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FeaturesThe Kents

A fond farewell for a popular prince and a poignant link to his mother

By Foreign and Commonwealth Office, CC BY 2.0, Wiki Commons

The Duke of Kent will present the trophies at Wimbledon for the final time on July 11th 2021. Prince Edward, first cousin of The Queen, is stepping back as President of the All England Club after half a century. His retirement from the role associated with him for so long marks the end of an era for this popular prince and sees him say goodbye to a very personal link. For the Duke took over as President in 1969 following the death of his mother, Princess Marina, the previous summer. And her one of her very last public appearances had been at Wimbledon where she handed over the trophies, just as her son has done with her memory around him, ever since.

The All England Tennis Club, July 5th 1968

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The story

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent had been presenting the trophies at Wimbledon for years when she stepped on to Centre Court to hand over the Venus Rosewater Dish to Billy Jean King who had just claimed the Ladies’ Singles title for the third time. She was president of the All England Tennis Club and her involvement there went far beyond her regular appearances at the end of the famous Wimbledon tournament where she always presented the prizes. Her devotion to the sport would be emulated by her eldest son, Edward.

When she appeared before the crowds that day, no one had any idea that she was seriously ill. But Marina was already showing symptoms of a serious health condition. Just days after the end of the 1968 event, the princess was taken to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases where she was treated after experiencing discomfort in her leg. By the middle of July her doctors had diagnosed an inoperable brain tumour. Her health began to decline rapidly.

What happened next

Princess Marina died in her sleep at 11.40am on August 27th 1968 with her three children – the Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra and Prince Michael of Kent – at her bedside. Her condition had deteriorated quickly in the hours before she passed away but her death still came as a shock. The Queen, who was on holiday at Balmoral at the time her aunt died, asked for all flags on royal buildings to be flown at half mast as a tribute.

Princess Marina had been a hugely popular member of the Royal Family since her 1934 marriage to George, Duke of Kent who had died in a plane crash in 1942. Tributes poured in from around the world.

Princess Marina’s funeral took place on August 30th 1968 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor and she was buried at Frogmore alongside her husband. The funeral would be the last royal event attended by the Duke of Windsor who travelled from France to pay tribute to his sister-in-law.

Following Marina’s death, her role at Wimbledon was taken by her son, the Duke of Kent, who has presented the trophies for fifty years. It was a poignant link to his mother who so loved the tournament and who, like all those watching, can have had no idea that her happy days on its famous courts in 1968 would actually be a farewell. Now, her son has come to say his own goodbyes – a poignant moment for him and the millions who have watched him continue the Kent tradition at Wimbledon.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton, a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. June has been a reporter, producer and editor, picking up several awards over the years. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.