The Duchess of Kent at 90: The reluctant Duchess (Part one)

katherine duchess kent
By Queensland State Archives - CC BY 3.0 au via Wikimedia Commons

The future Duchess of Kent was born Katharine Mary Lucy Worsley on 22 February 1933 as the daughter of Sir William Worsley, 4th Bt. and Joyce Brunner. She was their fourth child and first daughter.

Although the idyll of her birthplace of Hovingham Hall might easily be romanticised, Katharine was separated from her brothers during the school term as they were all sent away to boarding school. In her early years, her mother was frequently her only companion. She was just six years old when war broke out, and she found herself being fitted for a gas mask. Around this time, a governess named Miss Evelyn Brockhurst was hired to see to Katharine’s education. However, the older Miss Evelyn Brockhurst was not much of a suitable companion for the young girl. Katharine had some contact with her older cousins, but there was to be no lasting relationship. As a result, Katharine’s childhood was to be unhappily lonely, though she always had a strong bond with her father.

At the age of ten, she was finally allowed to go to a traditional boarding school, though it was not far from her home, and so she attended only during the day. At the school, Castle Howard, Katharine first glimpsed at royalty when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited with Princess Elizabeth in 1944. When the war came to an end, Katharine danced with her friends in school, but with the war now over, she was to be sent to a proper boarding school, where her older cousins also were – Runton Hill School.

Although now offered a chance to thrive away from her family, Katharine was not happy at Runton Hill. The conditions at the school were pretty basic and bleak. However, she did play lacrosse and appeared in some of the school plays and managed to open up to a few close friends. One of the girls she shared her accommodation with said, “She made the best of her time there. We all have times when we’re not happy, and she just made the best of it.”1 Her main passion was music, and she could play any song on the piano by ear. She left the school at the age of 16 with several passes and credits. She then went to Miss Hubler’s finish school in Oxford while also continuing her passion for the piano. However, she failed to get into the Royal Academy of Music, which she called “my own fault, entirely.”2 Nevertheless, these years were among the happiest of her life.

Her brothers John and Oliver escorted her to parties and the theatre, and so Katharine came in contact with the eligible young men of the 1950s. She met Andrew Burnaby-Atkins – a dashing officer who was almost 30. It turned out to be a “great love affair.”3 However, Katharine had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, and her parents rented a flat in London for her during her “coming out.” She was eventually hired, despite her lack of qualifications, as a kindergarten helper at an exclusive nursery. Her mother wanted her to be married, and preferably it should be an amazing match. It’s unclear when exactly she ended her relationship with Andrew Burnaby-Atkins, but they remained friends.

In the summer of 1956, Katharine met the Duke of Kent, who had been posted nearby. Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, was three years younger than her, and he had succeeded his father as Duke in 1942 when he was killed in a plane crash. He had been invited to lunch at Hovingham Hall by her father, and afterwards, Katharine took him to see the oil paintings, including one of hers. He reportedly told her, “Ah, Miss Worsley, it doesn’t do you justice.”4 Katharine’s mother now her grand match in her sights.

Edward became a frequent visitor to Hovingham Hall, and Katharine found herself receiving invitations from other members of the royal family. Edward’s mother, Princess Marina, was less than pleased with the match as she would have preferred some European princess for her son. The romance progressed quietly, and Katharine was the only outsider to be invited to Edward’s sister’s 21st birthday party. Shortly after Katharine’s 25th birthday, Edward told his mother that he wanted to marry her, but Princess Marina told him no. She worried that Katharine would not be up to royal life, and Katharine shared those worries. For now, the wedding plans were shelved as Prince Edward was set to go to Germany for two years. Princess Marina told them not to have any contact for at least a year to be sure that they wished to marry. But as Prince Edward went to Germany, media attention on Katharine intensified.

Read part two here.

  1. The Duchess of Kent: the troubled life of Katharine Worsley by Mary Riddell p.51
  2. The Duchess of Kent: the troubled life of Katharine Worsley by Mary Riddell p.58
  3. The Duchess of Kent: the troubled life of Katharine Worsley by Mary Riddell p.62
  4. The Duchess of Kent: the troubled life of Katharine Worsley by Mary Riddell p.75

About Moniek Bloks 2593 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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