When news arrived on Monday that Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, had welcomed their second child three days prior, the world rejoiced. Mostly.
Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor may not yet have had time to nail royal family traditions, like championing causes that horrify others, or disappointing the Firm by falling in love with a circus trainer or rugby player. But in the eight days since her birth she has still managed to become the centre of a scandal and the threat of a defamation suit.
The queen recently attending an event; Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announcing they were expecting Lilibet. Credit:Getty Images
Who is she?
“Lili” is the Queen’s 11th great-grandchild, Prince Charles’ fifth grandchild, and eighth in line to the British throne. (Her birth has kicked the scandal-engulfed Prince Andrew – an associate of the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein – down to ninth.)
Born at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in California on June 4, she is the first senior member of the British royal family to be born in the United States. (Her brother, two-year-old Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, was born in London.)
Lili’s name, the Sussexes said in a statement on social media, honours “her beloved late grandmother, the Princess of Wales”, and the Queen, whose nickname is Lilibet.
The name Lilibet is deeply personal, and controversial. It was first coined by then-Princess Elizabeth when she was a child unable to pronounce her own name. Her close family took to calling her Lilibet, which the Queen has used on momentous occasions, signing it on handwritten cards on the coffins of her mother and her late husband, Prince Philip, at their funerals.
“Lilibet is the only ‘thing’ in the world which is absolutely real to me,” Philip wrote in a letter to his mother-in-law after he and Elizabeth married in 1947.
Why is she in the news?
On Wednesday, Meghan and Harry’s lawyers issued a notice to some broadcasters and publishers, saying that it would be false and defamatory to repeat claims made by a palace source in a BBC report that “the Queen was not asked by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex about naming their daughter Lilibet”. The couple has said they spoke to the monarch about her pet name, which is only used by a handful of her closest friends and relatives, before the baby’s birth.
Who hasn’t experienced family baby naming drama? Doesn’t this mean the royals are just like us?
For one thing, their baby name choice has led to accusations of the deepest hypocrisy or, as one commentator put it, “a shameless attempt to deliver flowers after burning down [the Queen’s] house”.
That’s what happens when your father names you, in part, after the woman he recently accused in a podcast interview of being a large part of the “genetic pain and suffering that gets passed on”, which motivated him to leave the country in order to “break the cycle”. (That would be the Queen, who also stripped the couple of their honorary military titles and royal patronage appointments following their shock departure from the royal family and move to California last year.)
Oh, and after both your parents gave what’s been called “the most jaw-dropping [interview] in royal history” to Oprah Winfrey in March, in which they said that an unnamed member of the royal family fretted over how dark your brother Archie’s skin would be, that a general lack of support drove Meghan to thoughts of suicide while pregnant with Archie, and that Prince Charles had, at one point, stopped taking Harry’s calls.
Welcome, baby Lili, to arguably the most rancorous royal feud since that between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.
It’s a lot for a person who weighs about the same as a box of laundry detergent and is unable to hold her head up, let alone appreciate that Oprah and Katy Perry live near your parents’ $14 million compound in Montecito, California.
“It is, in some ways, evidence of Harry’s willingness to crash the boundaries of the public and private when it comes to royal lives,” says Giselle Bastin, a Flinders University associate professor and British royalty expert, of the couple choosing the name Lilibet, noting these are spheres the royal family prefers to keep separate.
So while Buckingham Palace has issued a notice saying that all the senior members of the royal family are “delighted” with Lili’s birth, speculation abounds as to whether it could lead to a healing of the rift or deepen it.
Why does this matter?
The royal family’s reputation has a history of taking a hit after anyone from the inner circle reveals something personal to the public.
When Marion Crawford, long-time nanny to princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, wrote a book, The Little Princesses, she revealed that Margaret had a bad habit of biting her sister and that Elizabeth was unaffectionate. (“He was not a demonstrative man,” Crawford wrote of Princess Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, “[and] Lilibet took after him.” (“She sneaked,” Margaret said about “Crawfie”, who was never forgiven.)
And when Harry’s mother Diana revealed that she struggled with an eating disorder and a loveless marriage, and that the Queen replied coldly, saying there was nothing she could do? “That was explosive for [the royal family], it was quite damning for them,” says Chloe Ward, an expert on 20th-century culture and politics at RMIT’s Social and Global Studies Centre. “It made them look neglectful.
“If Diana was the representation of this modern, warm, caring family-oriented woman, then the royal family, by being so cold to her, they were showing that they were an outdated institution.”
The royal family’s approval plummeted in Britain and here in the 1990s as a result, says Ward, and only began to recover once Harry and William came of age.
So the world is watching to see how the Queen responds to Lili’s name – the latest, in a move that’s been interpreted as a lack of support for the Sussexes, is that the palace has refused to deny suggestions that the Queen was “never asked” for permission – and to her parents’ announcement that they’re taking five months’ parental leave to look after her. (This is in stark contrast to the habit of many royals, including the Queen, of leaving their newborns for months at a time to go away on official trips.)
At its most extreme, a plummeting of the monarchy’s reputation could be met with “a corresponding republican movement that could take advantage of that”, says Ward.
What happens next?
Beyond seeing if Meghan and Harry enroll Lili in baby yoga? Wait and see if the little girl makes history as the first senior British royal who could also, one day, vie for the American presidency.
“America fought the war of independence, fought long and hard to get away from Britain and to not have a member of the royal family running the nation,” says Juliet Rieden, author of The Royals In Australia and editor-at-large of Australian Women’s Weekly. “So it just brings the whole thing full circle, doesn’t it? I just find it historically ironic and rather wonderful.
“America will now have its own royal family in Archie and Lilibet. They have their own royal family in Harry, but he’s not American.”
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