Let’s be honest: When it comes to members of Britain’s royal family, there’s no shortage of bizarre behavior. Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, is no exception. From his awkward childhood to his scandalous first love to his devastating end, this minor royal was a major misfit. So, does Henry’s drama stack up with the likes of Edward VIII, Princess Di, and Meghan Markle? That’s up to you to decide.
1. He May Have Had Fangs
Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, was born on March 31, 1900. His father was about to become the King of England and his mother? She had a rather eerie history. It turns out that Mary of Teck—Henry’s mother—descended from Romania’s Vlad the Impaler who, as you may recall, was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
I’m not saying that Henry slept in a coffin—but I’m also not saying he didn’t.
2. He Came In Fifth
When Prince Henry was born, his great-grandmother Victoria, was queen. There were, however, quite a few steps between him and becoming the reigning monarch—four to be exact. His grandfather, father, and two older brothers all stood in line to be king before Henry did. But it’s maybe a good thing he didn’t stand a chance…
As a child, Henry exhibited a few…”eccentricities” that would make him, if he ever got the chance, a very peculiar king.
3. He Suffered
Along with his older brother Albert, Henry had knock knees—which means his knees knocked together even when his ankles were wide apart. Nowadays, we let this condition heal itself. Henry was forced to try a more painful solution: leg splints. This cruel form of therapy could certainly explain one of Henry’s other peculiarities: spontaneous fits of crying. On the other hand, Henry’s uncontrollable giggling had no rational explanation.
Sure, he was a nervous and strange little boy, but things got even more awkward when he opened his mouth.
4. His Voice Was…Er…Unique
Henry couldn’t properly pronounce the letter “R,” also known as rhotacism. Henry’s “Rs” ended up as “Ws,” leaving him sounding something akin to Elmer Fudd chasing after the “wascally wabbit.” In addition to rhotacism, Henry’s voice was high-pitched and he suffered from a nasal lisp. The poor kid had a voice for a career as a mime.
Henry was obviously suffering, but it didn’t stop there.
5. He Got Special Treatment
In addition to his leg and voice troubles, Henry was in poor health. He was small for his age, and he tended to get very aggressive colds. Henry’s father, Prince George, told his tutor to give Henry special treatment because he was fragile and not like his older brothers—who weren’t models of virility themselves. The tutor obliged, but his parents still expressed great concern for Henry’s health.
That’s when the tutor came up with a totally unorthodox solution.
6. He Was The First
Henry’s tutor had a crazy plan to cure poor Henry of his woes. Well, it was only crazy if you were a royal. He approached Henry’s father, now the king, and suggested something outrageous: Henry should attend…school! Until this time, royal children didn’t go to school, but the tutor thought that being in the mix with other children would help Henry act more like a typical kid.
Sending this vulnerable child to school seemed a little like throwing the boy to the wolves. The results, however, were not what you’d expect.
7. He Transformed
Henry attended the school for just three days before something shocking happened. Henry’s tutor noticed something he hadn’t seen much before: little Henry was smiling. On the tutor’s advice, the king quickly signed Henry up for full-on boarding school. That’s when Henry’s transformation began. He excelled at math and athletics, and finally started to come out of his shell.
But there was still one problem: The school thought Henry was a bit of a dim bulb.
8. He Did His Best
As mentioned, Henry was the first member of the royal family to attend school, so it was not surprising that he missed his family when he was away—especially his mother. To combat his homesickness, Henry was pretty diligent about writing letters. Being a teenager—and not the brightest one—he didn’t have much to write about. So, Henry blissfully wrote rather dull and detailed descriptions of his cricket and football matches.
Mom’s reply, however, was completely cold-hearted.
9. He Got A Poor Response
Henry spent hours writing long letters about his favorite pastime: playing sports. At first his mom—the queen consort don’t forget—had patience with the letters and read them through to the end. After a while, she’d finally had her fill. She picked up her own pen and wrote back to Henry and told him to stop writing letters about sports. She went on to say she was “heartily sick” of them.
This letter from his mother likely broke Henry’s heart—so instead of writing about sports, he just did them. The results of this change were soon very visible.
