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Why a large family makes sense for the royals

The announcement that William and Kate are expecting a second child can be explained by their famous closeness with their own siblings


 
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge holds Prince George as he and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge's look on while visiting the Sensational Butterflies exhibition at the Natural History Museum on July 2, 2014 in London, England. The family released the photo ahead of the first birthday of Prince George on July 22.  (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge holds Prince George as he and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge’s look on while visiting the Sensational Butterflies exhibition at the Natural History Museum on July 2, 2014 in London, England. The family released the photo ahead of the first birthday of Prince George on July 22. (Photo by John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Though the speculation about a second pregnancy for Prince William and his wife, Kate, started swirling the moment they took George home from the hospital in July 2013, it was only confirmed this week in a terse 78-word statement. Like last time, they were forced to release the information before the usual three-month mark because Kate is again ill with severe morning sickness. “She’s feeling OK,” William said. “It’s early days, we hope things settle down and she feels a bit better.”

Though the announcement’s timing was a surprise, the news that William and Kate are expanding their family isn’t a shock. The couple has talked of having children ever since their 2010 engagement. There are practical reasons for royals to have more than one child—the phrase “the heir and the spare” is famous for a reason. However, for William and Kate, the decision is likely more personal. For both parents, their family and especially siblings have played important roles in difficult times. William relied on his brother through their parents’ scandals and divorce as well as the death of their mother, Diana. And when Kate was besieged by the press while dating William, it was her sister, Pippa, and brother, James, who were constantly by her side. Those close relationships are clearly something they want George to experience.

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Samir Hussein/wireimage/getty images

Samir Hussein/wireimage/getty images

Whether blue blooded or not, being a sibling means there’s always a playmate or someone to blame when a prank goes wrong. But in the rarefied world of royalty, siblings are the only ones who can truly understand the strains of gilded life in the public eye—and be a true confidante. “It’s amazing how close we’ve become,” Prince Harry said of his big brother, William, in 2005. “He is the one person on this Earth who I can actually really, you know, we can talk about anything. We understand each other and we give each other support.” That’s certainly true today, with tabloids willing to pay handsomely for the most innocuous scrap of palace gossip.

Royal siblings can also be counted on to read each other the riot act, or act as buttresses in times of trouble. William and Harry “bring the best out of each other,” a family friend told author Penny Junor in her new biography of Prince Harry. “Harry forces William to be more spontaneous and freer, and William helps steady Harry up and protects him from himself.”

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The brothers attended the same schools, were both military helicopter pilots and have similar interests in everything from polo to their charitable focuses. They aren’t the only close siblings of the Windsor clan: Queen Elizabeth II is the epitome of calm, cool and collected, while her younger sister, Margaret was infamously mercurial. Yet the two talked daily until Margaret’s death in 2002.

Being part of a large family comes naturally for Kate, too. Her happily married parents and their three children are a tight family unit. Pippa spilled no revelations in her interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer this summer aside from mentioning her “very normal sisterly relationship” with Kate. For Pippa, having royal in-laws has meant the loss of much of her privacy, especially after her form-fitting dress at the 2011 royal wedding plunged her, bum first, into a cauldron of boiling media interest. Every career move, every outfit has been subjected to so much scrutiny that a long-term boyfriend left, unable to cope with the intense interest. Yet for all the public examination of their lives, the Middletons have never given any indication that the outside pressures have changed their relationships with each other.

Toby Melville/Reuters

Toby Melville/Reuters

“We still do a lot together as a family,” Pippa said. “I think that’s really the heart for all of us, is having a really close family that we can sort of be normal with each other, treat each other normally. That’s sort of kept us all, you know, affixed to the ground.” It’s no surprise that the first few weeks of George’s life were spent in the relaxed arms of the Middletons, at their rural Berkshire estate where the family frequently gathers.

William and Kate are likely to recreate that informal, private country lifestyle at Anmer Hall, a 10-bedroom house sheltered within the Queen’s huge Sandringham estate in Norfolk. Given that William is about to start a stint as a regional air ambulance pilot, the couple is expected to use the house as their main base for the next few years, with their newly refurbished apartment at Kensington Palace acting as a London pied-á-terre—albeit one with 20 rooms and two kitchens.

Having a big family is something of a family tradition for the Windsors. “When the public thinks of royalty, they think of a family, especially a large extended family,” notes Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip have four children, and while her parents had just two, George V and Mary had six as did Edward VII and Alexandra. Though William and Kate, both 32, are unlikely to follow the example of Queen Victoria, who had nine children in 15 years, they aren’t unique among Europe’s young royals in wanting more than the usual 1.8 children. Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary have four youngsters, as does the new Belgian monarch, Philippe, and his wife, Mathilde, while the Netherlands’ Willem-Alexander and Máxima have three daughters.

For now, William and Kate are adjusting to the renewed interest in her belly. After saying his wife was feeling okay, William pleaded for everyone to change the subject: “It’s important that we all focus on the big domestic and international news at the moment.” Prince Harry, on the other hand, greeted the pregnancy announcement like only a brother could, joking he couldn’t wait to again see William suffer the sleepless nights inherent with having a baby, and saying of his nephew, “George will be over the moon. I think he will be thrilled having another small younger brother or sister.” As for his own reaction to being pushed further down the line of succession, Harry grinned broadly, “Great!”


 

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