Duke of Gloucester did Royal duties after brother's plane crash death

The quiet Duke of Gloucester – the Queen’s 78-year-old first cousin who gallantly performed royal duties for four decades following the devastating plane crash death of his older brother, Prince William

  • Prince Richard was aged 28 when brother was killed while taking part in air race 
  • Richard lived life away from limelight in contrast with glamorous brother William

Amid all debate over who will and will not be present at the Coronation, we can be confident that Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester will have a prominent place in Westminster Abbey. 

Quiet, understated and committed to royal duty, for decades he has worked tirelessly to represent the late Queen Elizabeth and now King Charles.

Yet this was not the life Prince Richard had expected – until in a tragedy still remembered today, his dashing older brother, Prince William was killed in a plane crash in 1972.

The tragedy shook the whole Royal Family. His parents were bereft. 

Quiet, understated and committed to royal duty, the Duke of Gloucester was a first cousin to Her Late Majesty The Queen. Above: The pair in 2012

Prince Richard pictured with his elder brother, Prince William,  in 1958. William was killed in a plane crash in 1972

Prince William at a 1970 polo match at Windsor. He was a pilot who competed at air shows

The Duke of Gloucester is seen with his cousins the Duke of Kent (centre) and Prince Michael of Kent on the day of the Queen’s funeral

Then, two years later, he inherited the family dukedom on the death of his father in 1974. 

As a full-time working royal, he has represented both the Queen and now King Charles at hundreds of engagements both at home and overseas and is associated with 150 charities and organisations.

Now 78, Prince Richard was born on August 26, 1944, less than a year before the end of the Second World War. 

 A first cousin of the late Queen, his father, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, was a younger brother of King Edward VIII and King George VI.  

Richard’s mother, Princess Alice, was the daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch, Scotland’s largest landowner. 

Duty ran in the family. Both Prince Henry and Princess Alice set a high standard of commitment to the Royal Family. 

During the war, Henry served in the British Army and then became governor-general of Australia from 1945 until 1947, while Alice was head of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).  

Prince Richard spent the first two years of his life in Australia before the family moved back to their home at Barnwell Manor in Northamptonshire, with its 2,500 acres of farmland.

Richard was initially educated at home by a private tutor before he went first to Wellesley House private school in Broadstairs and then on to Eton. 

Prince Richard and his bride Birgitte seen on their wedding day in July 1972 at St Andrew’s Church, Barnwell, Northamptonshire. This was just two weeks before the death of his  brother  

A Daily Mail article from the same year reporting that the married couple would live in Camden

Prince Richard (seated) is seen with his father Prince Henry, mother Princess Alice and brother Prince William at Barnwell Manor, Northamptonshire, in 1950

Prince William of Gloucester, left, with younger brother Richard at Barnwell Manor

Prince Richard, later the Duke of Gloucester, on his way to his job at the Ministry of Public Building and Works in 1966

Students together at Eton, Princes Richard and William with their mother in 1959

How the Daily Mail covered Prince William’s fatal air crash

The Duke studied architecture at Cambridge and it was there, in the mid 1960s, that he met the woman who would become his wife.  

Birgitte van Deurs Henriksen, the daughter of a lawyer, was working as a secretary at the Danish Embassy – but spent time in Cambridge learning English. 

CLICK TO READ MORE: The 50-year marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester 

The couple got to know each other over dinner dates and trips to the cinema and theatre, as well as dance outings. 

In July 1972, two months after the death of the his uncle the Duke of Windsor and just two weeks before the death of his brother, Richard and Birgitte tied the knot at St Andrew’s Church, Barnwell.

His father was then too ill to attend, but Prince Charles and the Queen Mother were among the guests, who numbered around 50.

Richard’s quiet world – he was a partner at a London architectural firm – was shattered when his brother was killed on August 28. 

He had been competing in an air race, the Goodyear International Trophy at Halfpenny Green, near Dudley in the West Midlands.

His plane, a Piper Cherokee Arrow, crashed 30 seconds after taking off in front of 30,000 spectators.

The plane banked steeply before the left wing hit a tree and sheared off. The rest of the plane landed in a country lane and burst into flames.

William and co-pilot Lieutenant-Commander Vyrell Mitchell were killed. so badly burned that they were identified from dental records and personal belongings.

William’s former girlfriend, Zsuzsi Starkloffe, from whom he had split not long before his death, later said they had been deeply in love and had come ‘very close’ to marriage. 

His girlfriend at the time of his death was Nicole Sieff, who joined Prince Richard and his family at his funeral.

Prince Henry’s cripplingly poor health meant he could attend. Indeed, his wife later wrote that she did not even tell him about the loss because of his fragile state. 

He died aged 74 in June 1974, the last surviving child of King George V and Queen Mary. 

Prince Richard, meanwhile, gave up his architectural career to focus on royal duties and work for the family estate. In October 1974, his wife gave birth to their first, Alexander Windsor, the Earl of Ulster . 

The Duke and Duchess would go on to have daughters Lady Davina Windsor and Lady Rose Gilman in 1977 and 1980 respectively. 

In 1995, however, the Gloucesters hit financial trouble, with Prince Richard blaming crippling death duties imposed following the passing away of his brother and father.

 As a result, the couple moved out of Barnwell Manor along with his 93-year-old mother, Princess Alice, to live full-time at at ‘grace and favour’ apartment in Kensington Palace. 

The family home was rented out for a long period before last year it was finally sold for £4.75million.

The eight-bed home boasts 40 rooms including four reception rooms, six bathrooms and a gatehouse with twin round towers and ancient stone walls. 

The home had been granted to the family of Princess Alice, the Montagus, by Henry VIII. 

The Duke and Duchess have three children together: son Alexander (born 1974) and daughters Lady Davina (right – born 1977) and Lady Rose (born 1980). Above: The family in 1989

The Duchess  and Duke Of Gloucester with Their Daughter, Lady Rose Windsor at their home, Barnwell Manor in Northamptonshire in 1989

Lady Rose Windsor and her father the Duke of Gloucester at her wedding to George Gilman, which took place at the Queen’s Chapel near St James’s Palace on July 19, 2008

Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester and Birgitte, Duchess of Gloucester, in the Royal Box on Derby Day at Epsom in 2012

In her childhood, it was owned by her grandfather, the 6th Duke of Buccleuch, until he sold it in 1913. Prince Henry then bought the property in 1938.

At the Platinum Jubilee last year, the Duke of Gloucester was among the royals to join his cousin, Queen Elizabeth on the Buckingham Palace balcony for Trooping the Colour.

He again joined his cousins in the Royal Family for a very different occasion – walking in her funeral cortege following her death last September at the age of 96. 

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