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British Monarchy Gets New Heir

  • The London Eye observation wheel on the banks of the Thames is lit up in red, blue and white to mark the birth of a baby boy to Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, London, Monday, July 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

    The London Eye observation wheel on the banks of the Thames is lit up in red, blue and white to mark the birth of a baby boy to Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, London, Monday, July 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

  • Tony Appleton, a town crier,  announces the birth of the royal baby, outside St. Mary's Hospital exclusive Lindo Wing in London, Monday, July 22, 2013. Palace officials say Prince William's wife Kate has given birth to a baby boy. The baby was born at 4:24 p.m. and weighs 8 pounds 6 ounces. The infant will become third in line for the British throne after Prince Charles and William. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    Tony Appleton, a town crier, announces the birth of the royal baby, outside St. Mary's Hospital exclusive Lindo Wing in London, Monday, July 22, 2013. Palace officials say Prince William's wife Kate has given birth to a baby boy. The baby was born at 4:24 p.m. and weighs 8 pounds 6 ounces. The infant will become third in line for the British throne after Prince Charles and William. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • The London Eye observation wheel on the banks of the Thames is lit up in red, blue and white to mark the birth of a baby boy to Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, London, Monday, July 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
  • Tony Appleton, a town crier,  announces the birth of the royal baby, outside St. Mary's Hospital exclusive Lindo Wing in London, Monday, July 22, 2013. Palace officials say Prince William's wife Kate has given birth to a baby boy. The baby was born at 4:24 p.m. and weighs 8 pounds 6 ounces. The infant will become third in line for the British throne after Prince Charles and William. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

London — Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, gave birth Monday to a boy, a much-anticipated royal baby descended from kings and coal miners and third in line to the British throne.

The royal heir was born at 4:24 p.m. London time and weighed 8 pounds 6 ounces, the royal family announced. There was no immediate word on the boy’s name.

The official announcement said Prince William was present for the birth. It added: “The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and members of both families have been informed and are delighted with the news.”

It said the duchess and her child “are both doing well and will remain in hospital overnight.”

In a brief statement earlier Monday, officials at Kensington Palace said the royal formerly known as Kate Middleton was driven in a car to the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital near Paddington Station in West London, where the world press has been camped out for weeks in the hopes of getting a first glimpse of the littlest heir. Prince William rode with his wife to the hospital and remained by her side, a palace spokeswoman said.

Although that initial statement was issued at 7:29 a.m. local time, Catherine was admitted during the early stages of labor just before 6 a.m., the spokeswoman said. She is in the same wing of the same hospital where Diana, Princess of Wales, gave birth to Prince William 31 years ago after a 16-hour labor

The attending physician was Marcus Setchell, Queen Elizabeth II’s gynecologist, who reportedly put off retirement and went on a no-alcohol diet to prepare. As dictated by tradition, the palace made no further comment before the birth.

Apparently concerned about being scooped by leaks on social media, the palace made a late change in the way it would notify the world of the birth. Initially, an official announcement was to be written up by medical staff and sent by royal messenger to Buckingham Palace for posting behind its central gates. Though the posting of the official announcement would still happen, the palace said it would first issue a speedier electronic press release to disseminate the news “as quickly and simply as possible.”

While royal-watchers here endlessly debated whether Kate might be “too posh to push” and therefore choose to have a Caesarian section, palace officials insisted that, barring complications, she wanted to avoid surgery.

The baby’s arrival triggered a well-choreographed notification ritual. An official, embossed announcement was prepared and signed by medical staff. It was then taken by messenger, under police escort, to Buckingham Palace, where it was posted on a gilded easel just inside the central gates.

There, the press and well-wishers gathered for the first public disclosure of details including the baby’s gender, which even the expectant parents chose not to know ahead of time. A 41-gun salute in London’s Green Park, followed by a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London, were scheduled later to hail the arrival of a third direct heir to the throne.

But in an era of Twitter and Facebook — and with a ravenous worldwide audience hungry for instant facts — it was a challenge for the palace to keep the royal lid on things long enough for all that pomp and circumstance.

In the hours leading up to Catherine’s hospitalization, journalists had tweeted and blogged about even the slightest clue that the duchess was ready to give birth. Inquiring minds then watched for any random tweet from within the medical compound that might suggest a leak with details of the birth.

