Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester

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Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester GCB GCVO GBE CI (née Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas Scott; 25 December 1901 – 29 October 2004) was the wife and then widow of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the third son of George V and Mary of Teck.

The daughter of the 7th Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry, Scotland’s largest landowner, her brothers Walter, the 8th Duke, and William and her nephew John were all Conservative MPs. She was sister-in-law to Edward VIII and George VI and aunt to Elizabeth II. She was the mother of Prince William of Gloucester, who died at age 30, and Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Her first cousin, Marian Louisa Montagu Douglas Scott, was the grandmother of Sarah, Duchess of York, wife of Alice’s great-nephew, Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
Princess Alice's niece, Princess Alexandra, who was likewise born on Christmas Day, shares the name Christabel in honour of their shared birth date.

Lady Alice was born, in Montagu House, Whitehall, London, on Christmas Day 1901 as the third daughter of John Montagu Douglas Scott, Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, and his wife, the former Lady Margaret Bridgeman, daughter of George Bridgeman, 4th Earl of Bradford. She was therefore a descendant, in an unbroken male (though illegitimate) line, of King Charles II. She spent much of her childhood in her family's country homes: Boughton House in Northamptonshire, Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries and Galloway, and Bowhill in the Scottish Borders. She attended the independent St James's School for Girls, in West Malvern, Worcestershire, and later travelled to France and Kenya.

In August 1935, Lady Alice became engaged to Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the third son of King George V. They were married in a private ceremony, in the Private Chapel, Buckingham Palace, on 6 November of that year. A much more elaborate wedding was originally planned for Westminster Abbey; but after the new Duchess of Gloucester's father died of cancer on 19 October 1935, and in consideration of the King's own failing health, it was decided that the wedding should be scaled down to a more private setting. Her bridemaids were her sister the Lady Angela Montagu-Douglas-Scott, her nieces, the Lady Elizabeth Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Miss Clare Phipps, Miss Anne Hawkins, her husband's nieces Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose of York, her cousin Miss Moyra Montagu-Douglas-Scott and her husband's cousin the Lady Mary Cambridge.

Initially, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester lived in Aldershot, where the Duke was taking the Army staff course. In 1935, the Duchess took a trip to open the new grounds of The Lady Eleanor Holles School. The Duke of Gloucester left the army to take on more public duties following the abdication of King Edward VIII in December 1936. The couple received a grace and favour residence at York House, St James's Palace, London and, in 1938, they purchased Barnwell Manor in Northamptonshire.

The Duke and Duchess had two sons:
Prince William of Gloucester (18 December 1941 – 28 August 1972)
Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester (born 26 August 1944)

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester travelled extensively to perform their royal duties. During World War II, the Duchess worked with the Red Cross and the Order of St John. She became head of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1939 as Senior Controller, changed to Air Commandant in 1940, and appointed Air Chief Commandant on 4 March 1943, when she took over as director until August 1944. Later she was promoted to Air Chief Marshal in the Royal Air Force in 1990. She also served as deputy to Queen Elizabeth, the consort of George VI, as Commandant-in-Chief of the Nursing Corps. From 1945 to 1947, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester lived in Canberra, where the Duke was serving as Governor-General of Australia. The Duchess of Gloucester served as Colonel-in-Chief or deputy Colonel-in-Chief of a dozen regiments in the British Army, including the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the Northamptonshire Regiment, the 2nd East Anglian Regiment (Duchess of Gloucester's Own Royal Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire), the Royal Anglian Regiment, the Royal Hussars, and the Royal Irish Rangers (27th Inniskilling); also, the Royal Corps of Transport. She was also the Chancellor of the University of Derby and Patron of the Girls' Day School Trust.

On 10 June 1974, Prince Henry died, and was succeeded as Duke of Gloucester by their second son, Prince Richard (the couple's elder son, Prince William, had been killed in an aeroplane crash in 1972). The Duke's widow requested permission from her niece, the Queen, to use the title and style HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester instead of HRH The Dowager Duchess of Gloucester. The Queen allowed her aunt to adopt this title, in part to avoid confusion with her daughter-in-law, the new Duchess of Gloucester (formerly Birgitte Eva van Deurs). Princess Alice apparently did not wish to be known as a Dowager Duchess and so followed the example of her late sister-in-law, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, following the marriage of her elder son in June 1961. However, Princess Marina was a princess of Greece and Denmark by birth, a title she did not lose upon marriage. The de facto Dowager Duchess of Gloucester was allowed to be known as Princess Alice as a courtesy from the Queen. Although neither born nor created a princess by letters patent, the Princess was entitled to style herself as a British princess due to her recognised marriage to a prince who was the son of a monarch. Normally, non-royal women who marry royal princes are styled "[her own Christian name], Princess [husband's Christian name]"; only princesses by blood are styled "Princess [her own Christian name]".

In 1975, Princess Alice was the first woman to be appointed a Dame Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. In 1981, she first published her memoirs under the title The Memoirs of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. In 1991, she released a revised edition as Memories of Ninety Years.

In 1994, after the Gloucesters had to give up Barnwell Manor for financial reasons, Alice moved from Barnwell to Kensington Palace, where she lived with the current Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. In 1999, the Duke issued a press release announcing that due to physical frailty, his mother would no longer carry out public engagements outside the environs of Kensington Palace. In December 2001, the Royal Family held a ceremony to acknowledge Princess Alice's 100th birthday. This was Princess Alice's last public appearance (as well as the last public appearance of Princess Margaret, the Queen's younger sister, who died on 9 February 2002). On the death of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother at age 101 in March 2002, Princess Alice became the oldest living member of the British Royal Family.

On 21 August 2003, Princess Alice surpassed The Queen Mother's record as the oldest person in the history of the British Royal Family.

Princess Alice died on 29 October 2004 in her sleep at Kensington Palace at age 102. Her funeral was held on 5 November 2004, at St George's Chapel, Windsor, and she was interred next to her husband, Prince Henry, and her elder son, Prince William, in the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore. The Funeral was attended by Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the British Royal Family.

A memorial service was held at St Clement Danes on 2 February 2005, which was attended by her son and his family and representatives of organisations Princess Alice was involved in; the service was co-ordinated by the Royal Air Force in respect of Princess Alice's role as Commandant-in-Chief WRAF.

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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024