At the time of Henry’s birth, he was fifth in the line of succession to the throne, behind his grandfather, father and two elder brothers. Henry was born with knock knees which meant he had to wear painful splints, and like his older brother, Albert, he had a speech disorder which left him unable to pronounce the “r” letter. Henry also had a lisp and a nervous condition which led to spontaneous fits of crying or giggling. Henry’s poor health was of grave concern to his parents who mollycoddled him, however they were persuaded to send him to school to build his character. Henry had the distinction of being the first son of a British monarch to attend school when he was enrolled at St. Peter’s Court in Broadstairs as a day boy, however he loved it so much he soon became a boarder.
In September 1913, Henry started at Eton College where he did not excel academically but his nervous disposition improved greatly and he made a lot of new friends due to his love for sports, especially football and cricket. Henry, always small and fragile, developed into a robust young man who surpassed his brothers in height. Henry and Albert were allowed to attend Trinity College in Cambridge for a year, however the king restricted their activities so they wouldn’t mix with the wrong sort.
After graduation, Henry chose to join the army and he entered Sandhurst in 1919 where he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Though Henry wanted to see action as a soldier, his position as a senior member of the royal family effectively ruled out any such options. Henry was promoted to captain on 11 May 1927, and was appointed a personal aide-de-camp to his father on 2 August 1929. In May 1925, Henry was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Gloucestershire Regiment upon his father’s Silver Jubilee, and when his older brother, David, became Edward VIII, he was appointed a personal aide-de-camp to him and then to George VI when he took over.
In September 1928, Henry and David travelled on an expedition to Africa where Henry met Beryl Markham, a British-born Kenyan aviator who was married to film producer Mansfield Markham. Henry and Beryl were soon embroiled in a love affair although there is a difference of opinion over whether the affair began in Africa or back in England. As the king’s health deteriorated, both princes were ordered to return home and Beryl followed them taking residence at the Grosvenor Hotel. The affair between Henry and Beryl soon became common knowledge in London society and when the news reached Queen Mary – she was shocked. The king took matters into his own hands and arranged for Henry to undertake a series of foreign tours which would keep him busy.
When Henry returned to England in 1929, Beryl’s husband had filed for divorce and threatened to make Henry’s private letters to Beryl public if he did not agree to look after her. The affair ended and Henry never saw Beryl again, although he continued to pay a stipend to her death in 1985. Under increasing pressure from his parents, Henry decided it was time to settle down and he proposed to Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott, sister of one of his best friends. The wedding was due to take place at Westminster Abbey on 6 November 1935, however it was moved to the Private Chapel at Buckingham Palace when Alice’s father died shortly beforehand.
After the abdication of Edward VIII in December 1936, he was succeeded by Albert, Duke of York, who took the regnal name of George VI, and Henry became the first adult in the line of succession. While Albert had two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, both were still young and Henry would have to act as regent in the event his brother died before Elizabeth came of age. As a result, Henry was not allowed to leave England in the king’s absence and his official duties increased curbing the freedom he had been enjoying.
During the Second World War, Henry joined the British Expeditionary Force, and was appointed as a Chief Liaison Officer on 4 September 1939. In January 1940, he was appointed to the colonelcies of the Ulster Anti-Aircraft Regiments, the Royal Artillery and the Territorial Army where he was slightly wounded when his staff car was attacked from the air. In August 1940, he was appointed Chief Liaison Officer and became second-in-command of the 20th Armoured Brigade before being promoted to lieutenant-general on 17 September 1941. On 27 October 1944, he was promoted to the rank of full general.
When the Duke of Kent died in a plane crash in August 1942, the king decided Henry would not be sent on any further missions that could prove dangerous. Henry was appointed Governor-General of Australia in 1944 and he travelled extensively throughout the country with Alice. Henry returned to England in March 1947 after which he served in the office of Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
After the death of George VI, Henry continued to perform official duties on behalf of his niece, Elizabeth II, including overseas tours, however they were soon curtailed by ill health. Henry suffered his first stroke in 1965 while returning from the funeral of Winston Churchill which resulted in a car crash. Henry continued to suffer from a series of strokes which eventually left him paralysed and unable to speak. Henry was so fragile, Alice could not bear to tell him the news when their eldest son, William, was killed in a plane crash in 1972. When Henry died on 10 June 1974, he was last surviving child of George V and Queen Mary. He was buried in the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore.