Icons / May 2016

The Forgotten Prince

George, Duke of Kent, was every bit as stylish and even wilder than his more celebrated elder brother, Edward VIII. Why is so little attention given to a dapper, mercurial…

The basic details sound like the script of a slightly far-fetched television miniseries. A British royal prince, with matinee-idol looks and an artistic temperament, falls into bad company and gets hooked on hard drugs. He leads a scandalous sex life with both men and women, and is rumoured to have fathered several illegitimate children. His impeccable dress sense makes him a style icon. He marries a beautiful European princess, and they become both the nation’s favourites and the toast of high society, but the bisexual affairs allegedly continue. Leaving the Royal Navy, which he hates, he becomes the first royalty to work as a civil servant. Having returned to active service in World War II, he is killed before he is 40 years old in a mysterious air crash, all the papers on which have disappeared. Conspiracy theories abound. Was he rubbed out by British intelligence because of his presumed sympathies towards Nazi Germany? Welcome to the astonishing story of George, Duke of Kent, the forgotten prince.

George Edward Alexander Edmund was born on 20 December 1902 at York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, the fourth son of the man who would become George V and his wife, Mary of Teck. Unlike his brothers Edward (born 1894, known as Prince of Wales and Duke of Windsor, later Edward VIII), Albert (born 1895, later George VI) and Henry (or Harry, born 1900, later the Duke of Gloucester) and his only sister, Mary (born 1897, later the Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood), George was an Edwardian, not a Victorian: his grandfather, Edward VII, was about to enter the third year of his nine-year reign when George was born. There was certainly something of the new age about him. In a generally colourless family, he was to prove himself different in a number of striking ways.

Academically, he was easily the brightest of the siblings. After private tutoring and prep school, at 13 years old, like Edward and Albert, he was sent to naval college in preparation for a career in the Royal Navy. Although he detested the naval life — not least because he suffered from acute seasickness — he remained in the Royal Navy until 1929. He then briefly held posts at the Foreign Office, before moving to the Home Office, thus becoming the first member of the British royal family to work as a civil servant — he was, incredibly enough, designated to be a factory inspector.

"He liked her independent spirit and the fact that she did not complain when he drove his sports cars too fast."

George made a highly successful marriage to a second cousin, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, whom he described as “this lovely, chic creature”. Theirs was the last marriage between a son of a British sovereign and a member of a foreign royal house. He liked her independent spirit and the fact that she did not complain when he drove his sports cars too fast. Seven weeks before they married on 29 November 1934, in front of a 2,000-strong congregation at Westminster Abbey, followed by a Greek Orthodox service at Buckingham Palace, George was made Duke of Kent, Earl of St. Andrews and Baron Downpatrick.

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Eric Musgrave