The prince of wails has arrived

Birth of William and Catherine's son sets off celebrations in Britain

July 23, 2013|Henry Chu

LONDON — He's the boy without a name but with a gilded destiny.

The one baby to rule them all -- at least the people of Britain -- was born to Prince William and his wife, the former Catherine Middleton, on Monday afternoon, setting off celebrations among the royal couple's future subjects over the arrival of a new heir to the throne.

Barring tragedy -- or revolution -- the infant is bound to reign over Britain and the 15 other nations, including Australia and Canada, that recognize the British monarch as head of state. The baby is third in the line of succession after his grandfather, Prince Charles, and father, William, muscling aside Prince Harry, who has been demoted to fourth.

William said he and his wife "could not be happier" over the new arrival, who weighed in at 8 pounds, 6 ounces, at St. Mary's Hospital, an exclusive medical facility in central London. British politicians and leaders the world over, including President Obama, sent their congratulations. London Mayor Boris Johnson announced that the fountains of Trafalgar Square would run with blue water for the next week to mark the event.

In a sign of the new century that the royal baby has been born into, announcement of the birth was made to the world first via email and social media networks such as Twitter, ahead of the traditional method of posting the news on a piece of paper mounted on an easel at Buckingham Palace.

The language, though, was still archaic, almost biblical, with its proclamation that Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, "was safely delivered of a son" at 4:24 p.m.

"It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine, and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy," Prince Charles, the heir apparent to Queen Elizabeth II, said in a statement. "I am enormously proud and happy to be a grandfather for the first time, and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing the baby in the near future."

Word of the birth capped weeks of an international media frenzy, with photographers and journalists staking out the hospital round the clock for even the briefest of glimpses of the pregnant duchess being whisked inside. Some of the most breathless news organizations were American ones, whose fawning reporters seemed not to understand that their country cut its umbilical cord to the British monarchy in 1776.

Speculation surrounding the unborn baby's gender now shifts to his name. It took a week for William's name to be unveiled after his birth in 1982. The bookmakers' favorite choices for the new "Prince of Cambridge," the child's official title, are George and James, with 500-1 odds on the name Hashtag.

The royal household is now riding a wave of popularity not seen since the heyday of Princess Diana, William's late mother. The queen's Diamond Jubilee last year and William and Catherine's wedding in 2011 have allowed the monarchy to promote itself as both something old and something new, an ancient institution with a modern, youthful, extremely good-looking face.

A few public missteps and naked Harry photos notwithstanding, the dark days that descended on the monarchy after the shocking death of Diana in a 1997 car crash are mostly a distant memory.

"This is the first time we've had a new king or queen born in our generation," said Holly Appleton, 27, a music publicist who joined the crowds of people thronging the plaza in front of Buckingham Palace after the birth was announced. "It adds something to the party."

The national hoopla over what is, for most Britons, the child of total strangers offered a distraction from their fitful economy, their political scandals and their own screaming kids. Already buoyed by the triumphs of their countrymen in the Tour de France and at Wimbledon, many here raised a glass Monday evening to toast the new monarch-to-be, or perhaps just to beat the heat on the hottest day of the year, with the mercury soaring past 90 degrees in parts of London.

The Sun, Britain's bestselling scandal sheet, changed its front-page masthead in Tuesday's editions to read, "The Son."

There are now three generations of direct heirs to the throne, ages 64 (Charles), 31 (William) and 0 (the newborn), a rare pileup in the annals of British royalty. The last time the country experienced such an heir supply was during Queen Victoria's reign more than 100 years ago.

Exactly when the oldest of them, Charles, will finally become king is anyone's guess, since his 87-year-old mother regards her queenship as a divine appointment to be curtailed only by death or incapacitation, not voluntary abdication.

A baby girl would have made an extra bit of history by being the first one to be guaranteed succession even if she had brothers. A new rule being ratified by the 16 "realms" removes the automatic right of male offspring to leapfrog over older sisters onto the throne, a discriminatory formula that held for centuries.

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