10. He Exceeded Them
When Henry was 19 years old he met up with his brothers for studies at Trinity College, Cambridge. When the brothers saw little Henry, they couldn’t believe their eyes: Whereas before their younger brother had been frail and smaller than his siblings, he was now taller and more sturdy than all of them. Through sports, Henry had grown up strong and tall.
It was a good thing too, because his next role would push his physical limits.
11. He Wanted Something Different
Henry was quickly becoming known for making odd choices. So, when it came time to join the Royal Navy like a good prince, Henry zagged and joined the Army instead. It wasn’t long before he had begun making his way swiftly up the ranks. I’m sure none of that had to do with the fact that he was a prince.
But while he enjoyed his rise up the ladder, there was one thing Henry really wanted to do: He wanted to see battle. He wanted to be a real soldier. Careful what you wish for, Hank.
12. He Wanted To Fight
Members of the royal family could not participate in any battles—unless they were on the sports field. But playing sports wasn’t satisfying Henry’s desire to experience the real thing. Soon, Henry had reached the rank of major, and yet he still hadn’t seen any actual fighting. The more he wanted to, the more his fellow officers teased him about it.
It was then that he got his embarrassing nickname.
13. His Nickname Stuck
Henry was desperate to be a soldier and fight alongside his fellow servicemen. Of course, being a member of the royal family forbade him from putting himself in any danger, but it didn’t forbid his fellow officers from coming up with a rather cruel nickname for him: the unknown soldier. Yes, Henry couldn’t fire away at enemy officers, but he could fire at something else.
14. He Went On The Hunt
If they wouldn’t let Henry fire at the enemy, he decided that he’d fire at something else: wild game. Henry and his brother Edward headed off to Africa to go on a safari, but they found more than just trophies for their wall. In Africa, Henry learned he liked another kind of game: the pursuit of women. Henry first laid eyes on adventurer Beryl Markham in Nairobi and he was dumbstruck.
Unfortunately for poor Henry, Beryl already had a husband. So Henry came up with a plan…
15. She Followed HIm
Some say Henry’s affair with Markham started in Africa while others say it started later, back in England. You see Henry and Albert had to suddenly leave Africa and return home as their father had a health crisis. Once Henry was out of Africa, Beryl Markham did something scandalous: She quietly followed him a short time later—leaving her husband behind.
But how was an affair even possible when Henry was such a public figure? Well, when it comes to royals, almost anything is possible.
16. He Hosted Lavish Parties
London’s Grosvenor Hotel became the place for Henry’s cavorting with Beryl. But it wasn’t just Henry and Beryl sneaking off for a few hours alone. It was so much more scandalous than that. Henry hosted lavish parties in her suite, and he and Beryl’s affair became widely known in London Society. What’s worse, the hotel Henry chose was just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.
What was he thinking? This couldn’t end well…
17. They Came Up With A Plan
Of course, the queen found out about Henry and Beryl before long. She immediately exploded and tore a strip off of him in front of all the servants. Ok, that’s not quite what she did. She was a reserved British lady after all! Instead, she spoke to her husband and they came up with a sneaky plan. They’d create a bunch of bogus royal duties for Henry and make sure they would take him as far from Beryl as he could possibly be.
Maybe they didn’t know the old adage: absence makes the heart grow fonder.
18. They Sent Him Away
The king and queen made the next few years busy ones for Henry. In 1929 he was in Japan to give an award to the emperor. The next year it was a coronation in Ethiopia. His parents then sent him even further away: to both Australia and New Zealand. The plan was working: Henry had almost no time to see his beloved Beryl.
What the King and Queen didn’t know, however, was that the affair had already ended. Oops.
19. He Received A Threat
When Henry had returned from his trip to Japan, he found a chilling surprise waiting for him: a threat from Beryl’s husband. You see, Mansfield Markham had found out about the affair, and he wanted a divorce. This should have been good news for Henry as he could finally have Beryl all for himself. Except for one thing: Beryl’s husband would do anything to make sure that didn’t happen.
