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Maria Puente,

USA TODAY



A future king or queen for the British throne is on the way: Will & Kate are pregnant. Finally.



A year-and-a-half after their wedding, Prince William of Wales and his wife, Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are pregnant with their first child, the palace confirmed Monday.



"Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting a baby," a palace statement read. "The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry and members of both families are delighted with the news."



No details have been released yet about just how far along the Duchess is, but the palace did reveal that she had been admitted to the hospital for an acute case of morning sickness.



"The Duchess was admitted this afternoon to King Edward VII Hospital in Central London with Hyperemesis Gravidarum," the statement continued. "As the pregnancy is in its very early stages, Her Royal Highness is expected to stay in hospital for several days and will require a period of rest thereafter."



Boy or girl, the baby, will be fourth in the line to the throne, now that Britain's antique rules of royal succession have been changed to allow a first-born girl to succeed even if she later has younger brothers.



So this, the most eagerly awaited royal baby since William was born in 1982, will follow grandfather Prince Charles (second in line) and father William (third in line), after great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, 86.



Of course, it was not a total surprise that the former Kate Middleton might be with child. Anticipation of a royal baby has been keen ever since Will and the former Kate Middleton married in April 2011.



Shortly after the wedding, hundreds of years of law and tradition were upended when Britain and the 15 Commonwealth countries that recognize the queen as their head of state agreed to get rid of the succession rules that say boys take precedence over girls no matter what their birth order.



Britain now joins other European monarchies in allowing first-born girls to acede to the throne, and the change will apply first to the first child of Will and Kate.



Pregnancy speculation and rumors, some of them farcical, have been swirling for more than a year. Just in November 2012, an obscure Australian magazine quoted a woman claiming to be an old friend of Kate's who predicted the couple would announce their pregnancy in December 2012.



Last November, after the duchess refused to sample peanut paste during an appearance in Copenhagen, many in the media leaped to the conclusion that she must be in the initial stages of pregnancy. Doctors nowadays routinely advise pregnant women to stay away from peanuts to avoid dangerous allergies in their babies. Also, every time she abstained from alcohol in public, as she did on the couple's royal tour of South Asia and the South Pacific in September 2012, observers rushed to proclaim a possible pregnancy.



At one point in 2011, the American supermarket tabloid Star reported she was pregnant with twins. She wasn't.



Interest is so high because bearing the next heir and the sooner the better ? she's 30 ? is sort of Job No. 1 for the duchess. William's mother, the late Princess Diana, and his grandmother, then Princess Elizabeth, both had their first babies within a year of their weddings.



The British, especially the reporters who cover the royals, have been waiting for this news almost since the couple's glittering April 29, 2011, wedding. Everybody loves a baby but a royal baby, especially one who will be a future sovereign, provides a symbol of continuity important to the monarchy and to Britain's sense of itself as an ancient culture.



And besides all that, Will and Kate and their baby are good for business ? they will sell many, many newspapers and celebrity magazines.



The couple's public statements about children have been few and far between. After the engagement announcement in November 2010, the couple sat down for a long TV interview with their friend, ITV presenter Tom Bradby, who asked them about children.



"I think we'll take it one step at a time," William answered. "We'll sort of get over the marriage first and then maybe look at the kids. But obviously we want a family so we'll have to start thinking about that."



Then, during a post-wedding tour of North America in July, when a Canadian father wished them well in starting their own family, she replied, "Yes, I hope to."



The baby will almost certainly be born in London, in a hospital, as William and brother Prince Harry, were (they were the first heirs to the throne to be born in a hospital instead of in a royal palace).



Although the Cambridges live mostly in a farmhouse in Wales near William's RAF base, they also have a cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace as their London base. And next year, 2013, they will move into a refurbished prime apartment, 1A, in the palace itself, where the late Princess Margaret, the queen's sister, used to reside.



No English prince of Wales or his heirs has been born in Wales since the very first one, later King Edward II, who was born in Caernarfon in Wales in 1284. His father was King Edward I who conquered Wales and, according to legend, promised the Welsh that he would name "a prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of English" to replace their own dead prince. Then he produced his infant son, who of course didn't speak at all at that point. (Edward II later met a grisly end; see Mel Gibson's Braveheart.)



Soon, it became the custom (but not automatic) that the heir to the English throne would be called the prince or princess of Wales. There were only two in the 20th century, Prince Charles (b. 1948) and his great uncle, Edward VIII (b. 1894), who abdicated in 1936. William will not become prince of Wales until his father acedes to the throne, and his son or daughter will not become prince or princess of Wales until he acedes to the throne.

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