27 August 2016

British princes who wanted to marry "inappropriate" women

Prince William of Gloucester (1941–1972) was the son of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (d1974) and the grandson of King George V and Queen Mary. His mother was Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, daughter of 7th Duke Buccleuch. At his baptism in Windsor Castle in 1942, his godparents included Uncle King George VI and Grandma Queen Mary.

As a grandson of the British monarch in the male line, Prince William was called His Royal Highness. His father Prince Henry was important, serving in Australia as Governor-General from 1945 until 1947. And the toddler William was close enough to Princess Eliz­abeth to be a page boy at her 1947 wedding to Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh.

Prince William was not home schooled; he received a proper education at Wellesley House Prep School, Eton College and Magdalene College Cambridge. He also did post-graduate studies at Stanford University in the USA. And he took a “proper job”, in the diplomatic service in various British embassies. When his father, the Duke of Gloucester, became frail, first-born son William left the diplomatic corps and returned to run the family estate in Britain.
Princess Margaret, Earl of Snowdon, Prince William of Gloucester and the Queen Mother
Photo credit: misshonoriaglossop

So far, so good. Spouse and I were living in the UK in the early 1970s and we knew something about the handsome young prince and his royal duties. What ordinary citizens did not know were two important things. Firstly that William had recently been diagnosed with a genetic con­dition known as porphyria (blistered skin, abdominal pain, vomiting, seizures, muscle weak­ness and mental disturbances). Although the British and other royal families had a long history coping with porphyria, William’s condition was seen to be in remission.

Secondly BBC Channel 4 released a documentary called “The Other Prince William”, shown in Britain in 2015 and in Australia in 2016. There had been a published interview in the Daily Mail with the Prince’s girlfriend as far back as 2012, but I didn’t remember that article.

Basically the BBC programme acknowledged that the girlfriend, Zsuzsi Starkloff, had enjoyed a long term love affair with the prince, dating back to their time together in Tokyo in 1968. The couple travelled extensively across America, where they did whatever they wanted, without the glare of the British royals and British newspapers spoiling their fun. It was clear that they wanted to marry, but that they were blocked from fulfilling their dreams by both The Queen Mother and Prince Phillip (but not by Queen Elizabeth). There were apparently 3 irresolvable problems:
1. Starkloff was not Church of England, but was Jewish;
2. Starkloff was an older woman who had been twice divorced and had at least one child; and
3. Starkloff was Hungarian.

Under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, anyone in the royal family had to get the monarch’s permission to marry, including Prince William. But William was 9th in line to the throne and realistically speaking, would never ever become the monarch himself! Thus the Queen’s permission for a distant cousin to marry was traditional and polite, but not very meaningful by the 1970s. And why would Hungarian citizenship have been a problem? After all, members of the British royal family had married Dutch, French, German, Czech, Spanish and Greek citizens for centuries.

The royal family refused to accept their relationship, but the documentary made it clear that the lovers kept in contact via letters, telephone calls and visits. According to Starkloff, William continued to love her, until his tragic plane accident and death in August 1972. He had been a passionate and a very experienced pilot, so did the plane crash at Wolverhampton Airport occur because of external sabotage, pilot suicide or freak accident?

I remember August 1972 with crystal clarity because of the massacre of so many young Jewish athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich. Yet I cannot remember the royals rushing back from Munich to be in London in time for Prince William’s funeral. Everyone was there in time … except for Zsuzsi Starkloff.

On William’s untimely death, his younger brother Prince Richard of Gloucester became heir-apparent.

What the documentary under-stated was the incredible closeness of Prin­ce William of Gloucester’s story (1968-72) to the story of his uncle, the former King Edward VIII and his much divorced lady love, Mrs Wallis Simpson (1936->). Edward had already become king on his father's death in early 1936. In the same year, the new king proposed marriage to Mrs Simpson, a commoner and a foreigner, with two ex-husbands still well and truly alive. Every single British citizen who had lived through the constitut­ional crisis provoked by King Edward back in 1936 would have made the link to Prince William in 1970. It had been only one generation earlier!

Prince William of Gloucester and Zsuzsi Starkloff
Tokyo 1965
Photo credit: The Telegraph

What the Daily Mail over-estimated was the international tragedy (as opposed to a personal one) that the royal family provoked with regard to Prince William and Zsuzsi Starkloff.  Their story was headed: “How the Queen sabotaged my passionate affair with her cousin: Zsuzsi Starkloff tells the story of how Prince William of Gloucester fell for her and scandalised the royals in the process".

Zsuzsi, who might have once married into the Royal Family, today lives a modest existence on a mountain-top in Colorado. She is many thousands of miles from the world and the intrigues of the House of Windsor which caused her downfall. She could have been Duchess of Gloucester, with a sprawling estate in Northamptonshire and a grace-and-favour apartment in Kensington Palace. Her natural modesty and cool good looks would have won her many admirers and a place in the nation’s heart.


Andrew said...