20. He Had To Pay Hush Money
Sure Beryl’s husband wanted a divorce, but he didn’t want Henry to have his wife either. He said he would take the love letters Henry had written to Beryl and do his worst with them: He’d hand them over to the press. What did Markham want in return? He wanted Henry to end his affair, sure, but that wasn’t all. He also wanted Henry to pay up.
21. He Took Care Of Her
Surprisingly, Markham’s threat to Henry actually had a romantic side to it. He didn’t want the money for himself, he wanted Henry to take care of Beryl financially for the rest of her life. You see, even though he didn’t want to be with Beryl, he still was looking out for her well-being. Henry took the threat seriously. He stopped seeing Beryl, and he set up a trust for her.
This left Henry single and, to be honest, a little hesitant to mingle.
22. She Couldn’t Refuse
With Beryl out of the way, Henry’s parents began pressuring him to find a wife. Henry had probably learned a valuable lesson: royalty didn’t marry for love. With this in mind, he took to selecting his future wife, which means he proposed to the first woman within eye-shot. It ended up being his best’s friend’s sister, Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott. Henry’s proposal was, as she later would dryly remark, “not at all romantic.”
So, why did she say yes to this strange man with the equally strange voice? Who says no to the life of a princess living in a castle?
23. They Got Downgraded
Henry’s betrothed was in for a very rude awakening. First of all, her 1935 wedding ceremony received a downgrade: from Westminster Abbey to an ordinary chapel on the Buckingham Palace grounds. And then, once she was Henry’s wife, I’m sure she expected to live in a castle of some sort. Well, think again Alice. This wasn’t some princess story out of a fairy tale. This was life with Henry.
24. She Didn’t Get Her Castle
When Henry presented the home that they would live in, Lady Alice must have had trouble hiding her disappointment. Sure the name, The Royal Pavilion, sounded grand enough. And it was large, she couldn’t complain about that. It’s just that it was without any decoration whatsoever. It was simply a series of bland wooden boxes, many described as the most unpretentious of all the royal residences.
On the plus side, it had a lovely view…of the barracks.
25. They May Have Been Cursed
Henry and Alice had very good reason to think their wedding had a curse. Alice’s father had passed a few weeks before the nuptials. Then Henry’s father, in a sad coincidence, walked into his bedroom just a few weeks after and never came out again. It was a simple cold that got him. Now, there was a plus side, but you really have to look for it. With Henry’s father’s passing, Henry was one step closer to being King.
Next in line was Henry’s older brother Edward, but Henry would soon be busy with a new job of his own.
26. They Got Right Down To Work
One of the many tedious duties of any newlywed royal was the chore of making babies. Henry and Princess Alice pushed their sleeves up and got right down to the job. The couple’s first attempt ended in tragedy: Alice suffered a miscarriage. Not to be put off the task, Henry and Alice continued trying and a second conception was successful. It seemed that all would be well in the nursery—until the couple got more bad news.
27. A Second Tragedy
Henry and Lady Alice’s second attempt at having a child had the same result as the first: a miscarriage. Henry and Alice were distraught, as it was hugely important for them to have heirs who could potentially end up on the throne. Then, in 1941, there was a miracle: Alice gave birth to a son and the royal family let out a sigh of relief. Finally, something was going right!
The reign of Henry’s brother, on the other hand, had scandal written all over it.
28. He Inched Closer
Henry’s brother Edward did not take well to being king. In fact, he hated it. To make matters worse, he’d proposed to a divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Now that, the royal family absolutely would not stand for. Henry watched as his brother struggled to choose between being the king and following his heart to be with the woman he loved.
There was still one brother between Henry and becoming the King. But if Edward fell, Henry would be one step closer.
29. He Chose Love
After only 326 days as King, Henry’s brother Edward had made his decision. He nervously told the British public that he had chosen love. He would marry Simpson and step down from the throne. The British people reeled in alarm. Luckily, there was Henry’s big brother Albert to step onto the throne. But what did this mean for our Henry?
Well, at birth he was fifth in line to be King. Now he was in the batting cage. Or was he?