Palace officials acknowledged that such an unauthorized release of information could prompt them to breach protocol and issue a tweet and an electronic news release of their own.

In front of Buckingham Palace at midday Monday, news of the pending birth spread quickly through the throngs of tourists gathered for the changing of the guard ceremony. As guards in red-and-black uniforms played a horn-section rendition of “I’m Walking on Sunshine,” Mercedes Ortiz, a receptionist on vacation from her native Spain, summed up the global fascination with the British royal family.

“They do it well, probably better than us,” Ortiz, 36, said, “us” being the Spanish monarchy. “It’s fantasy, a dream. Better than a movie.”

In the street outside the Lindo Wing of the hospital, the media hordes were joined by dozens of gawking tourists giving smartphone salutes to the now-familiar brick facade of the exclusive wing, where the total cost of a birth can exceed $18,000.

Among those waiting was Melissa Popadynec, a 38-year-old executive assistant from Toronto on vacation with her sister Amanda. The siblings from Canada, which recognizes the British monarch as head of state, had dumped their run-of-the-mill sightseeing plans and rushed over when they heard the news of the duchess’s admittance.

“One day this prince or princess will take over, so it’s very exciting,” Popadynec said.

Marketers were already moving to cash in on a baby expected to generate a mini-boom in everything from sales of champagne to collectible china. A conglomeration of incongruent businesses — West End theaters and drugstores — announced flash sales to celebrate the birth.

The royal family is on its surest footing in decades, even as its reigning matriarch slows down.

The queen, 87, is still conducting royal functions, but she was hospitalized this year for a stomach infection, and the palace announced in May that she would be scaling back on travel. She will miss, for instance, the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting this year for the first time since 1973, sending her son Prince Charles instead.

At the same time, the younger Windsors — particularly William and Catherine — have dramatically stepped up official engagements.

“The burden is being taken off the queen, and shifted to the others,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty Magazine. “Especially after the baby is born, William will need to step up, and though he might not like it, he will be more involved than ever in full-time royal duties.”

The couple have been splitting their time between London and Anglesey, an island off the northwest coast of Wales where William has worked as a search-and-rescue pilot for the Royal Air Force. But following the birth, many expect the pressure to grow on William to leave military service and begin taking up the full-time role of king-to-be (he is second in line after his father, Prince Charles).

The parents are poised to move later this year into Apartment 1A of Kensington Palace, formerly the home of the queen’s sister, Princess Margaret. The residence has undergone a major face-lift in preparation.

The British tabloids have reported that Catherine and the baby will spend the first six weeks after she is released from the hospital at the Georgian mansion that is home to her parents, in Bucklebury, 55 miles west of London. A palace spokeswoman refused to confirm or deny that potential break with tradition.

The daughter of former airline workers who struck it rich in business, Catherine is also the great-great-granddaughter of a coal miner. Some argue her own non-royal upbringing — albeit still supremely privileged — will prompt her to try to offer her child a more “normal” life than palace culture has traditionally allowed. Such a move would follow in the footsteps of Diana, who fiercely guarded the privacy of her sons but also wanted them to have typical childhood experiences, famously taking them on outings to McDonald’s and Disneyland.

There was no immediate word on when the first photos would be released. The earliest public glimpses of Prince William were of him in the arms of his mother as she exited the hospital in June 1982, and some royal watchers are eagerly anticipating a similar moment after the duchess gives birth.

Exactly how to manage a voracious world press may be the single most pressing issue facing the young couple. Again, many expect William and Catherine to take a cue from William’s late mother. In a bid to calm the press, the palace occasionally offered opportunities of more candid photos. In later years, when William attended Eton College, a prestigious school near London, the royal family struck a deal with the tabloids: They would get periodic updates on William’s life if the press would agree to back off.

Some royal watchers expect William to be particularly protective, given his mother’s death while being chased by paparazzi, and the publication of pictures of a topless duchess last year by European tabloids and U.S. Web sites.

“This is going to be the hardest part for Prince William,” said Dickie Arbiter, former spokesman to Queen Elizabeth II. “He still blames the press for the death of his mother, and he will be setting limits between the press and his child now.”