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Sunday, 28 November 2010

Royal registration rivalry


Queen Victoria   
Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced in England and Wales in 1837, the year that Queen Victoria came to the throne. When her children were born, they had to be registered like everyone else's, with the local registrar, but which one? It should be simple enough; the registrar of births and deaths for the district where the birth occurred, of course.

But the queen gave birth to her children in Buckingham Palace, so big that it was in two different registration districts. When her first child, Princess Victoria, the Princess Royal, was born on 21 November 1840, George Rawlins, the registrar of births and deaths in the Charing Cross sub-district of St Martin-in-the-Fields believed that he was entitled to register the birth. He had, however, heard that a person from outside the district had been appointed for all the royal palaces, and wrote to the Registrar General on 5 December for clarification, pointing out that a registrar was empowered by Act of Parliament to register all the births in his district, and it would take another Act to deprive him of this right.

Princess Victoria born 21 November 1840
 The Registrar General, Thomas Lister, 'caused enquiry to be made', and found that since most of Buckingham Palace was in the Belgrave sub-district of St George Hanover Square, the registrar of that sub-district was to have the honour of registering the birth of the princess. So Mr Rawlins was disappointed. (The National Archives reference HO 39/5)

Queen Victoria went on to have nine children in all, and when the fifth of them, Princess Helena, arrived in 1846, George Rawlins was no longer registrar of the Charing Cross sub-district. His successor, James Leonard, made a valiant attempt at reclaiming the registration of royal births for St Martin-in-the-Fields. He wrote to the Registrar General '...it being certified to me by the Churchwardens and other Parochial Authorities of the Parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, that the north wing of the said Palace, in which are the private apartments of Her Majesty the Queen, and wherein the birth took place, is within the Charing Cross District for registration...I did on the 26th of May present myself with my Register Book of Births at Buckingham Palace and left a written request that a time might be named to register the birth of the said Royal Infant... ' The response from the Palace was to suggest that Mr Leonard should refer to the Home Secretary for guidance, which he duly did.

The matter was once again referred to the Registrar General, Lister's successor George Graham, who confirmed the earlier decision. His records showed that the question had also been raised in 1841 and 1843 on the births of the Prince of Wales and of Princess Alice, by both parishes, and that plans of Buckingham Palace and boundary maps had been consulted. George Graham wrote 'I am of the opinion that the same course should again now be pursued;...and to inform the Registrar of Births and Deaths for the Charing Cross District...that his services will not be required' (The National Archives reference HO 45/1424)

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