Friday, July 8, 2022

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester celebrate their 50th anniversary

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The Duke of Gloucester was never meant to be a working royal as he was the second son of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and Lady Alice Montagu-Douglass-Scott.   His older brother, HRH Prince William of Gloucester, was the heir to the dukedom and had become a full-time working royal after his father had suffered a stroke in 1970, and was no longer able to carry out most of his engagements.  

Prince William, who had spent several years in the diplomatic service, also served as a Counsellor of State.   His role was largely defined as the elder son.   His younger brother, Prince Richard, did not expect to have a royal role, apart from attending state functions.  He went to Cambridge where he received a degree in architecture. By the early 70s, he was working as an architect in London.  He and his first cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, also a second son,  were expected to earn a living. 

It was on February 15, 1972, that the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester announced the engagement of their younger son to Birgitte van Deurs, a Danish-born secretary,  Thew couple had met in Cambridge six years earlier where Birgitte was studying English and Richard was an undergraduate at Magdalene College, where he was studying architecture.  

At the time of the engagement,  Prince Richard, a fully qualified architect, was employed by London-based Hunt, Thompson and Partners.   

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 Queen Elizabeth II met Miss Deurs a few days before she left on her Southeast Asia tour.  She gave her consent to the marriage, which was officially approved by the Privy Council on February 4.

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester said they were "simply delighted" with their future daughter-in-law, who was working as a secretary at the Danish Embassy in London.   Richard and Birgitte had managed to keep their relationship out of the media until 1971, only months before their engagement was announced.  He said at the time: "Trouble is, situations get spoiled by too many people knowing."

The wedding date was announced on April 29, according to an official announcement from Kensington Palace.  The couple would be married on July 8 in a "quiet country wedding" at St Andrew's Church in Northamptonshire, near Barnwell Manor, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester's country home.

The choice of the church was "partly dictated" by the semi-invalid condition of the groom's father, the Duke of Gloucester as he could not travel to London.  

It was also announced that The Queen would not be attending the wedding as she would be at Balmoral Castle. 

The official announcement of the wedding details also stated that there would be only 50-60 guests and there would be no bridesmaids.   Prince William would serve as his brother's best man.

In early June, Richard and Birgitte and the Duchess of Gloucester flew to Kenya to spend some time with Prince William.  The soon-to-be princess gave up her job shortly before leaving for Kenya, where the Duchess lived for several years before her marriage.

Two days before the wedding, the Duchess of Gloucester hosted a dance for the couple.

The wedding was largely defined by its informality,  The Queen, Prince Philip, and Princess Anne were not present, as they were in Scotland.  The Duke and Duchess of Kent also sent their regrets as they were at Wimbledon.   Princess Alexandra was also unable to attend the wedding due to her role as Chancellor of the University of Lancaster, where she conferred degrees. She was able to attend the reception.

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 Queen Elizabeth, the  Queen Mother,  the Prince of Wales, Princess Margaret and Prince Michael of Kent,   Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch (the Duchess of Gloucester's brother and sister-in-law), and the Earl and Countess of Dalkeith were among the 75 guests at the wedding.  Most of the guests, however, were family and friends and residents of Barnwell, including five elderly women from local almshouses.

The royal relatives arrived by helicopter, landing on Barnwell Manor's lawn.

It rained the entire day, but the rain did not deter local residents, and "thousands of sightseers thronged Barnwell" to catch a glimpse of the new Princess.   

The couple did not want any bunting or flags as decorations.  Money raised from pop-up car parks was donated to the church.

Birgitte was given away by her father, Asger Preben Wissing Henriksen, a lawyer.   In 1966, she took her mother's surname after her parents' separation.   Her mother and stepfather were also present at the wedding.   

The Dean of Windsor,  Dr. Launcelot Flemming, officiated at the 40-minute service.   The church was decorated with sweet peas, roses, and other summer flowers.  It was a largely traditional Anglican service although Birgitte chose not to promise to obey her husband.

Birgitte wore a "white Swiss organdy dress with bands of lace trimming and a white veil" edged with organdy piping and was held in place by the "simplest band of creamy stephanotis."  

The Duchess of Gloucester made Birgitte's bouquet, "modeled on a traditional Danish wedding sheaf," and made of "white and cream summer flowers bound with satin ribbon." 

This was a private wedding, which meant that the press was not allowed inside St. Andrews' Church 

When Prince and Prince Richard emerged from the church, they planned to walk along a path in a meadow "lined with schoolchildren and sightseers" who had been waiting several hours.  Unfortunately, the heavy rain forced the cancelation of the walk.  Richard and Birgitte hurried to a car to take them back to Barnwell Manor for the reception, which was an informal buffet rather than the traditional wedding breakfast.

The Duke of Gloucester's health precluded him from attending the wedding, but he was well enough to be at the reception.

Richard's mother, Alice, was quick to approve of her future daughter-in-law.  "It was fairly obvious -- there was no other person."

After returning from their honeymoon, the newlyweds moved into a home in the Camden area of London.  Although Richard carried out a selection of engagements each year,  he was a full-time architect, working on projects in London.

On August 28, 1972,  Prince Richard of Gloucester's life was inexorably changed when his older brother, Prince William, a licensed pilot, was taking part in the Goodyear International Air Trophy at Halfpenny Green, near Wolverhampton.   William was piloting a Piper Cherokee, when the plane, still at a low altitude began to veer and hit a tree.  William was unable to keep the plane under control,  as it crashed into the ground.  Prince William and his passenger, fellow pilot Vyrell Mitchell, died instantly.  

Prince William, 30, was unmarried.  His younger brother was now the heir apparent to their father's dukedom.   The Duke of Gloucester died at Barnwell Manor on June 10, 1974, and was succeeded by his 29-year-old son, Prince Richard.

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester are among the most unassuming members of the Royal Family.  They are the backbone, the unstuffy cousins who have supported the Queen for 50 years.  The Duke of Gloucester gave up a promising career as an architect to become a full-time royal.  

"I sometimes wonder, 'Whatever am I doing it for, all these apparently contrived events?'" he told People Magazine in 1979.  "It sounds almost absurdly dramatic, but one reason is national unity.  People in places like Ipswich are entitled to recognition for their achievements."

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester settled into the 21-room Apartment 1 in Kensington Palace, where they raised three children,  Alexander, Earl of Ulster (1974)  Lady Davina (1977), and Lady Rose (1980).    In 2019,  the duke and duchess moved out of their apartment into a smaller home, the Old Stables, on Kensington Palace grounds.

Lord Ulster is married to Dr. Claire Booth since June 2002.  They have two children, Xan, Lord Culloden, and Lady Cosima Windsor.  Lady Davina has two children, Senna and Tane,  with her former husband, Gary Lewis, a Maori from New Zealand.  Lady Rose and her husband George Gilman are also the parents of two children: Lyla and Rufus.

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