In response, she left the country. Katharine took a friend with her to Canada, and they planned a trip by greyhound bus to Mexico. She briefly took a job in a Canadian department store to save up more money for the trip. As she eventually reached her final destination, a bouquet of flowers was waiting for her. The card simply read “E.” Upon her return, it became clear that the wedding was to go ahead despite everyone’s reservations. Princess Marina began to train her future daughter-in-law for the life that lay ahead. For a final huzzah, Katharine escaped to Rome for the 1960 Olympics.
On 1 January 1961, the Duke of Kent proposed to Katharine in the library at Hovingham Hall with a ring of sapphire and diamonds. He requested and received official permission from Queen Elizabeth II. A friend of the Duke later said, “I suspect she undertook the marriage partly out of a sense of duty. [..] I suspect she had no wish to enter into the royal world of protocol. She would have been happier with a good county marriage.”1
On 8 June 1961, Katharine walked down the aisle of York Minster to marry the Duke of Kent. Her gown was commissioned from John Cavanagh, and it was made of more than 250 yards of white silk gauze. She wore pearls, which were a gift from her parents. She had a long veil that fell over her 15-foot train, which was held down with a bandeau of diamonds. Princess Anne was her chief bridesmaid. She emerged as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Kent. Just a few hours later, she was reportedly in tears, fearing that she had made a terrible mistake.
The newlyweds moved into Coppins, which had been vacated by her mother-in-law. By Christmas, it was apparent that Katharine was pregnant with her first child. On 26 June 1962, she gave birth to a son named George Philip Nicolas, who went by the courtesy title of Earl of St Andrews. Not much later, the Duke and Duchess went to Uganda for their independence celebrations. Although she had never been an extraordinary student, she now “did her homework.”2 From then on, she was always impeccably prepared for all engagements.
Not much later, Prince Edward was posted to Hong Kong, and Katharine and their son travelled with him. In the autumn of 1963, Katharine fell pregnant with her second child, just as Edward was posted to Germany. Katharine chose to have the baby in the UK, where three other royal women were also pregnant. Queen Elizabeth II was pregnant with Prince Andrew, Princess Margaret was pregnant with Lady Sarah, and Princess Alexandra was pregnant with James. On 29 April 1964, Katharine gave birth to a daughter named Helen Marina Lucy. As the daughter of a Duke, she carried the courtesy title of Lady. Prince Edward had arrived home just in time for the birth. Her recovery after the birth was slow and perhaps hinted at some kind of postpartum depression. During these years, Katharine lived mainly as an officer’s wife, though they were sometimes called upon to carry out engagements.
On 27 August 1968, her mother-in-law Princess Marina died at Kensington Palace of a brain tumour. Katharine’s relationship with Marina had been complicated, but now she inherited her work. She took on several new patronages and offices, and the number of royal engagements now filled her diary. In 1969, she and her husband headed to Australia, New Guinea, the British Solomons and the New Hebrides, but by Perth, the strain on Katharine’s health was already becoming clear. Nevertheless, she brushed it off and carried on. At the end of the year, her third pregnancy was confirmed. On 25 July 1970, she gave birth to a second son named Nicholas Charles Edward Jonathan. As the second son of a Duke, he carried the courtesy title of Lord. The following year, they sold Coppins and moved into York House.
Katharine desperately longed for more children, and she finally fell pregnant again in 1975. However, on 30 April 1975, newspapers reported that Katharine had fallen ill with German measles. This, combined with an early pregnancy, could cause damage to the unborn child, such as defects to the heart, brain and eyes. Princess Christina of the Netherlands was born blind in one eye and with cataracts in the other eye following her mother’s infection with measles. Often, the mother would suffer a miscarriage. Katharine was advised by her doctors to have an abortion, but she turned to the church for a second opinion. They told her that if the medical advice was to have an abortion, she would be committing no fault. In the end, she chose abortion.
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