In New Zealand, the first weekend in June is Queen’s Birthday Weekend. Corpus is taking a short break today for the public holiday. We hope you are able to enjoy some time off too, perhaps shoring up on some precious, fortifying pre-solstice fresh air and sunshine to carry you through the next few months of winter.
92 years ago, in London, a ‘certain line of treatment’ ushered in the birth of a baby girl. Barbara Brookes explains:
At 2:40 am on 21st April 1926, the then Duchess of York gave birth to a daughter in her parents’ London residence at No. 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair. The popular 25 year old duchess had originally planned to give birth in convenient rented accommodation but her uncle, King Edward VIII, ‘strongly disapproved’ of the idea that a child ‘which might ascend the throne’ should be born in a ‘hired house’.
The baby (third in line to the throne) was originally expected at the end of April. When it appeared that an earlier birth was imminent, other specialists were called to assist Sir Henry Simpson, the royal Obstetrician. One of these was the noted obstetrician, Sir George Blacker. Sir George engaged a ‘certain line of treatment’ which led to the successful delivery.
That ‘certain line of treatment’ was a Caesarean section, carried out, in this case, in a private house. Caesarean sections have a long history but the operation was hazardous until the late nineteenth century, when anaesthesia and aseptic techniques allowed more successful invasive surgery. Obstetricians experimented to determine which type of incision led to lower infection rates. In the early twentieth century the British obstetrician John Martin Munro Kerr popularised the lower segment cervical Caesarean section, which lowered infection rates as well as the risk of uterine rupture.
Princess Elizabeth’s arrival in 1926, then, was no ordinary birth. By 1948, when she herself, aged 22, had her first child, caesarean section was becoming more routine. The Second War World had wrought destruction (including the bombing of 17 Bruton Street), but had also hastened the production of the ‘wonder drug’, penicillin. Four doctors, including an anaesthetist, attended Princess Elizabeth’s labour at Buckingham Palace, delivering Prince Charles by Caesarean section.
Barbara Brookes is co-editor of Corpus.
- ‘The Infant Princess’, Times (London), 22 April 1926;14.
- ‘An Important Event: Another Princess Born’, Stratford Evening Post (NZ), 22 April 1926.
- Queen Elizabeth II’s Life in Pictures