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first Duke of Gloucester (1900–1974)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

first Duke of Gloucester, by Dickinson-Monteath Studio

first Duke of Gloucester, by Dickinson-Monteath Studio

National Library of Australia, 23351188

first Duke of Gloucester (1900-1974), governor-general, was born on 31 March 1900 at York Cottage, Sandringham, Norfolk, England, third son and fourth of six children of Prince George, Duke of York, and his wife Princess (Victoria) Mary of Teck. After preparatory schooling at St Peter's Court, Broadstairs, Prince Henry was educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He attended the University of Cambridge for nine months in 1919-20 and joined the 10th Royal Hussars, British Army, in 1921. A good athlete, he enjoyed cricket, long-distance running, tennis, Rugby Union football and riding to hounds, and represented his university and regiment at polo. In 1934 he visited Australia for Victoria's centenary celebrations and acquired a reputation in some quarters for insobriety. On 6 November 1935 at Buckingham Palace, London, he married Lady Alice Christabel Montagu-Douglas-Scott (b.1901), daughter of the 7th Duke of Buccleuch; they were to have two children, Prince William (1941-1972) and Prince Richard (b.1944).

Following the abdication of his eldest brother King Edward VIII in 1936, Gloucester suspended his military career to share the royal family's public duties. In 1938 he contemplated making himself available for a term as governor-general of Australia, but his younger brother George, Duke of Kent, was nominated to replace the Earl of Gowrie. During World War II the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester worked hard—he usually visiting troops, she hospitals. He toured British defences at Gibraltar in 1941 and 1942, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India and North Africa in 1942.

That year the Duke of Kent was killed in an air crash. On 15 November 1943 Prime Minister John Curtin announced that Gloucester had been chosen to succeed Gowrie, whose term had been extended because of the war. Since party policy was that the post should be filled by Australians, the appointment caused concern in Labor circles, and surprised approval in the press and among conservatives. Arthur Calwell informed Gowrie of the duke's alleged poor reputation. But Curtin, who met Gloucester in England in 1944, and had experienced his own problems with alcohol, 'thought that the presence in Australia of a member of the Royal Family would influence the despatch of British Divisions and equipment to the Pacific'. To many, the appointment of a member of the royal family reaffirmed 'the supreme importance of the Crown as the centre and symbol of Empire unity'.

After a voyage in a blacked-out passenger liner, during which they were in danger of attack by enemy submarines, the Gloucesters arrived in Sydney on 28 January 1945 and the duke was sworn in at Canberra two days later. They found the heat, the snakes, the rats, the flies and the isolation of Yarralumla (their official residence) a strain, but put up a brave public show. The two very young children were popular with the Australian public and helped to break down formality. The duke and duchess joined happily in Australia's celebrations of the victory in Europe in May and in the Pacific in August. Gloucester had brought his own Avro York aircraft. Although the duchess did not enjoy good health, theirs was a vigorous tour of duty, involving constant travel, flights to all States and a visit to Papua and New Guinea (interrupted by Curtin's sudden death) and to Norfolk Island.

Taller than his brothers, the moustached Gloucester looked comfortable in the uniform of his office; he was less at ease as a dinner-party host. Having served two years in the post, he left Sydney on 17 January 1947, returning by air to England to fulfil official duties there during the visit to South Africa of his brother King George VI. While not the most popular occupant of the office, Gloucester had exercised his public duties conscientiously and without controversy. The Australian (Sir) William McKell succeeded him, at which Gloucester is said to have exclaimed: '''Then it seems I have wasted my bloody time" (in cementing Australia's links with the monarchy)'.

In Britain the duke continued to devote his public life to supporting hospitals, youth work and farming. He represented the Crown abroad on several occasions, and visited Australia again with the duchess in 1965. Survived by his wife and younger son, he died on 10 June 1974 at his home, Barnwell Manor, Northamptonshire, and was buried in the royal mausoleum, Frogmore, Berkshire.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1971-80
  • N. Frankland, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (Lond, 1980)
  • Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, The Memoirs of Princess Alice (Lond, 1983)
  • Labour History, no 34, May 1978, p 68
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Nov 1943, 1 Aug 1946
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 26 Feb 1978.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Gloucester, first Duke of (1900–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

first Duke of Gloucester, by Dickinson-Monteath Studio

first Duke of Gloucester, by Dickinson-Monteath Studio

National Library of Australia, 23351188

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Henry, Prince
  • Ulster, Earl of
  • Culloden, Baron
  • Gloucester, Henry William Frederick Albert

31 March, 1900
Sandringham, Norfolk, England


10 June, 1974 (aged 74)
Barnwell Manor, Northamptonshire, England

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.