MONACO (AFP) – Prince Albert II of Monaco and his wife Charlene welcomed their twin babies to the world Wednesday, and announced that Jacques, born two minutes after his sister Gabriella, will be next in line to the throne.
Cannons roared and church bells tolled in the tiny Mediterranean principality at the announcement of the births of the next head of the 700-year-old House of Grimaldi and his sister.
Gabriella Therese Marie was born at 5.04pm followed by Jacques Honore Rainier at 5.06pm, the palace said in a statement, adding that the newborns and their glamorous South African mother were “doing well”.
The babies replace Albert’s sister Caroline as heirs to the throne, and will likely draw a line on rumours of the royal couple’s supposedly rocky relationship.
The prince’s late father, Rainier III, had rewritten the constitution as he became ill in 2002 so one of his daughters could inherit if his son – who had fathered two children out of wedlock – failed to produce a legitimate heir.
But Albert, 56, finally married former Olympic swimmer Charlene, 36, in 2011 – 11 years after the pair first met.
The birth of the twins at the hospital named after their grandmother Princess Grace was celebrated with 42 cannon shots, 21 for each child, fired from an old fort overlooking the sea.
Church bells also rang out for 15 minutes, followed by boat horns, as Monegasques toasted their future absolute rulers.
The gender of the twins had been kept a secret during Charlene’s pregnancy, even from their father who said he wanted to be surprised.
Albert – whose late mother was Hollywood actress Grace Kelly – had earlier said that if the twins were a boy and a girl, it would be the boy who would succeed him.
According to tradition, an official birth announcement, signed by Albert, will be displayed at the entrance to the palace and the public will be invited to sign a book of congratulations.
Monegasques have also been encouraged to fly the principality’s red-and-white flag from their homes until the day the twins are formally presented to the nation by the royal couple from the palace balcony.
Albert, who was once considered one of the world’s most eligible bachelors, succeeded his father Prince Rainier in 2005 at the age of 47.
He already had a daughter, Jazmin, 22, after a fling with former waitress Tamara Rotolo. He denied being her father for years before DNA tests proved otherwise when she was a teenager.
The prince also has a younger son, Alexandre Coste, 11, from an affair with Nicole Coste, a Togolese former Air France hostess.