All over the world people of different races, different religions, different social status and ever same sex couples marry. The Royals really need updated rules, which I guess have to come from parliament. Sad for Zsuzsi, but a great story about which I knew nothing.

Joe said...

Oh for goodness sake. Ninth in line to the throne!!!!! Get over it, Prince Philip.

John Tyrrell said...

There has been a TV programme about this I seem to remember. FWIW I once dined with William's brother, the current Duke. I am sure he doesn't remember!

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, The spouses that did get approved weren't always such bargains, either! Although the attitude seems dated, it wasn't so long ago that similar proscriptive screens were instituted even for non-royal families. So much for the good old days.

Hels said...


I knew a great deal about King Edward VIII and the lady he abdicated for, Mrs Wallis Simpson. But I too knew almost nothing about Prince William of Gloucester and Zsuzsi Starkloff. I suspect the royal family might have got used to the marriage, had it eventually gone ahead. Perhaps he would have been sent out to be the Governor General of a far flung ex-colony. But the fatal accident, as horrifying as it was, nipped the problem in the bud.

Hels said...


I wonder why Queen Elizabeth didn't block the young couple's dreams of marrying, but Prince Phillip did. You would think Phillip would have had _more_ understanding of Zsuzsi's position, not less. He was from Greece and was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church. His father was the unpleasant King George I of Greece and his mother was the Olga Constantinovna of Russia, locked up in a mental asylum by her own husband.

Hels said...


was the film you saw “The Other Prince William" or a quite different film? I ask because I saw The Other Prince William and looked very carefully to see if that extraordinary plane crash was explained as external sabotage, pilot suicide or freak accident. The question was not even addressed.

Hels said...


that is so true for all families! In the royal family, they clearly knew the consequences of arranged marriages with approved spouses - just think of the German Princess Caroline of Brunswick whom he detested. Slept with her once and got her out of the court.

John Tyrrell said...

I can't remember the title of the film, or much about it to be honest. I was interested because William had preceded me a year or two at my old College, and his name was occasionally mentioned.

Hels said...


thanks anyhow. I once sat next to Boris Becker on a bar stool, while waiting for a table to be freed up. 20 minutes of great fun, but not very royal :)

bazza said...

He had real film-star looks but there is something tragic about his appearance (of course, I may be 'reading-in' that feeling). I think this story may have been somewhat suppressed; I was very vaguely aware of it and had forgotten all about it.
Incidentally, one of my favourite authors is Richard Condon who wrote the novel The Abandoned Woman about Caroline of Brunswick. He also wrote The Manchurian Candidate, Prizzi's Honor and the wonderful An Infinty of Mirrors.
Sorry - I've got carried away and gone right off topic!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hels said...


he was VERY handsome... they made a lovely couple. And I am sure the story was suppressed as much as possible *nod*. When Prince William of Gloucester was born, he was indeed 9th in line to the throne but by the time Queen Elizabeth's children started marrying and having children, Prince William's claim to the throne would have been increasingly improbable. Ever!

I didn't ever like King Edward VIII, but at least he was brave enough to sort out his own marriage plans.

Oops thanks for mentioning Caroline of Brunswick. I forgot to say which royal treated her so badly - King George IV. Sometimes arranged and approved royal marriages were a nightmare.

JahTeh said...

Prince William looked very much like his mother and her life story would make a great film.She had both boys in her 40s. The Royals picked her for Glouster thinking she would keep him out of trouble. Somewhere there must be a report on his behaviour in Australia which was atrocious but kept quiet by gagging the press.
They did it rather better in Sweden with Prince Bertil and Princess Lillian who lived together but only marrried when the present King did and had an heir. She was welcomed into the family and was much loved.
I've read a couple of books of Caroline of Brunswick and if George was uncouth, she outcouthed him.

Hels said...


I wonder if Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, was any worse than any other member of a royal family. Perhaps due to inbreeding with can think of royals with severe mental health problems, abusive or neglectful parenting, terrible diseases like haemophilia and porphyria, obscene wealth, religious crises etc etc. Since the royals are only head of state and have no political power, perhaps it doesn't matter. But as you rightly said, The Royals handpicked Princess Alice to keep Gloucester under control!!

What sad lives people had to live.

Mandy Southgate said...

What a fascinating article and the comments are equally fascinating. I do wonder what would have happened if he lived. Would they have been able to rekindle their love affair? Perhaps when Charles and Camilla finally did.

Hels said...


Had Prince William of Gloucester and Zsuzsi Starkloff been allowed to work out their own marriage plans, they might have had a very happy future together or they have have had a bitter divorce. But that option was never on offer.... because of the three problems that Prince Phillip and the Queer Mother found irresolvable: Starkloff 1] was not Church of England; 2. she a twice divorced woman with a child; and 3. she was Hungarian.

Parnassus was right to point out that similar proscriptive screens were instituted not that long ago, even for non-royal families. Was it a price worth the paying?

Anonymous said...
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Hels said...


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