Heritage

Prince Louis's Christening Dress Has a Fascinating History

Like so many British royal traditions, this one goes all the way back to Queen Victoria.
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When Prince Louis was christened at the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace in London yesterday, he wore the same gown that his big brother George and his sister Charlotte wore to their baptisms. But of course since this dress belongs to the British royal family, its history goes back much farther than that.

Known as the Honiton christening gown, the garment that Louis wore is actually a replica of the dress that Queen Victoria commissioned for her first-born child, her daughter Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa. Little Princess Victoria was baptized in 1841 in Buckingham Palace, on her parents' first wedding anniversary.


An engraving of Princess Victoria's baptism at Buckingham Palace in 1841.

The gown had been inspired by the Queen's own wedding dress and was made from white silk with a handmade lace overlay. Janet Sutherland, a miner's daughter from Falkirk, Scotland, made the lace. Queen Victoria later noted in her journal that "Albert & I agreed that all had gone off beautifully & in a very dignified manner."

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The dress was worn by 62 royal babies over the course of its 163 years of royal service. Five monarchs have been baptized in the gown, beginning with Victoria and Albert's first son, the future Edward VII. George V, Edward VIII, George VI and the Queen all wore the white lace dress, as did Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince Harry.

QUEEN VICTORIA AND THE FUTURE KING EDWARD VIII:


Queen Victoria poses with her son Bertie, who became Edward VII; her grandson, the future George V; and her great grandson, who would later be King Edward VIII, on his christening day in 1894.

QUEEN ELIZABETH AT HER CHRISTENING IN 1926:


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Baby Princess Elizabeth with her parents the Duke and Duchess of York.

PRINCE CHARLES'S CHRISTENING IN 1948:


Prince Charles at his christening with his mother, Princess Elizabeth, his grandfather, George VI, and his great grandmother, Queen Mary.

PRINCE HARRY'S CHRISTENING IN 1984:


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Baby Prince Harry held by his mother Princess Diana and surrounded by his great grandmother, the Queen mother; his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and his father, the Prince of Wales.

PRINCESS EUGENIE'S CHRISTENING IN 1990:


Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York holds baby Princess Eugenie. Prince Andrew, Zara Phillips, and Prince Harry are nearby.

The gown was cared for carefully over the years—protocol dictated that it be hand-washed with spring water after each ceremony, before being stored in a dark room. 

The last royal to wear the original gown was Lady Louise Windsor, Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex's daughter, in 2004. The Queen apparently decided then that the gown had earned its retirement, and asked her personal wardrobe advisor, Angela Kelly, to help make a replica.

Kelly worked closely with craftsmen in both Britain and Italy to get as close as possible to the original. (The team apparently set aside enough material for another gown, should they need a backup or perhaps one for a royal twin.)

The first to wear the new gown was James, Viscount Severn, Lady Louise's younger brother, who was baptized in 2008. Since then, it's been worn by Savanna and Isla Philips, Lord Frederick Windsor’s daughter Maud (who goes to school with George), Zara Tindall's daughter Mia, and of course George and Charlotte.

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Prince George at his christening in 2013.

The ceremony for baby Louis's christening was a small one—just a few dozen people will be there—but just as steeped in history as the gown he wore. The Archbishop of Canterbury did the honors, and he used the Lily Font, a silver gilt bowl that has been used for every royal baby since (you guessed it) Princess Victoria in 1841.

Stored at the Tower of London with the rest of the Crown Jewels, the font was brought to St. James palace especially for the ceremony. It is decorated with putti and lilies, a symbol of purity, and Queen Victoria had it made to use instead of a font commissioned by Charles II in the 1660s. King Charles had no children with his wife the Queen, but that baptismal font had been used for the christenings of his children with various mistresses, a fact which Queen Victoria apparently found less than savory.

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Yet another royal tradition that was surely continued for baby Prince Louis is his blessing with water from the river Jordan, which is where John the Baptist baptized Jesus himself.

In 2015, water was flown in for Princess Charlotte's christening, but since Prince William was just in Jordan for a historical royal tour, it's possible he brought back water for his third child's christening. Even for a family as deeply rooted in tradition as the British royals, a personal touch means everything.


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This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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Elizabeth Angell
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