Sunday, September 25, 2005

Royal Profile: Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester

Out of the six children of King George V, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester seems to get the least amount of notice. Having been long overshadowed by his brothers, the dashing and handsome Prince George, Duke of Kent, King Edward VIII (the Duke of Windsor), King George VI and the abdication crisis.

Prince Henry William Frederick Albert, third son of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary), was born on March 31, 1900 at York Cottage, Sandringham. After his birth, his mother wrote: 'the children are so pleased with the baby who they think flew in at my window and had to have his wings cut off.' Prince Henry was christened in the private chapel of Windsor Castle on May 17, 1900. He was named Henry after Prince Henry of Battenberg (Princess Beatrice's husband who had recently died), William after Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Frederick after the famous Field-Marshall Lord Roberts and Albert, after the late-Prince Consort. His godparents were Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, Field Marshall Frederick, 1st Earl Roberts, Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria and Princess Thyra of Denmark (sister of his grandmother, Princess Alexandra).

Throughout his childhood he was dogged by bouts of severe colds and influenza and he was considered 'delicate'. He had a volatile temper and like his elder brother, Prince Albert (later King George VI) he suffered from knock knees which required him to wear painful splints.

Like his siblings, he received his early education at home, but in 1910 he became the first son of a British Sovereign to be sent to school, attending St. Peter's Court Preparatory School in Broadstairs, Kent. In 1913 he passed the entrance examination to Eton; where he made his mark but rarely excelled either academically or at sports. His father wanted him to join the royal navy, however Prince Henry had always wanted to be a soldier and he entered Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in 1918. After successfully passing out a year later, he spent one year at Trinity College, Cambridge.

He was created Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Ulster and Baron Culloeden in 1928, titles that linked him with three of the four parts of the United Kingdom - England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In 1934, his father, as King of Ireland, made him a Knight of St. Patrick - this was the last time the order was awarded. The following year he made his first important royal tour, visiting Japan to confer the Order of the Garter on Emperor Hirohito. In 1930 he represented the King in Ethiopia at the coronation of the Emperor Haile Selassie.

Prince Henry entered the military, and he was eventually commissioned to the King's Royal Rifle Corps. However, his career as a regimental officer came to an end in 1936 with the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII. Now third in line to the throne, the Duke became Regent Designate in case of the death of his brother, King George VI, before Princess Elizabeth (now the Queen) came of age. He also acted as a Counsellor of State in the King's absence abroad. In 1941 he ws promoted to Lieutenant-General and General in 1944; he became Field Marshall in 1955. From 1945-1947 he was Australia's first royal Governor-General. On his return he became a farmer at Barnwell Manor, Northamptonshire, which he had bought in 1938. His interests included hunting, shooting and polo. He also built up a collection of sporting prints and books.

On November 6, 1935 he married Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott. The ceremony was due to take place at Westminster Abbey, however the bride's father died a few weeks before the wedding day, and out of respect, it was decided to celebrate on a much smaller scale.The wedding was held in the private chapel in Buckingham Palace instead.

Their first child was born six years later in 1941, Prince William, who was one of the first royal children to be born outside of the home, and Prince Richard in 1944 (who is the husband of Birgitte, Duchess of Gloucester). Prince William later died in a flying accident in 1972 and his younger son unexpectedly became heir to the dukedom. Not long afterwards, Prince Henry had a severe stroke that rendered him speechless, and he died in 1974; four months before the birth of his first grandchild, Alexander, Earl of Ulster. He is buried in the Frogmore burial grounds. His wife, Princess Alice, survived him by thirty years, eventually dying in 2004, two months short of her 103rd birthday. At the time of her death she was the oldest ever member of the royal family.

© Marilyn Braun 2005

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