The Duchess of Cambridge is staying in the hospital named after its first royal patron, Edward VII. He was born in 1841 in Buckingham Palace, after Queen Victoria rather resentfully made an uncomfortable carriage journey from Windsor.
"Not feeling very well again," she noted in her journal, "and had rather a restless night." That morning, her eldest child Victoria, nicknamed Pussy, still only 11 months old, was brought down for a while, and the 22-year-old Queen found the energy to write a letter to the Prime Minister about a revolt in Spain (for which she blamed "those troublesome French"), but then felt too tired to go to divine service.
In Queen Victoria, we see a figure still part of the historic life-or-death struggle for succession and world dominance, yet touchingly domestic, emotional and quite modern in her daily monitoring of her own feelings.
Girl or boy, the Duchess of Cambridge's baby will be heir to the British Crown, assuming the law has been changed. Pressure to produce a male heir worried some queens more than others. "Never mind, the next will be a Prince," Victoria forecast recklessly on being delivered of a girl as her firstborn.
Her prophecy, on this occasion, proved correct. No matter how much of a trial Bertie, later Edward VII, was to be in his (unending) adolescence, he was a male heir. Little Pussy grew up to become the mother of the Kaiser, but she would hardly have married his father, the German Emperor, had she been expected to become Queen regnant of England.
In her splendid new biography of Edward VII, Jane Ridley notes that the medical fees for his birth amounted to pounds 2,500 - more than pounds 110,000 in today's values. The doctors were told that they had received so much only because they had attended the birth of "a Prince and heir to the Crown of England and that they must not be considered as forming a precedent for any future payments".
Queen Victoria bore nine children who all survived to adulthood. It was a remarkably fortunate record in an age when childbirth was the greatest peril for mother and child. During her first pregnancy, Parliament took the precaution of passing an Act to make Prince Albert the regent in the case of her sudden demise.
An "heir and a spare" were hardly sufficient insurance for Victoria. The heir apparent, Bertie, very nearly died of typhoid in 1871, shouting out in his delirium that he had succeeded to the throne, while the nation was ordered to observe a day of "prayer, fasting and humiliation".
Her next son, Alfred, died in 1900, a year before the Queen (his only son having shot himself in 1899 after his marriage to a commoner was annulled). We might easily have been ruled by the seventh child and third son, Arthur, who lived till 1942.
So a son and heir really mattered, just as it had when Catherine of Aragon failed to provide one and Henry VIII cast her off, or when his next wife Anne produced a daughter and the next year miscarried. Or when Catherine's only surviving child from her many pregnancies, Queen Mary, was assured by the doctor in 1554 that she was expecting a child. The Queen ordered a public celebration with a procession to St Paul's and the singing of a Te Deum in thanks. Distressingly, it was a false hope that was to be repeated in her short reign.
If Tudor pregnancies were celebrated in the streets, Victorian ones filled the columns of a rapidly growing press - not all of it friendly. A leading engraver for the Illustrated London News, William Linton, also published satirical verse on the monarchy. "God bless our Queen and long increase her progeny," he wrote for Bertie's birth. "And over-population? My Lord Bishop's very sure / There'll be plenty for the Prince, howev'r they starve the poor."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley, and the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, were in attendance at the birth of Victoria's first son - though, as Albert was careful to make public, not in the bedroom. Howley was the last Archbishop to wear a formal horsehair wig, and the birth was a state occasion, looking back to former centuries.
The presence of ministers of the Crown did not date back merely to the so-called "warming-pan" fiction, but it was this that remained in the public consciousness. Every schoolboy who had got past Little Arthur's History of England knew that James II's wife had been accused of having her newborn son smuggled into the royal bed in a warming pan. This was Mary of Modena, who had the misfortune of bearing five children who did not live, before becoming pregnant in 1687.
Since both she and the King were Catholics, a Protestant propaganda attempt to discredit an heir for them grew in strength as the birth approached. Even those ministers summoned to witness the birth deliberately turned their backs to avoid giving credit to a legitimate heir. The King felt obliged to publish a document Depositions made in council on Monday, 22 October 1688, giving 70 eye-witness testimonies to the birth. Little good it did, for James fled the country later that year and the infant prince grew up to be the Old Pretender, living in exile.
Victoria had no such difficulties with conspiracy theories; the realities of childbirth were enough. "My sufferings were really very severe," she noted of her labour with Bertie. Without the presence - a surprisingly modern decision - of Prince Albert in the room, she wrote, "I do not know what I should have done."
At the birth of Prince Leopold in 1853, Queen Victoria was given chloroform. There was a subterranean body of thought that the travails of childbirth were woman's inheritance from Eve and ought not to be interfered with. Victoria had no truck with such inhumane scruples. When Dr John Snow "gave that blessed Chloroform", she recorded, "the effect was soothing, quieting & delightful beyond measure".
Victoria readily expressed her feelings in journals and letters, but she could hardly paint a consistent picture of her own attitudes. She liked connubiality - certainly including the sex side of things - but she didn't feel well when pregnant, and, worse, she suffered post-natal depressions.
"I positively think that ladies who are always enceinte quite disgusting," she wrote to her daughter Vicky after she had given birth to the future Kaiser. "It is more like a rabbit or guinea-pig than anything else and really it is not very nice." Perhaps Queen Victoria was unconsciously expressing feelings about her own frequent pregnancies, and as for poor Vicky, she went on to have another seven children in 11 years.
Family life was an undoubted blessing in Victoria's eyes; she just didn't like little babies. Vicky was six weeks old before her mother saw her bathed for the second time, by which time she thought her "much improved". Victoria found babies were too much like frogs till they were six months old. Thereafter they were more acceptably like toys, or pet dogs.
The Duchess of Cambridge's spaniel Lupo and the packs of corgis that have enlivened life at Buckingham Palace are no canine innovation. When little Vicky was painted in 1841 by the Queen's favourite painter Edwin Landseer, it was with her tiny bare feet on the muzzle of Eos, Albert's beloved greyhound.
Between the birth of her first and second child, Victoria suffered the loss of the favourite companion of half her life, Dash, a King Charles spaniel, which she had bathed with her own hands (unlike her future children) on her return from the Coronation. Dash was buried beneath a marble memorial: "Reader, if you would be beloved and die regretted, profit by the example of Dash." It was not a lesson all her children lived up to.