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The Kents

The early life of the Duchess of Kent – from minor aristocracy to becoming one of the most respected royals


Picture by i-Images / i-Images

She has long been one of the most popular and well respected members of the Royal Family, even thought she stepped back from public life many years ago. The Duchess of Kent is held in warm regard by many and her calm demeanour and devotion to charitable causes turned her into a cornerstone of the House of Windsor in the late 20th century. However, her early life gave no indication of the royal path that lay ahead.

Katharine Lucy Mary Worsley was born on February 22nd 1933 at her family’s ancestral home, Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire. Her paternal family had lived at Hovingham since the 16th century although the Palladian style manor that Katharine was born in didn’t come about until the 18th century. In the snobbish language of Victorian England, the Worsleys were minor aristocracy, tracing their roots back to a Norman knight.

Katharine’s birth completed the family of William Worsley and his wife, Joyce. The couple already had three sons, Marcus, Oliver and John. Their only daughter was still a toddler when her father succeeded to the family baronetcy. He had already enjoyed a distinguished military career and was a talented cricketer, even playing at the top flight of the game.

The future duchess grew up at Hovingham Hall and was educated there until she turned ten. She then joined Queen Margaret’s School in York and later boarded at Runton School in Norfolk. Her school days would introduce her to one of her great passions in life.

For it was in organised education that Katharine Worsley first got a real taste for music. She learned the organ as well as the piano and violin and helped put on music recitals as she advanced through school. Academically, she focused on languages. Katharine went to finishing school in Oxford where she continued to study French literature. But it was music that remained her great love.

The girl who would grow up to be a duchess was so devoted to the subject that she even applied for the Royal Academy of Music but was unsuccessful. However, even in her earliest years, Katharine showed signs of doing things her own way. As well as finishing school, the expected path for upper class women, she also worked at a children’s home and a nursery school. Supporting children and young people has gone on to be a major plank of her royal work.

Katharine Worsley met the Duke of Kent when he was stationed at Catterick in Yorkshire during his early years with the Army. They were married at York Minister on June 8th 1961, soon after the bride’s 28th birthday. Her life until that point had been very different from the royal role she now took on. But within months she had made it her own.

Even now, many years after she retired from public life, her support for young people and for the arts, especially music, remain well known and respected. The early life of the Duchess of Kent would prove to be instrumental in her pivotal part in the Royal Family.

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.