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The History Behind the Royal Family’s Connection to Wimbledon

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Updated: | Originally published: ;

It’s no secret that the British royal family loves tennis. Wimbledon, the annual tennis championship that has begun at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (better known as the All England Club) in London, is often home to some of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge’s most fun photo-ops. That was the case on Tuesday when Kate Middleton turned up to soak up the tournament and catch British player Harriet Dart facing off against American Christina McHale. (This time, Middleton opted for a seat in the crowd before heading to the royal box, People reported.) And on fourth of July, Meghan Markle also made her appearance, cheering on her pal Serena Williams.

Day Four: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex watches on during the ladies' Singles Second round match between Serena Williams of The United States and Kaja Juvan of Slovenia during Day four of The Championships - Wimbledon 2019 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 04, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)Laurence Griffiths&Getty Images

Though the tournament began during the 19th century in 1877, it wasn’t until a few decades later that the royals got involved.

Wimbledon’s 2019 matches end with the finals on July 14, so we might just see some royals appear in the box. The connection endures today, as members of the royal family are still linked to the tournament in different ways.

Kate Middleton attends Wimbledon 2019
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 02: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge adjusts her sunglasses as she attends day 2 of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 02, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/Getty Images)Karwai Tang—Getty Images

Here is everything to know about the British royal family’s connection to Wimbledon.

When did the royal family start attending Wimbledon?

In 1907, the Prince of Wales and Princess Mary (who would soon become King George V and Queen Mary) attended the Wimbledon Championships. This marked the first time the royal family had a connection with the tournament. George Hillyard, the new secretary for the Wimbledon Club, was the Prince of Wales’ childhood friend, explains Bruce Tarran in the book George Hillyard: The Man Who Moved Wimbledon, an account of the tennis championship’s history.

On the day of the tournament, Hillyard asked Prince George to serve as the president of the All England Club and to present the trophy to winners, according to Tarran.

Three years later, in 1910, the Prince of Wales became King George V, earning a new role as the Patron of the All England Club — “instituting a tradition maintained by succeeding Monarchs to the present day,” Tarran writes. Members of the royal family have served as Patron of the All England Club ever since.

Did any royals ever compete at Wimbledon?

King George V’s son, Prince Albert, Duke of York — the future King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II‘s father once tried his hand at tennis in the 1926 championship, but lost “ignominiously in the first round and never entered again,” Tarran writes.

Duke Tennis
The Duke of York (later King George VI) competing in the All-England tennis championships at Wimbledon.Hulton Archive—Getty Images

Though this was the only time a member of the family tried their hand at competing in the tournament, tennis has been a hallmark of the British royal family’s fun for centuries.

What is Kate Middleton’s role at Wimbledon?

Kate Middleton is now the Patron of the All England Club. Queen Elizabeth resigned from the post in 2016 after her 90th birthday — she had been the Patron since 1952, according to The Wimbledon Compendium 2019, an encyclopedia published by the All England Club — handing off the role to her grandson’s wife. The Duchess has served in this role since the 2017 tournament.

It’s also part of her official role to represent the royal family at sporting events, especially when the United Kingdom is the host, according to the royal family’s website.

In addition to participation in Wimbledon, Kate Middleton makes visits to charities and sports programs supported by Wimbledon throughout the year.

Who else in the royal family is involved with Wimbledon today?

Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, has been the president of the All England Club since 1969, the compendium said. (Not to be confused with Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the queen’s youngest child.) In this role, the Duke of Kent presents winners of Wimbledon with the trophies at the end of the tournament.

Even prior to taking on this role, it was in his blood. The Duke of Kent’s father was the club’s president from 1929 until his death in 1942, passing the torch onto his widow, the Duchess of Kent (the present Duke of Kent’s mother). She held onto the role until her death in 1968, the compendium explains.

Does the royal family have its own box at Wimbledon?

The royal family has had the Royal Box at the club since 1922, according to the compendium. Members of the family have been enjoying Wimbledon matches from the Royal Box in the century since it came to be — including the late Princess Diana.

Tennis - The Championships, Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club - London
Diana Princess of Wales watches the action from the Royal Box on Centre Court at Wimbledon with her son Prince William.Rebecca Naden—PA Images/Getty Images

With the capacity to seat 80 people, the Royal Box has featured guests from the rest of the British royal family, world leaders, royals from other nations, British armed forces and press to friends of the family. Prime Minister Theresa May sat with Prince William and Kate Middleton at the men’s single final of Wimbledon last year.

Day Thirteen: The Championships - Wimbledon 2018
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge pass British Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip May as they attend the Men's Singles final on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 15, 2018 in London, England.Clive Brunskill—Getty Images

Kate Middleton and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, both tennis fans, watched a match together from the front row of the Royal Box, too, two months after they became sisters-in-law. Meghan Markle is close friends with tennis legend Serena Williams, who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles.

Celebrities Attend Wimbledon
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attend day twelve of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 14, 2018 in London, England.Karwai Tang—WireImage/Getty Images

Will we see any royals at Wimbledon 2019?

As Patron of the club, it’s likely that the Duchess of Cambridge will enjoy some days of the tournament with Prince William. Though the Duchess of Sussex has appeared publicly since royal baby Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor was born on May 6, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s birthday parade at the Trooping the Colour, she may or may not attend a Wimbledon match.

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Write to Rachel E. Greenspan at rachel.greenspan@time.com