Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, gave birth to a boy on Monday at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. The prince is third in the line of succession to the British throne:

After two centuries of monarchy dominated by imposing women — Queen Victoria and the reigning Queen Elizabeth II — the birth of the little prince heralded the coming of an era of British kings. Should the new prince live a long and healthy life and barring unforeseen events, he will follow his grandfather, Prince Charles, and father to the halls of Buckingham Palace.

From inside the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital — where Diana, Princess of Wales, gave birth to him 31 years ago — Prince William, now a proud new father, issued a brief statement saying, “We could not be happier.”

The birth at 4:24 p.m. local time — but kept secret for a good four hours — amounted to the ultimate showdown between British tradition and the 24-hour news cycle, as well as a rare nod to modernity by the world’s highest-profile monarchy. Initially, an elegant official announcement delivered from the hospital by royal courier and posted behind the gates of Buckingham Palace was to be the first word to the world. But apparently concerned about being beaten by social media, and with press in a feeding frenzy since the duchess was admitted to the hospital about 6 a.m., the palace opted to scoop itself instead.

The official announcement was posted as billed. But a speedier electronic press release — along with a tweet — were used in a last-minute decision to disseminate the news more “quickly” and “simply,” as the palace put it. Those are two words not often used to describe the British royal family. . . .

Outside the Lindo Wing, hundreds of journalists, many of whom had staked out the hospital for weeks, did live shots into the evening in a Babel of languages. They were jostling for position for the moment of truth, expected to come Tuesday, when the couple widely known as Will and Kate walk out of the hospital and offer a first glimpse of their as-yet officially unnamed son.

Anthony Faiola

For now, Will and his wife, the former Kate Middleton, are still in the hospital with their son:

The family was not expected to depart the hospital until at least 6 p.m. local time (1 p.m. EDT), and it remains a possibility that they will stay at the hospital until Wednesday. But those gathered outside despite heavy bouts of rain remained hopeful that the newest member of the royal family would soon make his public debut. . . .

“Mother, son and father are all doing well this morning,” a spokesman from Kensington Palace, William and Catherine’s royal household, said in a statement Tuesday. In the afternoon, the baby’s maternal grandparents stopped by for a visit.

Hundreds of Britons, tourists, photographers and broadcasters kept damp vigil outside the hospital as they awaited their golden photo opportunity: the couple, baby in hand, exiting the now familiar brick-façade of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital. . . .

The bells of Westminster Abbey -- the church where Will and Kate were married -- tolled for three hours Tuesday morning to honor the new heir. The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery rode past Buckingham Palace, offering a 41-gun salute to the baby price, while the Army Reserve Regiment fired a 62-gun salute from the Tower of London’s Gun Wharf.

British newspapers printed souvenir editions, and the cheeky, top-selling tabloid The Sun changed its masthead to read “The Son” in the new prince’s honor.

Anthony Faiola

The new family’s relationship with the media will likely be complicated:

Outside the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, the global media hordes on Royal Baby Watch have marked their turf with duct tape and stepladders like so many predators. . . .

The scene here amounts to a déjà vu of June 22, 1982. Then, another young couple — Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales — stepped out of the same wing of the same hospital with an infant William and into what would become a stormy, love-hate relationship with the press (and each other) that would come to define palace politics for decades. Some — including, reportedly, William — still blame the media for Diana’s 1997 death in a Paris car crash during a chase with rabid paparazzi.

To be sure, the British tabloid press is a different beast today, as is the palace PR machine, with one more tame and self-restraining and the other far more professional and controlling. Nevertheless, the media and inquiring minds on both sides of the Atlantic might be in for a rude awakening as they clamor for a piece of the glamorous couple after baby makes three.

After a brief choreography for the cameras as the couple leave the lavish hospital wing with their newborn, royal watchers say they might disappear for while, or least try. The move to escape the public eye as they set about becoming parents could mark the beginning of what observers are describing as an attempt by the couple to build a far more private life than the one constructed by William’s parents.

“This will be very different from watching William grow up, and it has a lot to do with the characters this time around,” said Roy Greenslade, former editor of the Daily Mirror and now a journalism professor at City University in London. “William hates the press and will show even less accommodation once the baby is born, and Kate, unlike Diana, is clearly very shy of doing anything that would breach palace secrecy.”

For the press, any retrenchment by the young couple couldn’t come at a worst time. Cover stories and inside montages of Shopping Kate, Official Kate, even Dog-Walking Kate have driven print sales and online hits in a manner not seen since Diana’s heyday. The feeding has been no less frenzied in the United States. Since 2011’s blockbuster royal wedding, the Duchess has graced the cover of People magazine more times than any other celebrity.

Anthony Faiola

The prince’s infancy will be closely watched, but his birth has a different significance for the world than that of past royal births:

Amid the pomp and general celebration, one finds something both archaic and strange about declaring any baby’s arrival “important,” any more so than every baby’s arrival is “important.” When we talk about this baby, what we are really talking about is the powerful vortex he inhabits: the intersection of celebrity worship, royal worship and the burgeoning baby-industrial complex.

His Royal Highness — the name has not yet been announced — was born into a world in which a British market research firm recently estimated that celebrations surrounding his birth would inject $400 million into the British economy, and in which photos of star offspring can fetch $15 million (as People magazine reportedly paid for photos of Angelina Jolie’s twins in 2008). A world in which sites such as exist to stalk A-list toddlers, in which Forbes magazine a few years back published an earnest analysis of the “most influential babies.”. . .

How important is this baby, in the context of modern royalty — a largely ceremonial institution in which the ruling monarch’s salary must be approved by taxpayers? How important, in the context of modern fame, in which some American celebrities live in houses bigger than royals do, and have higher approval ratings? How important, in the context of modern parenthood, when it’s not uncommon for even commoner children to have prenatal Twitter accounts? Every baby is a prince in 2013, with the home-mashed food and the artisanal naps and the “Congratulations! You’re 1 (month)” birthday celebrations.

It’s awfully retro to give much importance to any baby, in this post-feudal society where accolades are supposed to be based on accomplishments rather than birthright.

Monica Hesse

For past coverage of the the Duchess’s pregnancy, continue reading here.