Prince William of Gloucester died on this day in 1972. He was born at Hadley Common, Hertfordshire, on 18 December 1941, the eldest son of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (the fourth child of King George V and Queen Mary) and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester.
As a grandson of the monarch in the male line, he was a Prince of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and styled His Royal Highness.
He was baptised William Henry Andrew Frederick in the private chapel at Windsor Castle on 22 February 1942 by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 1947, Prince William was a pageboy, alongside Prince Michael of Kent, at the wedding of his cousin Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Prince William spent his early childhood at Barnwell Manor in Northamptonshire and later in Australia, where his father served as Governor-General from 1945 to 1947. He was educated at Wellesley House School, a prep school in Kent, then at Eton College. From Eton, he went on to Magdalene College, Cambridge, to read history, graduating in 1963.
After Cambridge, he spent a post-baccalaureate year at Stanford University in the US, studying political science, American history, and business.
After returning to Britain, he briefly took a position working for a merchant bank, then transferred to the civil service, the second member of the Royal Family to do so after his uncle the Duke of Kent. He joined the Commonwealth Office in 1965 and was posted first to the British High Commission in Lagos, then to the British Embassy in Tokyo.
In 1970, the health of his father, the Duke of Gloucester, was beginning to fail and Prince William was diagnosed as suffering from the genetic disease porphyria.
Prince William resigned from the diplomatic service and returned to Britain. For the next two years, he managed Barnwell Manor and began to carry out public duties as a member of the royal family.
A licensed pilot and President of the British Light Aviation Centre, Prince William owned several aircrafts and competed in amateur air show races. In August 1972, he was competing in the Goodyear International Air Trophy at Halfpenny Green, near Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, when, shortly after take-off, his Piper Cherokee hit a tree, flipped over and crashed into an earthen bank, bursting into flames. Prince William and his passenger, Vyrell Mitchell, were killed.
The crash happened before 30,000 spectators, the fire took two hours to control and the bodies were identified at the inquest the next day from dental records.
His father, Prince Henry, was in such poor health at the time of his death, that his mother hesitated whether to tell him. She later admitted in her memoirs that she did not, but, that he may have learned of their son’s death from television coverage.
Prince William was buried in the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore in the Home Park at Windsor.
Upon his death, his younger brother Prince Richard of Gloucester became heir-apparent to their father’s peerages and succeeded him in 1974. Prince William was the first grandchild of King George V and Queen Mary to die.
He was very close to his cousin the Prince of Wales, who reportedly named his first son, Prince William, in his honour.