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Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester

Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester

Wife of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Wife of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester
A.K.A. Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas Scott
Gender female
Birth 25 December 1901 (Kensington Palace, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Greater London, London)
Death 29 October 2004 (London, Greater London, London, England)
Father: John Montagu Douglas Scott7th Duke of Buccleuch
Siblings: Walter Montagu Douglas Scott8th Duke of BuccleuchLord William Montagu Douglas Scott
Spouse: Prince HenryDuke of Gloucester
Children: Prince William of GloucesterPrince RichardDuke of Gloucester
Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester
The details

Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, GCB, CI, GCVO, GBE (Alice Christabel; née Montagu Douglas Scott; 25 December 1901 – 29 October 2004) was the wife of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the third son of George V and Mary of Teck. She was the mother of the present Duke of Gloucester, and of Prince William of Gloucester, who died aged 30.

Born the daughter of the 7th Duke of Buccleuch, Scotland’s largest landowner, she became by marriage a princess of the United Kingdom, and a sister-in-law to King Edward VIII and King George VI. She was thus an aunt by marriage to Queen Elizabeth II.

Her brothers Walter and William and her nephew John were all Conservative MPs. Her first cousin, Marian Montagu Douglas Scott, was the paternal grandmother of Sarah, Duchess of York, former wife of Alice’s great-nephew, Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Early life

Alice Christabel 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 the 4th Earl of Bradford.

She was a descendant, in an unbroken male line, of King Charles II through his eldest but illegitimate son, James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, himself a major political figure during the years leading up to the Glorious Revolution. As she was born on Christmas Day, she was given the name 'Christabel' in addition to Alice. Later, her niece Princess Alexandra would also be given the same second name for the same reason.

Alice 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, Kenya and India.


Bernard Tussaud finishes the wax figure of Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott and the Duke of Gloucester, 16 October 1935

In August 1935, Lady Alice became engaged to Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester,then fifth in line to the throne behind the Prince of Wales, Duke of York and the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose 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.

The couple were married on 6 November 1935 in the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace in London. The Duchess's bridesmaids were her sister, the Lady Angela Montagu-Douglas-Scott; her nieces, Miss Clare Phipps, Lady Elizabeth Montagu-Douglas-Scott, and Miss Anne Hawkins; her husband's nieces, Princess Elizabeth of York and Princess Margaret of York; her cousin, Miss Moyra Montagu-Douglas-Scott; and her husband's cousin, The Lady Mary Cambridge. Alice wore a blush-hued wedding gown, the only British Royal bride to do so. Her gown was designed by Norman Hartnell, who later designed the wedding gown of Princess Elizabeth, the future queen. Although the day was cold and wet, a crowd estimated to be over one million people lined the streets from the Palace to the railway station to see the couple off on their honeymoon. She was often referred to as the "Winter Princess" from then on.

Combined coat of arms of Henry and Alice, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester

Initially, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester lived at the Royal Pavilion in Aldershot, where the Duke was taking the Army staff course. 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, undertaking various engagements. 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; many years 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 and Queen Margaret College.

In 1965, while returning from Winston Churchill's funeral in their vehicle, the Duke suffered a stroke which resulted in a car crash, with Prince Henry being thrown out of the car and the Duchess "suffering facial injuries".

Later life

In 1975, Princess Alice was the first woman to be appointed a Dame Grand Cross of the 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.


Hugo Vickers called Princess Alice "a very private person who was not widely known to the general public" despite being the third highest ranking lady in the royal family at the time of her marriage. It was well known she disliked large parties. Peter Townsend said of her "She possessed classic, serene good looks and sincerity shone from her mild face. But she was painfully shy, so that conversation with her was sometimes halting and unrewarding, for you felt that she had so much more to say, but could not bring herself to say it."

Although generally a woman of few and soft-spoken words, Princess Alice was known for her dry humour. While driving home from Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965, she was badly injured after her husband fell asleep at the wheel (or possibly had a stroke). On the occasion she wrote "I was sitting beside him to grab the wheel or put my foot on the brake if he fell asleep and lost control, but on that occasion I must have dozed off myself. Apparently the Rolls swerved off the road (and) ended upside down in a field of cabbages. Prince Henry had luckily been thrown through the open door...into (stinging) nettles and brambles". On another occasion, soon after her marriage, when the couple moved to York House, they were warned that the drawing-room floor would not stand the weight of more than twenty people "so we made a party list" recalled the Duchess many years later "of the twenty-one people we disliked most".

The Queen Mother said of Princess Alice after her son's death "The tragic accident was a great shock to all the family, but I feel desperately for his dear little mother. She has the courage of a lion, and has suffered so many cruel blows in the past few years...".

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Coat of arms of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester

Titles and styles

  • 25 December 1901 – 5 November 1935: Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott
  • 6 November 1935 – 10 June 1974: Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester
  • 10 June 1974 – 29 October 2004: Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester

At the time of her death, Princess Alice's full style was Her Royal Highness Princess Alice Christabel, Duchess of Gloucester, Countess of Ulster and Baroness Culloden, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Companion of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Dame Grand Cross of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. During her tenure in Australia, her titles remained unchanged, and she continued to style herself "HRH The Duchess of Gloucester".

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). As a widow she requested permission from her niece, the Queen, to use the title and style HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester instead of adopting 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). She was granted the title which gave near parity to her late sister-in-law, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, even following the marriage of her elder son in June 1961 — Princess Marina was a princess of Greece and Denmark by birth, a title she did not lose upon marriage. Neither born nor created a princess by letters patent, critical to the award of the style were her charity benevolence and marriage to a prince who was the son of a monarch (See: British princess).


British honours

  • GCStJ: Dame Grand Cross of the Order of St. John, 1936
  • CI: Companion of the Crown of India, 9 June 1937
  • GBE: Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, 11 May 1937
  • GCVO: Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, 1948
  • GCB: Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, 2 April 1975
  • Royal Family Order of King George V, 1935
  • Royal Family Order of King George VI, 1937
  • Royal Family Order of Queen Elizabeth II, 1952

Foreign honours

  • Romania Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown, 1938
  • Egypt Grand Cordon of the Order of the Virtues (Nishan al-Kamal), 1950
  • Ethiopia Grand Cross of the Order of the Queen of Sheba, 1958


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