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History of Royal Titles: The Duke of Gloucester

Richard, Duke of Gloucester in 2008
By Charlie Dave -, CC BY 2.0, Wiki Commons

There have been six Dukes of Gloucester throughout history, the first created in 1385 and the current having held the title since 1974. It has a long past, and some consider the title cursed due to its most famous titleholder, and that the first three men to hold it died without heirs.

Here are the six Dukes of Gloucester.

First Creation

The Duke of Gloucester was first created by Edward III for his son, Thomas of Woodstock, in 1385. He was the fifth son and youngest child of this legendary king, and held several titles: Earl of Buckingham, Earl of Wessex (through his wife, Eleanor de Bohun), Duke of Aumale and Duke of Gloucester.

Heavily involved in military campaigns throughout his life, Thomas of Woodstock led a rebellion of Lords Appellant who wanted to depose his nephew, Richard II, in 1388. They were successful in their venture, though Richard II later overthrew the Lords Appellant in 1397, and Thomas was captured and held prisoner in Calais, where he was murdered while awaiting trial for treason.

As he died a traitor, the dukedom of Gloucester was forfeited for his heirs and the title reverted to the Crown.

Second Creation

The Duke of Gloucester was created again in 1414 by Henry IV for his son, Humphrey of Lancaster.

Humphrey was not a military man, though he aided his father and his brother in conflicts during the Hundred Years’ War and at Agincourt. He was more of a literary man, and is considered one of the first people to embrace the humanism movement in England at the time; his regard is held more in terms of intellect and scholarly pursuits.

Humphrey was the son, brother (Henry V) and uncle (Henry VI) of kings, and served as Lord Protector when his infant nephew came to the throne in 1422. His second wife, Eleanor Cobham, was a very unpopular woman, and she was tried for sorcery and heresy in 1441, causing Humphrey to retire from public life.

In 1447, he was arrested on a charge of treason and died three days later, on 23 February, of suspected poisoning or a stroke.

Humphrey had no legitimate heirs, and so the dukedom of Gloucester again reverted to the Crown.

Third Creation

By Unknown artist; uploaded to wikipedia by Silverwhistle – Richard III Society website via English Wikipedia, Public Domain

Probably the most famous Duke of Gloucester was its holder in the title’s third creation in 1461.

Richard, the youngest son of Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, was the younger brother of Edward IV and fought for the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. His brother created him the Duke of Gloucester upon his first accession to the throne.

The brothers remained loyal to each other throughout this tumultuous period of fighting between the Houses of York and Lancaster. In 1470, they were exiled together as Henry VI returned to the throne but mounted a rebellion again and Edward IV was re-installed as king in 1471 and held the throne until his death in 1483.

Richard governed the North of England for his brother and also held onto the borders near Scotland. He was extremely popular there and married Anne Neville. They had one son together, Edward.

Upon the death of Edward IV, the succession to the throne was thrown into chaos. Edward’s young son was due to be crowned Edward V, and Richard had been named Lord Protector until he reached his majority. Soon, the validity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was thrown into question, and the Titulus Regius was drafted asking Richard to take the throne from his now illegitimate nephew.

Richard was crowned Richard III on 6 July 1483, though the two years of his reign were again tumultuous with the Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor, mounting an army to take his throne. The two met on the battlefield at Bosworth in August 1485, and Richard was slain on the field, the last king to die in battle. Henry Tudor assumed the throne by conquest and took the name Henry VII. He married Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York, and united the Houses of York and Lancaster, putting a permanent end to the Wars of the Roses.

Richard’s only legitimate son, Edward, pre-deceased his father in 1484, and the dukedom of Gloucester again reverted to the Crown.

Fourth Creation

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The Duke of Gloucester was created for the fourth time by Charles I for his son, Henry Stuart, in 1659.

The youngest son of Charles I, Henry was captured, along with his older sister Elizabeth, at the end of the English Civil War, and was held captive in the White Tower at the Tower of London. His father was executed in 1649 and England was then ruled by Oliver Cromwell during a period of interregnum.

Henry was floated as a potential shadow monarch, truly ruled by Cromwell and Parliament, with the idea that he was too young to have subscribed to the same beliefs as his father and brothers, both of whom had fled to France to avoid execution. This plan did not come to fruition, and Henry was released by Cromwell in 1652 to join the rest of his family in Paris.

He did not get along with his mother, Henrietta Maria, the two clashing over religion. Henry had grown up with Protestant ideals while his mother was a staunch Catholic. He left France and travelled to Spain, joining military campaigns and hiding out there until Cromwell died in 1658 and the interregnum collapsed.

Henry was given the title Duke of Gloucester in 1659 by his older brother, Charles, and joined in the procession as Charles was invited back to England to return to the throne as monarch in 1660.

Henry died of smallpox in September 1660, aged 20, and, having no issue, the dukedom of Gloucester reverted back to the Crown.

Fifth Creation

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Though two princes, Prince William (son of Queen Anne, died age 11) and Prince Frederick (son of George II, later created Duke of Edinburgh), were styled as Duke of Gloucester in their lifetimes, they were never formally given the titles.

The dukedom of Gloucester laid dormant for nearly 270 years when it was revived for the fifth time and bestowed upon Prince Henry by his father, George V in 1928. This military-minded prince was active in the Army, unlike his brothers who all joined the Royal Navy, and served until 1958.

Prince Henry was the Governor-General of Australia from 1944 to 1947, taking his wife, Lady Alice and two sons, Prince William and Prince Richard, with him. He was third in line to the throne after the abdication of his eldest brother in 1936 and would have been regent for Queen Elizabeth II if she’d succeeded to the throne while still a minor.

He continued to carry out royal engagements throughout his lifetime, on behalf of his brother and then his niece after 1952, though his health declined in his later years. He was confined to a wheelchair in the 1960s after a car accident, and a series of strokes proved detrimental to his health. He last made a public appearance in 1967, and was too ill to attend his son, Prince Richard’s wedding in 1972; he attended the wedding reception instead.

So ill was Henry that it’s rumoured he was never told that his eldest son, William, had been killed in a plane crash in August 1972, and he died two years later possibly never having learned the truth.

For the first time since the dukedom of Gloucester had been bestowed on male royals, an heir to the dukedom existed, and Henry’s son Richard became Duke of Gloucester in 1974.

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Prince Richard, who’d been born the second son of the Duke of Gloucester, had no illusions about living a royal lifestyle or carrying out official duties on behalf of his cousin. He read architecture at school and even had a practical, real-world job experience that he planned to continue with.

He married his Danish girlfriend, Birgitte, in July 1972, and the couple planned to continue their careers. However, a few weeks after their wedding, Richard’s older brother was killed in a plane crash, and Richard knew he’d succeed to his father’s dukedom someday.

On 10 June 1974, Henry passed away, and Richard became The Duke of Gloucester. He has carried out engagements on behalf of The Queen ever since, alongside his wife, The Duchess of Gloucester, and champions causes related to architecture and design.

Richard’s only son, Alexander, is expected to succeed his father to the dukedom someday, though, as he is so far removed from the throne, he does not have a style of His Royal Highness, and the dukedom will cease to be royal at that point. Instead, when Alexander succeeds to the dukedom, he will be referred to as ‘His Grace, The Duke of Gloucester.’

About author

Jess is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives in Halifax and has a passion for all things royal, particularly the British Royal Family.