London: The speculation began virtually the moment Kate Middleton said "I will" to Prince William in April 2011, leaving an industry of tabloid newspapers and gossip magazines with a big black hole where the wedding coverage used to be.
Why, they asked, was the former Middleton, now the duchess of Cambridge, drinking water instead of wine at an official dinner, in what appeared to be a deliberate manner? And those photographs in which her stomach seemed microscopically less flat than normal - what was that about?
On Monday, everyone who had incorrectly guessed what was going on before could now finally claim to be right. Yes, St. James' Palace announced, the duchess had become pregnant.
The news should help everyone forget the previous big news about the duchess this year: the embarrassing publication of a series of topless - and one or two bottomless - photographs taken illicitly while she and the duke were on vacation in France. Announcing the news on royal website, the duke and duchess said they were "very pleased." Meanwhile, other members of the royal family, which is not prone to effusions of public emotion, allowed that they were "delighted."
On Twitter, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that he, too, was delighted.
The pregnancy is in its very early stages and has not yet reached the three-month threshold that would normally have prompted the announcement. But the duchess is in the hospital suffering from "acute morning sickness," the palace said, and hospitalizations are hard to keep secret.
"Her royal highness is expected to stay in hospital for several days and will require a period of rest thereafter," the palace said.
There are many interesting things about a future royal baby. First, it will be third in line to the throne, even if it is a girl; the laws of succession are poised to be changed for this very reason, with the new rule applying to Kate and William's child. Second, its presence would make the chances of the current No. 3, Prince Harry, becoming king ever more remote, barring some bizarre development in which four generations of his family - his grandmother, his father, his brother and his future niece or nephew - all stepped aside.
Also, it gives Britain something to be excited about at a time when life here has not been so exciting, what with austerity and widespread flooding across huge parts of England after a period of nearly biblical rainfall.
"A royal baby is something the whole nation will celebrate," the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, observed on Twitter. "Fantastic news for Kate, William and the country."
In addition to being delighted, the prime minister revealed that in his opinion, the duke and duchess of Cambridge would be "wonderful parents."
But few people could be more excited than the editors of the newspapers and magazines that cover the royal family, who with any luck will have months of things to write about: What will it be, boy or girl? How fat will the duchess look in her pregnancy clothes? What is happening behind closed doors?
Already, The Daily Mail has revealed a gaggle of purportedly insider-ish details about what is really going on, including the news that the duchess began feeling sick over the weekend and was "unable to keep any food or water down."
It continued, "Sources suggested that the duchess was hooked up to an intravenous drip to increase her fluid and nutrient levels."
The papers have also made much of a retrospectively significant incident from last Wednesday, when a member of the public handed Prince William a baby outfit decorated with a helicopter and the words "Daddy's little co-pilot" - and William smiled as he accepted it.
© 2012, The New York Times News Service