What do you give a baby who has everything including, some day, England’s throne?
I’ve read all of the newborn gift guides and I’ve still been unable to figure it out. So I turned to Elisabeth Cawthon, an expert on the British monarchy, for help.
Cawthon, an associate history professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, was kind enough to answer some questions about the royal family and the new baby, George Alexander Louis. Because of her educational emphasis on English constitutional history — “‘Beowulf’ to Virginia Woolf,” she says — her focus on the royals is “just sort of a natural.”
American-Statesman: Why are we so fascinated with the royal family?
Cawthon: The World War II generation has a natural connection. Many American service people who served in England came back with an affinity for the English. They have an understanding of what bound us together and an appreciation for the role in boosting morale that the royal family had.
And the royal family is entertaining to us; they’re celebrities. We have the luxury in the U.S. of having thrown off monarchy and yet we can watch them. They understand fully that the monarchy is an enormous tourism business. We still enjoy that spectacle.
Does their lack of accessibility drive interest?
It does. And one thing that the palace does very successfully is strike that balance between mystery and accessibility. If you get that wrong, then the monarchy is commonplace. If you make them too inaccessible, then they’re not loved.
Is that balance going to change with the birth of this baby?
I think the myth is that there is going to be much, much greater access to this child because William and Kate are younger and more modern. They’re kind of hip, you know: William’s struggling with the car seat; this baby’s birth was all over the Internet; they tweeted about it. So, the baby’s going to be out in public.
I think that’s a bit of an overstatement. First, there are general security concerns. I think that William and Kate are going to work very hard to be protective at the same time that they themselves might be a little more open. There still may be this sense that this baby is kind of off limits just because of the real world danger.
The second factor is that William, as pleasant as he usually is, has got a little bit of a bone to pick with the press because of the circumstances of his mother’s (Princess Diana’s) death. That’s going to make him guarded in terms of allowing access to his family.
If we do run into the royal baby while we’re out, how should we address him?
He has the same title as his father. Technically, this baby is not the Duke of Cambridge right now. When Charles becomes king, William will be known as the Prince of Wales and this baby will be the Duke of Cambridge. But everybody’s calling him that anyway. The eldest son gets that title from his father. If this were a girl, she would be called the Duchess of Cambridge.
And he’ll be king someday.
He’s third in line for the throne: It will be Elizabeth; her eldest son, Charles; then his eldest son, William; and then William’s eldest child. The law has been changed so that now it will be “child” and not “son.”
Is that because they were afraid they would not be able to produce a son?
No, I think there has been a lot of general pressure to bring this whole situation into the 21st century. It was just so ridiculous to exclude a woman from the throne, especially when there is this extremely successful and iconic woman on the throne. It looked almost insulting to Elizabeth to say, “Oh, we’ve got to wait for another boy.” And if England was going to talk about human rights in the context of Europe and the world, it could not continue to exclude girls from governorship.
Why is there talk of the queen abdicating the throne?
It’s not just that these young people — William, Kate and this baby — are so popular. There have also been two recent abdications within the past two years, one by the king of Belgium and the other by the queen of the Netherlands.
Why would Queen Elizabeth step down?
Well, just because she’s tired. She’s ready for a rest, and she not only has her son and a grandson ready to take the throne, but now a third generation. This baby’s birth might increase the possibility of it. I’ve always said that I doubt that she would do this, but if she becomes quite ill or infirm, I think it’s possible. And I think the abdication of other monarchs in Europe could feed into that.
One more question: What gift did you send over to the royal baby?
(Laughs.) One of the things that I’ve tried to publicize is that the royals don’t really need anything. People that have billion-dollar inheritances really don’t need baby gifts. They don’t even need a card.