Most of the traditions used in British royal christenings today stem from Queen Victoria who commissioned special items for the baptism of her first child, Victoria, Princess Royal. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had nine children so the items certainly got plenty of use.
The Lily font was commissioned from Barnard & Co to replace the silver basin used to christen royal babies since the time of Charles II, mainly because it had been used to christen numerous illegitimate babies which Victoria found distasteful. The brand new Lily font was made from silver-gilt and was reportedly designed by Prince Albert himself who chose water lilies as they symbolise purity and new life. The font with a bowl is in the form of an expanded flower with a border of water-lilies and leaves; the stem is formed of leaves, and flanked at the base by three winged cherubs above the royal arms of Victoria, Prince Albert and the Princess Royal.
Royal christenings, especially for an heir, are generally private ceremonies within Buckingham Palace and are conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury who anoints the baby’s head with water from the River Jordan where Christ is said to have been baptised. The Lily font has been used to christen all royal babies, with the exception of Princess Eugenie in 1991, ever since, and is securely stored in the Tower when not in use.
Queen Victoria also commissioned a beautiful Honiton lace and ivory satin christening gown for her baby daughter which was made by Janet Sutherland, a Scottish seamstress, who designed it to echo Victoria’s wedding gown. As with the wedding dress, the christening gown was made from Spitalfields silk and Honiton lace. The queen was so impressed by Miss Sutherland’s craftsmanship, she was awarded the title of Embroiderer to the Queen.
The gown has been worn by every royal baby since, however, after the christening of Lady Louise Windsor in 2004, the gown was deemed too fragile to wear again. A team of seamstresses, headed by the Queen’s dressmaker, Angela Kelly, made an exact copy of the original and then dipped it in tea to give it a vintage look. The new gown was first worn by Lady Louise Windsor’s baby brother, James, Viscount Severn, in 2008.