Of all the Royal Dukedoms, perhaps the most interesting have been the Duke of Gloucester. At one point, it was considered a title that had bad portents, due to the unfortunate demise of some of the holders without issue. In truth, and having looked at several of the Royal Dukedoms, it was probably par for the course in very tempestuous time in English history.
There was an earlier appointment of an Earl of Gloucester in the time of William I, however, the first Duke of Gloucester was Thomas of Woodstock, one of the many children of King Edward III. Although, the title was conferred on him by the King Richard II, his nephew and the King’s grandson, in 1385. Though supporting Richard by leading English troops into battle in France, he was also one of the Lords Appellant who endeavoured to clip the King’s powers. This resulted in Thomas being jailed for treason in Calais, however, before facing trial he was murdered. As Thomas was facing a charge of being a traitor when he was murdered the title was forfeit.
The second creation of the title was in 1414 when Humphrey of Lancaster the fourth and youngest son of Henry IV was made Duke. He was more scholarly than Thomas of Woodstock, leaving the fighting on the Scottish and Welsh borders to his elder brothers. However, despite two marriages he failed to leave a legitimate male heir and once again the title returned to the Crown. The next time the title was created was to perhaps the most notorious of all Dukes of Gloucester, but how much should we really believe from the “press” of the time, especially when most of it comes after his death at Bosworth from his conquerors – The Tudors!
Richard was granted the Duchy of Gloucester in 1461 and married Anne Neville daughter of the Earl of Warwick with whom he had lodged whilst the Earl gave him tutelage on various matters. In between him seeking sanctuary in the Low Countries due to the Wars of the Roses. When Richard took the throne in 1483, he did not have a male heir to grant the title to and so it was absorbed into the Crown and remained there for some time.
We then have to wait for the resolution of more civil disruption when following King Charles II’s restoration to the throne in 1659; he makes his younger brother Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester. Though, from correspondence it is clear he styled himself as that some time before being in exile in France and Spain. Sadly, and much to the distress of Charles, Henry died of smallpox the following year without neither marriage or heir the title once again became extinct.
There were a couple of occasions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where Princes within the Royal family were styled Duke of Gloucester, but never actually confirmed. Prince William, the son of Princess Anne (later to become Queen Anne) was intended to become Duke of Gloucester but sadly died aged only eleven. Then Prince Frederick, when he was a grandson of George I, though styled Duke of Gloucester, he was made Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales when his father George II became King.
This may have influenced the next appointment which has been covered in another Royal Central article when the joint Dukedom of Gloucester and Edinburgh was appointed.
Finally, in 1928 George V appointed his son Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester a position he held until his death in 1974. Indeed, had King George VI passed before his daughter Princess Elizabeth was 18 then it was to have been the Duke of Gloucester that would have been regent for his niece. The Duke married in 1935 to Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott, and they had two sons; Prince William and Prince Richard. Sadly, his elder son, Prince William, was killed in 1972 during an air race. He was close to Prince Charles, and it is understood that is why Prince Charles named his first son Prince William.
When the Duke died in 1974, the title passed to his other son Prince Richard who still holds the title. He married the Danish-born Birgitte van Deurs in 1972, and they have three children and six grandchildren. His eldest son and heir to the Dukedom is Alexander Windsor who holds one of the subsidiary title Earl of Ulster. He is married to Claire Booth, and their eldest son, Xan Windsor, holds the other subsidiary title Lord Culloden.