Richard Berthelsen: Can the name of Prince Harry and Meghan's daughter help to reunite the Royal Family?
TORONTO -- As the Queen marked two months since the passing of her husband Prince Philip this past week, Her Majesty also had several happier moments as life starts to return to something approaching normal.
The Queen returned to the international stage with G7 leaders in Cornwall, England, wielded a sword to cut a ceremonial cake for a community endeavour and received U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife for tea at Windsor Castle, the first such visitors she has had in almost 15 months. The Queen also saw one of her horses (Wink of an Eye) win at Haydock Park on what would have been the late Duke’s 100th birthday and she fit in her official birthday parade at Windsor Castle.
The reduction in case counts in the U.K. along with the rapid expansion of the vaccinated population enables the Royal Family to return to events, although they are still a hybrid of in person and virtual, such as the Queen’s web meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Friday.
As the circle of life continues, one of the happier family moments was the arrival of a baby daughter Lilibet Diana for Prince Harry and Meghan, the Queen’s 11th great grandchild. While Meghan had previously shared that she was going to have a girl, the news last Sunday was still a welcome surprise. It was widely anticipated that the baby girl would be named for the Queen or the late Princess of Wales, and for many, naming the baby with a personal family name used for the Queen, Lilibet, was seen as a lovely gesture.
However, as with so much else with the Sussexes, it has also proven divisive and controversial. Some, particularly in the U.K., think the name is inappropriate as it was used on an intimate and private basis and only by a generation in the Queen’s life who have since died. The reaction to this announcement seems to be largely dependent on whether one is in the U.K. or the U.S., those who tend to support Prince Harry and Megan and those who do not. It appears the name has proven to be anything but a unifying and universally accepted choice.
The name Lilibet first came into use in the family when a young Princess Elizabeth struggled to pronounce her own name. Her version was taken up with affection by her grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary, by her own parents, sister, and cousins, but not by her children. Since the 1930s, it has stuck within her cohort in the family. Her late husband is likely one of the last to have called her by this name at all, and this is the name she used to sign a gift of flowers on his coffin. The announcement from Prince Harry and Meghan said that while the name officially would be “Lilibet Diana,” also honouring Prince Harry's late mother, Diana, the child will be known as “Lili,” similar to how Prince Harry isn’t called by his legal name Prince Henry.
As has been clear since the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan’s first child Archie, these children will not be using their customary courtesy titles of Lord Dumbarton and Lady Lilibet respectively, even though much was made of their entitlement to royal titles in the couple’s broadcast interview with Oprah in March. It is without precedent that the 8th in line to the Throne was born in another country, although with dual citizenship.
The announcement of Lilibet’s birth and name came almost two days after it had occurred. This seems to have been part of the strategy by Harry and Megan in managing news coverage, thus avoiding the U.K.’s Sunday tabloids, and providing little notice for the Palace. Throughout the week, questions were raised as to whether the Queen had given her permission, had been consulted, or was merely informed of the couple’s decision on the name. Various reports quoting an unnamed royal official sparked the latest threat of legal action against the media from the Sussex side.
While there is no law or policy that requires the Queen’s approval of the name of one of her descendants, it is respectful to her as the head of the House of Windsor not to do so, particularly when the choice of a name is personally associated with the Queen. As it is, the Queen's daughter (Anne), as well as three granddaughters and three great granddaughters, have Elizabeth as one of their middle names, although not their first names. Prince Philip’s name appears in the middle names of Prince Charles, two grandsons and two great grandsons.
It is onerous to bear the name Elizabeth, given the long service of the Queen. Perhaps this is the reason the nickname was chosen instead. This would also have been an issue had Diana been chosen as the first name as it could be a burden to live up to the reputations of these women. Like her cousin Princess Charlotte, Lili was also given Diana as a middle name. It is fitting that the names of both granddaughters of the late Princess of Wales should honour Diana in this way.
Whether the Queen gave her blessing, simply received the information, expressed a preference, or was provided advance notice of the announcement, this otherwise happy nod has been somewhat tarnished, and is the latest indication of miscommunication and misunderstanding between Prince Harry and Meghan, the Royal Family, and palace staff. The decision to leave royal life and their status as working members has created tension in the past year, exacerbated by the pandemic and physical distance from the U.K. It is also apparent that the absence of staff in Prince Harry and Meghan’s Californian home, who have working relationships with the Royal household and understand the often unwritten and unstated codes, has created issues for the Royal Family and for the Palace.
It is expected Prince Harry will travel to the U.K. to mark the 60th anniversary of the birth of his late mother on July 1, when her statue is unveiled in the sunken Garden outside Kensington Palace. If it were not for public health regulations around international travel, it might have been an opportunity for Meghan to have joined him for this trip with their infant children.
But with the lingering pandemic and uncertainty around variants, it is unlikely the duchess will travel, particularly as she gave birth only four weeks prior. The Prince of Wales would certainly have wished to meet his 5th grandchild and to see his grandson. Archie has not been in the U.K. since the fall of 2019, when he was just six months old, and will have no links with his many cousins or experience of family traditions and customs at Balmoral or other residences. Given that Prince William and Harry have always seemed to have had close relationships with their cousins, this is sad.
Many will now be wondering about the christening of Lilibet Diana Mountbatten–Windsor. This is an important milestone for the Royal Family, which usually takes place in a traditional location, and with the use of a traditional christening gown (which was replicated in 2008 after 160 years). The christening of Archie became a media issue given the secrecy, which continues to this day, around the identity of his godparents. It is unlikely that Lili will be christened in the U.S. with members of the Royal family present, nor would the christening gown be sent there. If it takes place, it will necessitate another trip if this child is to be christened into the Church of England, in which her great grandmother is Supreme Governor.
For many, the Queen appeared to be happy and radiant as she resumed her usual duties. As someone who has now marked her personal as well as official 95th birthdays, many of her subjects are hoping that her interaction with the public returns along with the usual rhythm of national life as she moves about the U.K. and plays her role in celebrating the return to life in the post-pandemic future. Many will also hope that calm comes to the troubled waters swirling around her family, which has become smaller and diminished through deaths and departures.
All eyes will be on the reunion in July to see signs of any reconciliation. And many will hope that Lilibet Diana, named as she is for two great women, can help to reunite her family through her arrival.