LONDON — A paddock in the English countryside — more used to stampeding cows than people — opened its gates Sunday to royal well-wishers hoping to catch a glimpse of the country’s newest princess.
Charlotte, fourth in line to the UK throne, was christened in the church at St. Mary Magdalene in Sandringham, Norfolk.
The christening itself was a small, intimate family affair with a sprinkling of tradition and tributes to a much-missed member of the family.
Princess Charlotte arrived at her christening in a royal pram pushed by her mother and flanked by big brother and father.
Royal watchers may have recognized Prince George’s outfit. It was very similar to the one worn by his father, Prince William, when he visited his newborn brother, Prince Harry, on September 16, 1984.
Only a handful of people were invited to the picturesque church on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also have a home.
The guests included Charlotte’s grandparents, great-grandparents and aunt and uncle on the Middleton side. Prince Harry would have been invited but is away in Africa.
In the past, christenings were grander affairs, but Kate and William prefer intimacy. In a break from tradition, they didn’t choose members of the royal family as godparents. Instead they asked three of their oldest friends and a cousin from both sides.
William chose Laura Fellowes, a cousin from his late mother’s branch of the family. This was one of several nods to Princess Diana, whose memory he tries to include in family occasions. This was also the church where Diana was christened. The official photographer was one of Diana’s favorites, Mario Testino, and one of Charlotte’s middle names is Diana.
Despite the informality of the day, key traditions were included if you looked closely. Charlotte wore the royal christening robe last sported by her big brother at his christening in October 2013. The ceremony was overseen by the Church of England’s most senior bishop, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He used the lily baptismal font, which was quietly brought up from the Tower of London, where it is housed with the crown jewels. The water in the font came from even farther away — the River Jordan.
And of course you cannot be the British royal family without drawing some attention. Aware of this, the duke and duchess invited the public to a field outside the church to share the moment. When the Cambridges emerged from the church, there was a cheer from the thousands who had gathered for what was the first public outing of this new family of four.
“The Duke and Duchess are hugely grateful for the warm wishes they have received since Princess Charlotte’s birth — many of them from local people in Norfolk — and are delighted the paddock can be opened on the day of the christening,” Kensington Palace said.
The local police force, the Norfolk Constabulary, was prepared for the large crowds. History shows that thousands of people turn out for key royal moments, especially those involving the younger royals. For this event, there was an open invitation and lots of notice, so people were expected to come from much farther afield than the local villages.
This is all in stark contrast to Prince George’s christening at a chapel in central London, where there was no public access. Prince William, is constantly trying to balance his family’s privacy and the public interest. William grew up hounded by the media and is very sensitive to that but also understands his future royal subjects want regular updates on him and his family.
As for the royals, their day ended with tea at the Queen’s residence nearby and the official photographs.