30. He Was The Man Who Wouldn’t Be King
You’d think that because Henry was the next brother, he would also be the next king—but it didn’t work out that way. You see, the new king already had children and, once they were adults, one of them would carry out the duties as the head honcho of Buckingham Palace. If the king passed before the children were adults, Henry would be regent ruler until they came of age.
Only time would tell if Henry got a chance to take the throne. In the meantime, he had something more pressing to deal with: His brother’s newly inflated head.
31. The Party Was Over
Henry’s older brother, the new king, had once been pretty friendly with him, and they’d had a lot of fun together. But now all that had to stop. On the first day of his new reign, the king told Henry that the fun was over, and he would have to “pull himself together.” Henry absolutely heard what his brother was saying and promptly took up a new hobby: drinking expensive scotch.
32. He Had An Insatiable Desire
Henry’s love of drinking scotch became nothing short of unquenchable. It got so bad that when Henry came over for visits with the king and his wife, they had to make an odd request: They asked him to please bring his own scotch as they couldn’t afford to supply him with enough to satisfy his needs. I can relate to a love of a glass of fine scotch, but this next dispute with the king is definitely for the birds.
33. Two Were Missing
Even though they’d been close before, Henry now had to be very careful around his newly crowned brother. For example, Henry and the King once went hunting together at Balmoral Castle. The king gave Henry the rather simple task of counting how many birds they’d shot down. When the king got home, he noticed an error—two birds were missing.
The ling flew into a rage and called the staff to figure out the whereabouts of the two missing birds.
34. He Received A Warning
The staff was likely trembling at the King’s anger—especially because it was just about two bird carcasses. One brave member of the staff cautiously suggested checking with Henry. Maybe he was responsible for the missing birds? When the King did call, Henry confessed that he had taken two birds, but didn’t think it was a big deal. The king assured Henry that it indeed was a big deal, and he gave his younger brother a stern warning: Never take a single bird again.
It seemed that Henry needed a little distance from his power-mad brother. Luckily, WWII stepped in to provide it. OK, maybe not “luckily,” but you get the idea.
35. He Was On A Secret Mission
When WWII broke out, Britain needed Henry in France. As was his duty, he was supposed to boost morale and provide a first-hand account of the events on the front. Then, when Belgium was about to wave the white flag, Henry received a secret mission: Make a clandestine trip to Belgium in order to talk the Belgian king out of surrendering.
Henry and his brother-in-law left their hotel under the cover of darkness and rushed to meet the king. The night, however, did not play out as they planned…
36. His Hotel Was In The Cross-Hairs
While Henry was meeting with the King of Belgium, tragedy struck. The very hotel that Henry had been staying at exploded in the night, the result of a German attack. Numerous guests at the hotel lost their lives—including those in rooms right next to Henry’s. If Henry hadn’t been on his secret mission in Belgium, he may have lost his life.
But Henry’s close calls weren’t over yet.
37. He Caught Fire
While Henry was rushing back to France, he and his brother-in-law had another brush with death. As they drove through the town of Tournai, more German bombs started to fall on them. Soon, their car caught fire in the attack. The two men raced into an alley, stopped the car, and jumped out to their safety. They were alive, but seriously shaken up.
Now Henry had survived two near misses in a matter of hours. The royal family back home was terrified—so they did something drastic.
38. They Sent Him Away Again
After these two horrifying events, Henry’s family brought him back to the relative safety of England—but then inexplicably sent him away again. This time his posts were in India, East Africa, and the Middle East. But there was a new wrinkle in Henry’s life: He was still getting used to being a father to young William. These new missions had the possibility of being dangerous, and Henry faced a new kind of worry: that his son would end up fatherless.
39. He Lost A Loved One
Henry must have had four-leaf clovers in his blood—but his other family members weren’t so lucky. In 1942, while Henry was still on his overseas mission, a terrible tragedy struck the royal family. Henry’s younger brother, the Duke of Kent, was in a plane on its way to Iceland. For unknown reasons, the plane crashed, and it proved fatal for the Duke and all but one of the other passengers.
After that, his family couldn’t risk losing another prince. No more missions for Henry.
