With her usual impeccable timing, the Duchess of Cambridge has distracted us all from the Diana breast-beating and the doubts about Queen Camilla with the announcement of a royal baby. It’s almost as if she planned it, a dollop of royal baby joy after all those reminders of how badly the royal family can get it wrong when they want to.
Royal babies are the next best thing to a royal wedding for making us all rosy about the world’s most expensive real-life soap. Yet while the duchess’s announcement will no doubt give the “firm” a short-term ratings bump (and it will do wonders for the maternity-wear industry), it may not play out so well in the long term.
You could argue that one of the most tangible achievements that Diana gave the monarchy was to limit her family to an heir and a spare. She may well have wanted more, but there’s no doubt that the reason that there is so much affection for the princes is that there are only two of them. Once you start having a royal brood, questions start to be asked about whether all this fecundity is worth the money it costs to keep them all in Silver Cross prams and Bonpoint knickerbockers.
I suspect that the royal family would be stronger today if the Queen had stopped at Charles and Anne; while Andrew and Edward may gladden their parents’ hearts, it can’t be said that they or their offspring do much to strengthen the royal brand. It is the first law of merchandising: don’t have too many products or consumers get confused.
Historically this has always been the case. George III’s 15 children were considered a terrific drain on the public purse and even a popular monarch such as Victoria was endlessly lampooned when she asked for more money to extend Buckingham Palace so that she could build a bigger nursery for her nine children.
At least there was a point to Victoria’s children — she could marry them all off to foreign princes and operate a matriarchal foreign policy (she had seven thrones in Europe occupied by her direct descendants) and, importantly, she could get them off the domestic books.
The days when royal children could be pawns in a dynastic game of thrones is over. Once they get past the winsome stage and become middle-aged and expensive to maintain, questions will be asked about why we need so many royals. It’s quite possible that the new royal baby will become an accountant or a party planner and won’t cost the taxpayer a penny, but on past performance that doesn’t seem likely.
And at a time when only the very rich and the very poor feel able to have as many children as they like, perhaps it is a mite incautious for Careful Kate with her LK Bennett shoes and Reiss dresses to make such a statement of affluence. Three children is borderline, but four would look like extravagance.