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21st Century Royals

14:09 23/07/2013

One question I have kept hearing in recent days was whether the British royal baby would arrive on the same day as the new Belgian King began his reign.

Well now we know.  The baby boy is happily arrived.  Warmest congratulations to Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!

As Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“An important moment for our nation but above all a wonderful moment for a warm and loving couple.”

It’s a wonderful coincidence that our two countries are celebrating great royal events in the same week.

Royalty is something that the UK and Belgium have in common, as shown by Queen Elizabeth II’s message of congratulations to the new Belgian King, and Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders’ kind congratulations to the Duke and Duchess on the birth of their son.

As Ambassador, it was a great honour for me to be present in the Belgian parliament for the swearing of King Philippe.  It was extraordinary to witness the remarkable ceremony of a Monarch pledging fidelity to the constitution.

For Britain and Belgium, royalty is a sign of shared history.  One of the most touching pictures in the British Residence on rue Ducale is the portrait of a young princess of Wales, daughter of King George IV, bride of the future Leopold I who would have been the first Queen of the Belgians had she not died tragically young.  

If you visit Lancaster House in London – the British venue of our annual Belgo-British Conference – there are pictures of King George V meeting Albert on the First World War battlefields.

It is a connection that continues.  Queen Elizabeth II has visited Belgium on a number of occasions, most recently in 2007.  King Philippe was educated at Oxford and was in London last year for the Olympics.  I was staggered – and touched - by the huge interest in Belgium in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  

But tradition can only continue if there is an element of change.  King Philippe has made his reputation as a commercial prince, leading business delegations across the globe.

And the historic change about the British royal birth is that the new child would have automatic right of succession – whatever its gender.

If William and Kate had had a girl, she would have been able to succeed the throne.  The new boy, His Royal Highness The Prince of Cambridge, will be a future king not by virtue of sex but by simply being the first-born.

That is an area where Belgium was already ahead of us. King Philippe and Queen Mathilde have four children, but the succession rules already mean that their daughter Princess Elisabeth is in line to be Belgium’s first female monarch.  

As the delighted reactions in the UK and Belgium show, people are excited about the Royal Baby; as a symbol of continuity and change.  Yet it is also important to remember that this is a very personal and private experience for the Duke and Duchess.  May they cherish this moment as loving parents, as well as 21st Century Royals.

Written by Jonathan Brenton, British Ambassador to Belgium