William and Kate: Scenes From a Fairy Tale

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Happily Ever After?

While Kate the commoner has helped make monarchy modern, she must soon embark on the most traditional role of any royal consort: producing and raising an heir. Both Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana announced their pregnancies within six months of marriage, at the ages of 21 and 20, respectively. Kate, 30, surely has that on her mind.

The media is willing her on. In September 2011 an American tabloid claimed she was pregnant with twins. Buckingham Palace swiftly issued a denial. Denials, however, don't dampen the anticipation. Every movement she makes — from holding a clutch purse near her stomach to declining peanut paste while sampling a UNICEF food package in Denmark — is analyzed as a prospective sign that a new royal is on the way. For its February 2012 issue, Tatler magazine — the social bible for the horse-and-pony set — ran a cover story warning Kate what to expect if she becomes pregnant in 2012: "At the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games [in London] you are going to have to dig deep into your soul to find any enthusiasm," the magazine warns. "All you'll be able to think about is whether the baby is distressed by the sudden loud noise."

She won't, however, need to worry about the gender of her first child. In October 2011, Commonwealth leaders unanimously agreed to change the Act of Succession, which for 300 years has dictated that the English crown pass to the oldest male heir, even if he has an older sister. "Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen," British Prime Minister David Cameron explained. Cameron said the previous arrangement was "at odds with the modern countries that we have become."

That suggests, rightly, that Britain's royals exist not merely to influence the values of their countrymen but also to reflect them. Prince William's heir, whoever he — or she — may be, will enter a family where a commoner can become queen and a prince can marry for love, where the crown worn by one is held up by many. Children will come in time. For now, William and Kate can rest assured that the next chapter of Windsor history is already written.

In a new book from TIME, The Royal Family: The House of Windsor, Past, Present and Future, Europe editor Catherine Mayer and colleagues look at Britain's resilient monarchy celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's 60-year reign. Now available in bookstores everywhere, or go to www.time.com/royalsbook to pre-order your copy today.

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