40. They Weren’t Overly Fond
With all that happened to Henry in WWII, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that the king next sent him to a place far from European dangers: Australia. The post, originally meant for Henry’s now-deceased brother, was that of Governor-General. Ten years earlier, Henry had visited the land down under and, due to his social awkwardness, had not made much of an impression in the land of Vegemite sandwiches.
Well, now the pressure was on. Henry had to find a way to win over the Aussies.
41. He Left A Gift
Henry was not one to try very hard to please anyone—not something unheard of when it came to royals. While he was in Australia, he kept himself and his wife busy in a peculiar way. Instead of enjoying the national pastimes of bushwalking and barbecuing, Henry and his wife flew over everyone in their own private plane.
When Henry left the post two years into it, he did something surprising: He left his plane as a gift. Great, now what am I going to do with a plane?!
42. He Was Next In Line
While he was in Australia, Henry’s brother, King George VI, was not in good health. He had lung cancer, and, in true royal fashion, quite the assortment of other ailments. When he passed, Henry would be next in line for the coveted spot as the King of England—at least, he’d get to keep the throne warm. Let’s not forget that the King had children and, even though they were girls, they would take the spot if their father lived until they were adults.
43. It Was Him Or Her
When the king finally passed, at the youthful age of 56, the throne was suddenly vacant. Would the replacement be Henry, or would it be the king’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth? I think you know the answer. The powers that be made their decision: Elizabeth was old enough to take the throne and Henry, well, Henry had lost his final chance at being King.
Sadly, it was just downhill from there.
44. His Driving Needed Some Work
Alice did not usually trust her husband’s driving, and was always at the ready to grab the steering wheel—or put her foot on the brake—in case her husband lost control of the vehicle. One of the reasons Alice didn’t trust Henry’s driving was because he sometimes fell asleep at the wheel. In 1965, while they were returning home from Winston Churchill’s funeral, Henry did actually lose control of the Rolls Royce he was driving.
Luckily Alice was at his side to save them from crashing. Or was she?
45. He Flew Out The Door
Henry had lost control of the Rolls Royce, and it was up to Alice to save the day. There was only one problem: Alice had fallen asleep in the passenger seat. The car swerved and left the road only to land in a cabbage patch. Alice stayed in the car, but Henry went flying through the open door, where there was nothing between him and a crash landing.
46. It Could Have Been Worse
There was good news and bad news for Henry following his crash in the Rolls Royce. The good news was that he landed in a bunch of bushes, which is better than a pile of rocks. The bad news was that the bushes were thorny brambles and, worse yet, stinging nettle. Henry was definitely roughed up, and Alice had injuries to her face.
The worst news of the day, however, was what had actually caused the accident.
47. He Had A Stroke Of Bad Luck
The reason Henry had crashed the car was a doozy: He’d had a major stroke while driving. Sadly, this stroke was just the first of many. The end result was life in a wheelchair and the loss of speech. Because of this incapacity, Henry was dependent on his wife Alice for everything. Alice took to the role gladly—until she came across a bizarre situation she had no idea how to handle.
48. They Faced A Devastating Loss
In August of 1972, Henry and Alice’s oldest son William was competing in the Goodyear International Air Trophy when a terrible accident occurred. William’s plane hit a tree, crashed to the ground, and burst into flames. William had no chance of survival and Alice got the terrible news straight away. Alice was in shock, but then something occurred to her: Should she keep this news to herself?
49. She Didn’t Tell
Alice saw the condolences pouring in for the loss of her and Henry’s son. But she did something she thought was for the best: She didn’t tell her husband. Henry continued to live in his wheelchair, blissfully ignorant of his son’s tragic end. She kept her secret from her husband, but it backfired horribly: He heard about it by chance on the TV news. Yikes!
50. He Followed His Son
Two years after his son’s fatal accident, Henry also passed. The man, who had been so weak and vulnerable as a child, ended up outliving all of his brothers and even his sister. Henry’s wife went on to outdo her husband. She set a record as being the oldest living member of the royal family at the time of her passing—it was 2004 and she was 102.