Why Do British Monarchs Celebrate Two Birthdays?
14 November 2023 sees King Charles III celebrate his 75th birthday, just 6 months after his coronation. Charles reportedly plans to mark his milestone birthday with an afternoon tea party and rock choir at Highgrove the day before, hosted by The Prince’s Foundation, along with local guests and neighbours who are either also turning 75 or who are considered community champions.
The year 2023 holds additional significance with the 75th anniversary of the NHS and the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush in Britain – both of which will be commemorated during Charles’ birthday celebrations, along with plans for the launch of a Coronation Food Project aimed at reducing food waste, and the renaming of The Prince’s Trust to The King’s Trust. A special coin from The Royal Mint, paying tribute to Charles’ environmental advocacy, has also been produced for the occasion.
It is expected Charles will host a private birthday party in the evening of his actual birthday on 14 November at Clarence House with immediate family and close friends.
However, King Charles has actually already officially celebrated his birthday this year, back on 17 June, which was marked by the first Trooping the Colour (the King’s Birthday Parade) of his reign – the annual military spectacle from Horse Guards in London. So why do British monarchs get to celebrate twice while the rest of us only celebrate once?
Origins of the tradition
The tradition of British monarchs celebrating two birthdays is a unique and longstanding practice, dating back to the 18th century. King George II, who reigned from 1727 to 1760, is credited with starting this practice.
Born on 9 November, George II’s actual birthday fell during a chilly and unpredictable time of the year. With a November birthday being too cold for a celebratory parade, and to ensure that his subjects could partake in outdoor festivities and celebrations, in 1748 King George II tied his birthday celebrations in with the annual Trooping the Colour summer military parade in the warmer month of June.
Thus, the concept of the ‘official’ birthday was born. The monarch’s actual birthday continued to be observed, often marked by private family celebrations and religious ceremonies. However, the public spectacle, with its grand parades, public festivities and ceremonial events, was shifted to the more favourable weather of June.
Reasons for dual celebrations
Several factors contributed to the establishment of the dual birthday celebrations. Firstly, the ever-changing British weather, known for its unpredictability and often inclement conditions, played a pivotal role. The prospect of hosting outdoor events and parades in November, with its potential for rain and cold temperatures, was not conducive to the grand scale of celebrations befitting a monarch. The decision to move the official celebrations to June allowed for more comfortable and enjoyable public festivities.
Secondly, the June celebration provided an opportunity for the monarchy to foster a sense of unity and loyalty among the public. The grandeur of the events, including military parades and public displays of patriotism, served to strengthen the connection between the monarch and the people. This sense of shared celebration became a unifying force, especially during times when the nation faced internal or external challenges.
Evolution of the tradition
The tradition of celebrating two birthdays continued beyond the reign of King George II, becoming a custom embraced by subsequent monarchs. It evolved with the changing times, adapting to the needs and preferences of each reigning sovereign.
Edward VII (r. 1901-1910) also had a November birthday, and it was during his reign that the summer ‘official’ birthday celebrations were standardised, with the month of June becoming their established month. It remains so to this day. It was also under Edward VII that the inspection of the troops by the monarch became part of the celebration. Trooping the Colour now typically takes place every year on the second Saturday in June.
As the British Empire expanded, the dual birthday celebrations took on a global significance. Colonies and territories around the world joined in the festivities, further reinforcing the connection between the monarch and the far-reaching corners of the empire. The celebrations became not only a symbol of loyalty but also an expression of the monarchy’s influence on a global scale.
While the weather is no longer a primary concern in the age of advanced logistics and indoor events, as the British monarchy continues to try and adapt to changing times, the historical tradition of its dual birthday celebrations remains a symbol of continuity and tradition.
From its humble beginnings with King George II to its present-day manifestation with King Charles III, the tradition of official birthday celebrations in June has evolved into a grand showcase of British pageantry, and is a renowned part of the British monarchy’s calendar.
The Trooping the Colour ceremony, a highlight of the official birthday celebrations for the last 260 years, involves an impressive military parade, the Trooping the Colour ceremony, and a balcony appearance by the royal family for the RAF fly-past. This event draws thousands of spectators and is broadcast globally, emphasising the enduring popularity and importance of the dual birthday celebrations.
However, when Prince William inherits the throne, his birthday on 21 June will naturally coincide with the annual Trooping the Colour. This makes it possible that as monarch, William may just celebrate the one birthday – like the rest of us!
# Good Human Club