In these days of a slimmed down monarchy, more distant members of the royal firm who are not descendants of George VI but nonetheless interesting and hardworking, are little known. One of these is HRH Prince Richard, 2nd Duke of Gloucester, who shares the name of his recently discovered 15th-century ancestor and is the patron of the Richard III society.
Prince Richard is the Queen’s cousin and grandson of George V. He is the second son of Prince Henry, the first Duke of Gloucester and his wife, Princess Alice, former Lady Alice Christabel Montagu-Douglas-Scott, third daughter of the seventh Duke of Buccleuch and ninth Duke of Queensberry.
Princess Alice recorded in her memoir a visit she made to a fortune teller – before her marriage – where she was told she would marry above her station. As the daughter of a Duke she thought this was unlikely. However, she went on to marry George V’s third son and became a member of the British royal family which was a marriage above her station and affected her son’s future life in a number of ways.
In 1936 the death of George V and the abdication of Edward VIII left Prince Henry third in line to the throne after the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. He also served as regent designate until the then Princess Elizabeth came of age. Prince Henry’s role during the Queen’s minority meant the end of his military career and undertaking full-time royal duties.
Prince Richard was born on 26 August 1944 and spent his early years in Australia where Prince Henry was served as Governor-General from 1945-1947. After the family had returned to the UK, Prince Richard was educated firstly at home, before going to school at Wellesley House, Broadstairs and finally Eton.
Much like his cousin the Queen, Prince Richard never expected the role that fell to him – heir to his father’s title and responsibility for the family estate at Barnwell Manor in Northamptonshire where his parents farmed. That was to be his elder brother Prince William’s role and in 1963 Prince Richard went to Cambridge and completed a Masters Degree in Arts and a Diploma in Architecture, intending to make architecture his profession.
In 1970, Prince Richard became a partner of the then architectural firm Hunt Thompson Associates in London.
Fate took a hand in 1972 when Prince Richard’s elder brother Prince William, who was unmarried, was killed in a flying accident. He had been close to the Prince of Wales who named his son, Prince William now the Duke of Cambridge, for him.
By then their father, Prince Henry had suffered two debilitating strokes and was being nursed by Princess Alice. It fell to Prince Richard to manage the Barnwell estate, so his fledgling career in architecture was over. In the next few years, he produced three books of architectural photographs. In 1970, On Public View with Paul William White, a selection of London’s open-air statues. In 1973, he published The Face of London and Oxford and Cambridge in 1980.
After Prince Henry’s death in 1974 Prince Richard succeeded to the title of Duke of Gloucester. He was already carrying out royal engagements and had taken on a number of royal patronages and is now associated with over 150 charities and organisations.
Some of these organisations reflect his continuing interest in architecture. Prince Richard is President of the Society of the Architect-Artists and several architectural preservation societies, including the Pevsner Memorial Trust and the Victorian Society. He is Patron of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, UK National Committee.
The recent discovery of the grave of King Richard III has highlighted the Duke’s role as Patron of the Richard III society in which he is active and concerned that his namesake’s legacy is viewed objectively. In 1984, well before the discovery of the Richard III’s remains in Leicester, he appeared in an introduction to a documentary made to commemorate the 500th anniversary year of King Richard’s death in 1485. The documentary examined the available evidence as any part the King may have played in the death of the Princes in the Tower. The video is available on YouTube.
In his introduction, Prince Richard highlighted the role of Shakespeare in creating Richard’s III ruthless image and the actions of the victorious Tudors, who perhaps cemented their victory at Bosworth with some information control and image manipulation. He maintains a close interest in seeing the King’s remains are treated with the utmost dignity. It has been said on his behalf, ‘It follows that he wants any reinterment to be a solemn affair, and he would like to be involved with this event.’
Prince Richard carries out a full calendar of royal engagements often with his wife, the former Birgitte van Deurs, with whom he has three children, the Earl of Ulster, born in 1974, The Lady Davina Lewis, born in 1977 and The Lady Rose Gilman, born in 1980, all of whom are now married.
In 1995, Prince Richard faced the inability of the family to remain at Barnwell Manor due to financial considerations. The manor was let to an antique company and the family, including Princess Alice, took up full-time residence in their apartment in Kensington Palace. The Barnwell Manor estate has been the subject of recent controversy due to a proposal to build a wind farm on the grounds. The significant local opposition is ongoing.
The British Monarchy website includes an extensive biography of Prince Richard as well as lists of the broad range of his patronages, charities and many honours. The Court Circular includes his past engagements and the search facility on the site provides a listing of future engagements he will attend and his outline of a typical working day.
Prince Richard is a full time working royal who still supports the Queen but is also a symbol of another age when the present royal family relied heavily on the royal uncles and their families to support the young Queen until her own family became adults and assumed their present roles.
photo credits: #1: Wikimedia Commons, public domain, #2: Richard III: lisby1
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