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The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester: a brief history

One may hear their names mentioned when they attend the numerous events, and engagements either of them undertake during the year, but do many readers know who the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester are? Royal Central takes a brief look at the story of this royal couple and their contribution to crown and country.

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester pictured  here in 2014 with the Rector of the Pontifical Irish College, Msgr Ciaran O'Carroll during their visit to College's chapel.

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester pictured here in 2014 with the Rector of the Pontifical Irish College, Msgr Ciaran O’Carroll during their visit to College’s chapel.

The first cousin of Her Majesty The Queen, Prince Richard Alexander Walter George was born in 1944. The Duke is 24th in line to the throne, way down the pecking order. He is the first person in line who is not a direct descendent of George VI. His father was Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, younger brother of Edward VIII and George VI.

Richard inherited the title Duke of Gloucester on his father’s death in 1974. As heir apparent of the Dukedom of Gloucester; this was unexpected as the second son, but his elder brother, William, died in a tragic flying accident in 1972.

Prince Richard got engaged to Birgitte Eva Henriksen (or van Deurs – Birgitte took her mother’s name when her parents separated), in February 1972. Birgitte was born in 1946 in Odense, Denmark and worked at the Danish Embassy in London before meeting her future husband. The couple married later that year, with Birgitte becoming Princess Richard of Gloucester. Reportedly, Richard designed the coral and silver engagement ring, and the couple lives at Kensington Palace, making The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Kent their neighbours.


Alexander Patrick Gregers Richard, Earl of Ulster, The Lady Davina Elizabeth Alice Benedikte, and The Lady Rose Victoria Birgitte Louise, were born in 1974, 1977 and 1980 respectively. The Duke and Duchess have six grandchildren. Their three children are not styled as HRH and are not obliged to carry out duties on behalf of The Queen, having their careers and families. For example, Lady Rose works within the film industry as an art assistant.

Prince Richard and Birgitte hold other titles, much like The Prince of Wales and The Duke of Cambridge; these are Earl and Countess of Ulster, and Baron and Baroness Culloden. The Duke is also a Knight of the Garter, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Grand Prior of the Order of St John and holds a Service Medal of the Order of St John.

The couple, like other, more senior members of the Royal Family, has military appointments. Richard is Colonel-in-Chief, of the Royal Army Medical Corps and Honorary Air Marshal, Royal Air Force. The Duchess is also Royal Colonel of the 7th (V) Battalion The Rifles and Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps.

The couple carries out hundreds of engagements on behalf of The Queen every year, and their patronages vary considerably.

He takes an interest in architecture, as he completed a Diploma in Architecture in 1969, and intended to practice as an architect before the death of his brother. Richard has released three books of photographs of architecture under the name Richard Gloucester.

Birgitte forms part of the Council of the Lawn Tennis Association, is the patron of The Royal London Society of Blind People, and has even visited troops in Iraq back in 2008.

The couple often supports The Queen at State Banquets, for example, The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester attended the recent visit of Irish Prime Minister to Windsor Castle. The couple was in attendance at a Banquet at Guildhall given by The Lord Mayor and the City of London Corporation, during the same visit.

In 2006, Richard and Birgitte attended the state funeral of King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV of Tonga on behalf of The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. If you look at the Royal Diary and the future engagements of The Duke and Duchess, they are incredibly busy. As they are not senior members of The Royal Family, the press often skips over their engagements. This lack of spotlight often means the couple can become involved with small charities and organisations in a way which other, more senior members of The Royal Family could not.

photo credit: UK in Holy See via Flickr

Spotted an error?

  • Bella

    What is a Grand Prior? And what is the of the Order of St. John?

    • chloe

      The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem is an Order of Chivalry (like Garter and Thistle) which looks to “prevent and relieve sickness and injury, and to act to enhance the health and well-being of people anywhere in the world”. The Queen is head and Richard is Grand Prior, like a second in command.

  • roofgrit

    Birgitte may have been Richard’s “belle”, but certainly not his “beau”!

    • chloe

      As I am aware, people use it for male and female partners nowadays.

  • Anglogeek

    Post has been amended.

  • Interested

    Richard, Duke of Gloucester did, in fact practice architecture for some where credit is due.

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