Correction appended: July 24, 2013
Raucous celebrations outside Buckingham Palace and the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington extended into the balmy night, long after the announcement that the Duchess of Cambridge had safely delivered a baby. Britain is in the pink. Yet more than a few Britons are feeling distinctly blue. The nation had succumbed to a collective delusion that the royal bundle-to-be was definitely a Princess, set to emerge into the world as the first girl born with equal opportunity to rule, after changes to the archaic rules of succession that gave boys automatic precedence over their sisters in the line to the throne. “We need more Queens,” said Helen Mirren, actor and British national treasure, who has single-handedly helped fill that need with star turns as Elizabeth II on screen and stage. So the revelation, at 8:31 p.m., of a new Windsor Prince drew cheers, but grumbles too.
“A boy! 8 lbs 6. Born at 4.24. Have to say I’m disappointed it’s not a girl,” exclaimed Channel 4 News reporter Katie Razzall on Twitter. “Grand news but is it bad to say wd have been more fun for us if a girl?” chimed in Jane Martinson, women’s editor of the Guardian newspaper, the only news organization to install a Republican Button on its website, giving readers the option to switch off all royal news. “Boo. I wanted a Queen,” tweeted Susie Boniface, a former tabloid journalist, better known as the wryly irreverent blogger Fleet Street Fox. “Still, I suppose he could still be…”
Being a boy is just the first hurdle for Prince Cambridge, who unlike most newborns already has a career and a packed diary. He’s preparing for a first appearance, possibly as early as today, when his parents take him home from hospital. Royal officials said the family was not expected to leave the hospital before 6 p.m. and could stay overnight. “We would like to thank the staff at the Lindo Wing and the whole hospital for the tremendous care the three of us have received,” William and Kate said in a statement. “We know it has been a very busy period for the hospital and we would like to thank everyone – staff, patients and visitors – for their understanding during this time.” The newborn’s first announced visitors were Kate’s parents Michael and Carole Middleton, who arrived Tuesday afternoon and stayed for a little more than an hour. Upon leaving St. Mary’s, Carole Middleton gushed to reporters about the “absolutely beautiful” child.
As evening fell, first-time grandparent Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived to see the little royal. After a brief visit, the two emerged from the Lindo Wing, Charles remarking upon his “marvelous” grandson to the media scrum still gathered, anxiously awaiting a glimpse of the child and his parents. But the Prince of Wales let it slip that the big unveil might come soon. “Wait and see, you’ll see in a minute,” he said as he got back into his car. Kensington Palace confirmed this in a statement, noting that Kate will be discharged from the hospital Tuesday night and will travel home to the palace.
It was a worthy nightcap to a day of celebration. Earlier in the day, at 2 p.m. London time, his tender eardrums were surely buffeted as Westminster Abbey, the scene of mom and dad’s wedding, let loose peal after peal of bells, and a series of gun salutes resounded through the capital, 41 fired in Green Park and 62 at the Tower of London. These gestures were meant to welcome him but were also a reminder that this is a baby who can’t afford to sleep on the job. His second public appearance will likely be a full-on photo shoot within a week or so. A lifetime of being photographed stretches out before him.
If you could wish something for the infant, it might be that he has inherited the Middleton rather than the Windsor ears. But Prince Cambridge will need at least one key element of the Windsor constitution: the quiet sense of destiny. As the freshly installed third in line to the throne, he holds a key role in public life, tasked with ensuring the survival of the monarchy through this century and quite possibly into the next. In Britain that doesn’t look like too tall an order, as the Guardian acknowledges today, risking inducing queasiness in its republican-minded readers whose feelings its editors have been so careful to spare. “The royals can rarely have seemed more secure,” the broadsheet’s lead editorial observes. “Will Britain in 2065 still be a state that has at its apex one individual whose place is decided by birth? Since the one thing that we have learned in the last 50 years is that monarchy has a logic-defying resilience, it looks as if the answer could be yes.”
(MORE: U.K. Welcomes New Royal Baby Boy)
But the status of the monarchy is less certain in the 15 other countries where the Queen is head of state — Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St. Lucia, and the Bahamas. Three former realms have voted to become republics since the Queen came to the throne: Ghana and South Africa in 1960 and the Gambia in 1970. Plebiscites in Tuvalu, Australia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines failed to secure majorities for severing their links to the Crown, but republicanism garners significant support in many corners of Britain’s former empire. Portia Simpson Miller took office as Jamaican Prime Minister in January 2012, arguing for ditching the royals. Her main opponents agreed. Then in March 2012 Prince Harry deployed to the island, not in his day job flying helicopters for the British military but as a one-man charm offensive on an official royal visit, marking Grandma’s 60th year as Queen.
Harrymania ensued. Bickering among the country’s political classes over the shape of any future republic has also helped put Jamaican republicanism on ice for the time being, but the response to the Prince showed “that although it is given to denying it, the rank and file in Jamaica is hugely interested in anything associated with the royal family,” wrote Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., in an e-mail to TIME ahead of the royal birth. Birns added, “[The royal baby] bestows good news and a feeling of goodwill to the royal family.”
Baby Cambridge may not be a girl, but he is primed to emulate Uncle Harry in boosting the royal brand with Prince power. First he needs a name, one that can sound regal as required but lends itself to affectionate tabloid headlines. Bookmakers report that George, James and Alexander are leading the field. Whatever the choice, this is a baby born to be Prince Charming.
— With reporting by Qhelile Nyathi
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the Channel 4 News reporter. She is Katie Razzall, not Razzell. Also, it wrongly referred to both Prince Charles and his wife Camilla as first-time grandparents. Camilla has grandchildren from a previous marriage.