' birth on July 18. The quintuplets' names are (left to right) Christa LeJune, Casey Clifton (the only boy), Chanda Jannae, Charla Rae Ann, and Chelsa Lynnae.
JUN 4 1977, JUN 14 1977; St. Luke's Hospital (Gen) Birthing Room.; (Photo By Ernie Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Maternity Department, Tenon Hospital In Paris, France. (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)
CANADA - JANUARY 08: New to the world: Mary Dininio of Stroud; Ont.; laughs with joy yesterday moments after giving birth to son Myles; as husband Michael looks on at Women's College Hospital. (Photo by Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
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It wasn't until 1936 that the practice of having an Anglican archbishop and other officials present at the birth was phased out. Privacy proved to be more paramount than some 17th-century aristocrat rolling over in his grave about monarchs switched at birth.
In the 1970s, one of the former royal gynecologists, John Peel, published a widely circulated and influential report which convinced many British women to phase out home births for hospital births, and sure enough, the royal family followed suit. The man responsible for the big switch to royal hospital births was John Pinker, Queen Elizabeth's surgeon gynecologist.
Pinker followed the advice of his predecessor and eventually was able to put the long-standing royal birth tradition to bed. Pinker would deliver Prince William at St. Mary's, and then go on to deliver eight more royal babies in his tenure. Princess Diana would enjoy much more privacy than the regal women before her, having an entire hospital wing to herself.
Being in charge of royal barges is mostly a ceremonial role nowadays. However, in the 18th century in particular, there was a lot more to do, because the sovereign would travel on the River Thames by barge quite regularly.
The Master of the Horse is another honorary position, held by Samuel Vestey, 3rd Baron Vestey. He is required to attend all ceremonial occasions where the Queen might be riding on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage, such as the State Opening of Parliament and Trooping the Colour. He is also responsible for inspections of the Royal Mews, or stables.
Master of the Queen's Music
This role is given for a period of ten years to a prominent musician. It's currently held by composer Judith Weir, who was appointed in 2014 after Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the first to be given the job for a decade.
The post was abolished in 1649 when the monarchy was overthrown, but reinstituted in 1660.
There are no set responsibilities, but Masters of the Queen's Music can compose for royal or state occasions. For example, Weir arranged a special version of the national anthem "God Save the Queen" during King Richard III's re-burial in March 2015.
Astronomer Royal — 1675
The senior Astronomer Royal is currently Martin Rees, who is the Baron of Ludlow. He has held the position since 1995 and although it's mostly an honorary title, he is expected to be available for consultation on scientific matters.
This has been a position since Queen Victoria created it in 1843. The piper must play under the Queen's window every week day at 9 a.m. for around 15 minutes when she is in residence at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, or Balmoral Castle.
It's a very prestigious position, and only 15 pipers have had the role since its inception. The position is currently held by Scott Methven from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
There was also a Piper to the Queen Mother until 2002.
Warden of the Swans and Marker of the Swans — 1993
These were once one job, called the Keeper of the Swans, but in 1993 it was decided one man simply wasn't enough — the duties were then divided into Warden of the Swans and Marker of the Swans, and the roles are currently held by Professor Christopher Perrins, LVO and David Barber, MVO.
Their main responsibility is an annual census of swans on the Thames, in a process called swan-upping. Historically, this meant gathering up a swan for a royal banquet. Since this is frowned upon nowadays, it now consists of a count and health check.
The Queen's Flag Sergeant — 1997
Since 1997, the Queen's Flag Sergeant has been responsible for raising and lowering the Union Flag when her Majesty is not in residence in the palaces.
The role changed the year Princess Diana died because there was public outrage when the palace did not fly a flag at half mast. Since then, the Union Flag flies whenever the Queen is not home, and flies at half mast when Royal Family members die, or when there is a period of national mourning, such as after a terror attack.
This role was discontinued during Queen Victoria's reign in 1871. However, the harp is an important part of Welsh tradition, so Prince Charles brought the position back in 2000 to raise the profile of the harp as an instrument. Since 2015, Anne Denholm has been in the role.
The Royal Shoe-Wearer — 2000 (approx)
One of the Queen's wardrobe staffers is responsible for breaking in her shoes. Her stylist Stewart Parvin explained it's necessary so she doesn't get uncomfortable or painful feet while wearing them at events, according to The Telegraph.
If you had to wear heels every day at 90 years old, you'd probably appreciate a shoe-wearer too.
The Grand Carver — N/A
If there's one thing the Queen shouldn't be expected to do, it's carve her own meat. Whoever has the role of Grand Carver carves up the roast meat on special occasions. Currently, the Earl of Denbigh and Desmond holds the position, and it has probably been around as long as the Royal Family has had dinners.
It is a hereditary position, meaning it's inherited from person to person, so apparently you need the right DNA to be able to carve properly. The Master Carver of Scotland is a separate role.