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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 October, 2004, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Obituary: Princess Alice

Princess Alice of Gloucester
Princess Alice: A mild-mannered royal rebel

Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, was at the centre of the Royal Family for most of her adult life, but remained one of its least known members.

The Queen's aunt and Queen Mother's sister-in-law, this mild-mannered maverick cracked the courtly mould by wearing trousers, tending the sick and crossing the world as a young woman.

Like the Queen Mother, the Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott was born into the wealth and privilege of a Scottish land-owning family. But, as the third daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch, she broke free whenever opportunity arose, once dressing as a man to travel across India's North-West Frontier.

Royal marriage

Soon, she escaped to the freedom of Kenya. Throughout the early 1930s, as a self-described "pre-Beatnik", Lady Alice went on safari and, as part of Kenya's famously louche Happy Valley Set, spent her days horse-riding and painting.

For a while she was reluctant to come back to England but, by the age of 34, she was ready to settle down and "make use of her life".

Alice in Kenya
Part of the Happy Valley set in Kenya
She found a way to do this with her brother's friend, Prince Henry of Gloucester. He was the younger brother of King George VI and, just months before the abdication of Edward VIII, they were married in the chapel at Buckingham Palace.

As the Duchess of Gloucester, Alice continued to travel. The air chief commandant of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, she spent the war visiting WAAF units across the country.

Family tragedy

She toured the Commonwealth and, as peacetime approached, she and the Duke arrived in Australia, where he was to be the new Governor-General.

On the day of her wedding to Prince Henry of Gloucester in 1935
Alice married Prince Henry of Gloucester in 1935
The princess suffered personally. In 1965, the jetset couple were involved in a serious car crash, after which the Duke suffered a number of strokes. He died in 1974.

And in 1972, the elder of their two sons, Prince William, was killed when his plane crashed in an air race. His brother Richard inherited his father's title.

The newly titled Princess Alice settled with her son at the family home of Barnwell, and developed the now famously beautiful garden on this Northamptonshire estate.

Independent spirit

She moved with her family to Kensington Palace in 1995 but, despite finding herself back in London, the Dowager Duchess took on no more public engagements, and she officially retired at the age of 98.

Princess Alice as air chief commandant of the women's auxiliary force.
Air chief commandant of the WAAF
Despite her seclusion, Princess Alice continued to be admired, both within her family circle and by royal observers abroad. Her charity officials continued to visit her, too.

She was recognised as a spirited individual whose independence and thirst for adventure set her apart from her courtly peers, but who channelled those energies into her royal working life and helped give the Royal Family a friendly face.

Princess Alice: Your tributes
30 Oct 04  |  Have Your Say

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