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Royal News

How the Duchess of Kent made history when she overturned a 300 year old tradition

The Duchess of Kent stepped back from public life several years ago but remains one of the most respected members of the Royal Family. For decades, her work gave her a central role among communities. But the Duchess herself found her faith placed her at the centre of a moment of royal history for the duchess when she became the first member of the British Royal Family to publicly convert to Roman Catholicism since 1701 when the Act of Settlement was passed. 

Katharine Worsley grew up at Hovingham Hall in York; she was the youngest child of Sir William Worsley, 4th Baronet and Joyce Brunner. Her education was somewhat limited, only attending school first at age 10, but she flourished in her musical studies. 

The Duchess married Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, in 1961 at York Minster. The last royal wedding to take place at the Minster had been in 1328 when Edward III married Philippa of Hainault. 

The Duke served in the military from 1955 until 1976; Katherine often lived in military housing while Edward was posted outside of the United Kingdom. The children have three children, George, Earl of St Andrews, born in 1962, Helen, born in 1964, and Nicholas, born in 1970. Katharine suffered a miscarriage in 1977 after being ill with rubella, and suffered serious depression afterwards. 

In 1994, Katharine announced that she had been received into the Roman Catholic Church. This was significant, as the Act of Settlement of 1701 removed anyone who marries a Roman Catholic from the line of succession. The Duke was not removed however, because The Duchess converted after they were married. 

Katharine had discussed her choice to convert with Queen Elizabeth II who approved the decision, prior to making her announcement. 

The Duchess shared in a later BBC interview why she was drawn to Catholicism specifically, saying ”I do love guidelines and the Catholic Church offers you guidelines. I have always wanted that in my life. I like to know what’s expected of me. I like being told: You shall go to church on Sunday and if you don’t you’re in for it!

Katharine was not the only member of her family to convert to Roman Catholicism; two of her grandchildren, Edward, Lord Downpatrick, and Marina, have also converted and thus lost their places in the line of succession. Their father, George, Earl of St. Andrews, has lost his place in the line of succession after marrying a Roman Catholic, Sylvana Tomaselli.