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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August, 2003, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
The longest-lived Royal in history
By Andrew Walker
BBC News Profiles Unit

Princess Alice has equalled the age to which the late Queen Mother lived - 101 years and 238 days - making her the oldest ever member of the Royal Family.

Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester
Princess Alice: Artistic Duchess at the heart of the monarchy
HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, has enjoyed a remarkably full life darkened by tragedy. Though no longer in the public eye, she remains a member of the Royal Family's inner circle.

She is, perhaps, the last Edwardian: the final echo of a world, and social order, now long-gone.

Lady Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas Scott, third daughter of the seventh Duke of Buccleuch, was born on Christmas Day 1901, at Montagu House, the family's vast London residence overlooking the River Thames.

Edward VII was on the throne, his mother, Queen Victoria, having died the previous February. The Boer War was at its height and Lord Salisbury, the architect of the UK's then policy of "splendid isolation", was prime minister.

The young Lady Alice enjoyed a privileged upbringing. The family owned four houses in London, Northamptonshire and Scotland and travelled between them throughout the year, carrying as much as eight tons of luggage.

The baby Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott (front)
The baby Lady Alice with her family
She kept a pet dormouse which lived in her pockets; and doted on her father, an outgoing man who she said was "very knowledgeable on all sorts of subjects".

Educated by governesses, she joined the social whirl at the age of 18 when she "came out" as a debutante and enjoyed parties, dinners and balls. But she found such dilettantism "pointless and boring" and left the UK to spend time abroad.

Married at the Palace

It was during her travels, which included spells in Kenya, India and Afghanistan, that Lady Alice developed her artistic skills, eventually becoming an accomplished and stylish watercolourist.

The Duke and Duchess's wedding  photograph
She married in 1935
By the age of 34, having decided that she had had, as she later recalled, "a good innings", Lady Alice decided to settle down.

After initially spurning him, she married Prince Henry, third son of the then king, George V, in November 1935

The nuptials, celebrated in the chapel of Buckingham Palace, were attended by the King, Queen Mary, the future Kings Edward VIII and George VI and the future Queen Elizabeth, later to be known as the Queen Mother.

As Duchess of Gloucester, Princess Alice took her public duties seriously. As well as serving as patrons of many organisations, she and her husband undertook engagements throughout the British Empire.

In 1945, she and the Duke arrived in Australia, where he was Governor-General. With their young sons, Princes William and Richard, they spent two hectic years there, travelling 67,000 miles on official duties.

Still working in old age

Travelling back from Sir Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965, the pair were involved in a serious car crash, after which the Duke suffered a number of strokes. He died in 1974.

A recent photograph of the Duchess
A recent photograph of the Duchess
Two years before the Duke's death, there had been another family tragedy: their eldest son Prince William - a keen pilot - was killed in a dramatic crash at an air show. His brother Richard succeeded to the title on his father's death.

But despite her obvious grief, Princess Alice continued to carry out official engagements for organisations as diverse as the Red Cross, Gloucester Three Choirs Festival and the King's Own Scottish Borderers well into old age.

Since 1995, when infirmity and spiralling costs forced her to move from her Northamptonshire home, Barnwell Manor, the princess has lived with the present Duke and his family at Kensington Palace.

Though today a frail figure and slightly forgetful, Princess Alice is the last link to a vanished - some would say simpler - age, when the Royal Navy ruled the waves and the monarchy's place in the order of things was unquestioned.




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