The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are doing things their way, this much we know. Despite keeping their baby birth plans private, one custom they are certain to uphold is that of the royal christening. (In fact, their child will only be able to take his or her position as seventh in line to the throne if baptised by the Church of England.)
A christening date for Baby Sussex is a way off yet, but it is likely to be in the first few months of his or her life. The Cambridge children – Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – were all baptised aged between two and three months old. That said, June’s royal schedule is already looking busy, with Royal Ascot and the Queen’s official birthday, so July onwards could be more likely. While the 93-year-old monarch missed Prince Louis’s baptism last year, royal experts suggest she and Prince Philip may well attend for Baby Sussex. “I expect to see them there, as it is [the Sussexes’] first child,” says Victoria Howard, royal commentator and editor of The Crown Chronicles. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are also likely to be in attendance – together with the baby’s yet-to-be-revealed godparents.
Ahead of the royal event, Vogue looks at the traditions the Duke and Duchess will follow – and which ones they might change.
The royal christening robe
The traditional cream gown used at royal christenings dates back to 1841, when Queen Victoria commissioned it to be made for her eldest daughter, Princess Victoria. From then on, the original Honiton robe – named after the fine lace used to make the garment – was worn by all members of the royal family until the christening of the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s son, James, Viscount Severn. For his 2008 baptism, the monarch asked her dressmaker, Angela Kelly, to make a replica gown in order to preserve the original. This new gown was later worn by all three of the Cambridge children, and will be the one worn by Baby Sussex.
Royals tend to have between five and eight godparents; usually a mix of friends, relatives and members of the royal household. For example, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting Lady Susan Hussey is godmother to Prince William and the Cambridges’ former private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton was chosen as one of Prince George’s godfathers. Baby Sussex’s godparents could include Meghan Markle’s close friend Jessica Mulroney, according to Howard. The royal expert says Prince Harry’s cousin, Zara Tindall, might be another choice, as the Duke was recently chosen as godfather to her second daughter, Lena.
The Lily Font
The elaborate, silver-gilt font has been used in all royal baptisms (save for Princess Eugenie’s) as far back as 1841, again for Princess Victoria’s christening. Though tradition dictates that water from the River Jordan (where Jesus was baptised) be used for the royal events, Prince William was actually christened with tap water in 1983 due to a Buckingham Palace shortage at the time. A silver ewer – or jug – used at King George III’s 1738 christening is used to pour the water over the royal baby’s head.
Archbishop of Canterbury
The christenings of senior royals – including Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry and all three of the Cambridge children – are typically conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But there are notable exceptions: the Queen was baptised by the Archbishop of York, a close friend of the Queen Mother at the time. However, the Duchess of Sussex was christened and confirmed by the Archbishop of Canterbury ahead of marrying Prince Harry last year as a mark of respect to the Queen, so he is expected to officiate the ceremony for the new royal baby, too.
Tea and cake
Traditionally, the top tier of a couple’s wedding cake is saved for the christening of their first child – a custom followed by members of the royal family, including the Queen. In fact, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge served their carefully preserved fruit cake at all three of their children’s christenings. However, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex probably won’t be following suit; they opted for a lemon sponge cake for their wedding day.
The family portrait
While royal christenings are typically private affairs, the momentous occasion has long been marked with an official family portrait for posterity – see the photograph of Queen Victoria holding her great-grandson, the future King Edward VII, at his baptism in 1894. While typically formal affairs, the portraits have at times provided a sweet insight into family life, with a young Prince William famously taking centre stage during Prince Harry’s christening photographs in 1984. In the past, high-profile photographers have been chosen to take the official portraits, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also commissioned a private photographer to take additional images during Prince Louis’s christening last year. The Sussexes may well turn again to their engagement and wedding photographer Alexi Lubomirski to capture the occasion.