Revealed: The secret illegitimate brother of the Queen's cousin who never got over the pain of not knowing his real parents
- Duke of Kent, 77 has two 'official' siblings- Michael of Kent and Princess Alexandra
- Illegitimate brother born to Violet Evans, daughter of a Canadian coal merchant
- The child, Michael, was adopted by US publisher Cass Canfield
- Went on to marry Lee Bouvier, Jackie Kennedy's sister but was plagued by drinking problems
Though the nation waits in eager anticipation for the arrival of the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby - with Zara Phillips also expecting in the New Year - not all royal births have been greeted with similar delight.
Nobody knows this better, perhaps, than the Duke of Kent, that venerable royal whose duty it was to present Andy Murray with his Wimbledon trophy last weekend.
A very busy royal, the Duke also took the place of a convalescing Prince Philip at the Queen’s side at the Trooping the Colour ceremony last month.
Relations: The current Duke of Kent, 77 (left) is said to have feared his illegitimate half-brother Michael Canfield (right) would become known to the public
Father: Prince George, Duke of Kent was said to act like a greyhound in his pursuit of women
A first cousin of the Sovereign, he is the very model of a second-rank royal - dutiful, self-effacing, hard-working and loyal.
In all his 77 years he has never put a foot wrong. Yet, I can reveal that for decades he lived in the fear that the secret of an illegitimate half-brother would become public and risk denting that diligent reputation.
Officially, the Duke, whose father died in 1942, has two siblings — the high-profile Prince Michael of Kent, and the lesser-known Princess Alexandra.
But he had another brother — born out of wedlock to a Canadian society girl befriended by his father.
This child’s birth was elaborately concealed and his adoption and exile to America were to remain a closely-guarded secret.
For years rumours have swirled about the Duke’s father — Prince George, Duke of Kent, younger brother to King Edward VIII and King George VI — suggesting that he had fathered a love-child with his long-time mistress Alice ‘Kiki’ Gwynne, a glamorous but drug-addicted American socialite who was a member of Kenya’s notorious Happy Valley set.
The truth, though, is a little different, and much more fascinating.
Although before she married an American writer, Kiki may have suffered the miscarriage of a child who could have been George’s, the Prince became much more dangerously entangled with another woman.
She was Violet Isobel Christine Evans, the daughter of a Canadian coal merchant.
While still young, her parents divorced and her mother Maud married a distinguished Canadian soldier, Brigadier Charles Stephen, who took his adoptive family to England.
They settled in Kent where Violet and her brother William were privately educated.
As part of his schooling, William was sent to the Royal Naval College at Osborne on the Isle of Wight where a fellow cadet was Prince George, the third son of George V.
Both then moved to the senior naval college at Dartmouth in Devon where, at a dance, William’s sister Violet, a nervy but pretty blue-eyed brunette, first set eyes on the man who was to become her lover.
Nothing happened between the pair then. Indeed, the highly-sexed and handsome Prince set off like a greyhound in pursuit of other women.
But in 1924 he met up again with Violet, who by this time was dating a dashing cavalry officer called Ian Karslake, who had also been at Osborne and Dartmouth with the Prince.
With Violet in tow, he became part of George’s London set.
Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before the lubricious Prince was making covetous eyes at his friend’s girlfriend. The inevitable occurred.
Then, in the first weeks of 1926, Violet confessed to Karslake that she was pregnant.
With the paternity of the baby unclear, the cavalryman could have abandoned her, but instead took the honourable course and proposed marriage.
This was a bold decision considering that, in the view of his brother-officers in the 11th Hussars, doing something as vulgar as getting your girlfriend pregnant was just ‘not done’.
Loyal: The Duke of Kent is the very model of a low-key, dutiful royal. He accompanied the Queen to the Trooping of the Colour last month
Womaniser: Prince George, Duke of Kent (far left and right) is believed to have had a child with Violet Evans, the daughter of a Canadian coal miner, while he was married to Marina, the Duchess of Kent (pictured left)
He resigned from the Army and quietly married Violet at Hanover Square register office in London on March 3, 1926.
The marriage was the act of a decent and forgiving man, but from the outset Karslake had no intention of bringing up a child he believed was not his.
To spare everyone’s blushes he sent his new wife to Switzerland for the summer so that nobody would witness her burgeoning figure.
Karslake joined her, and the baby was duly born on August 20 in a private nursing home in Bern.
The birth certificate gives his name as ‘Antoine’ and the parents are listed as Violet Christine Karslake and Ian Reginald Gilfrid Karslake.
The couple stayed in Switzerland while making plans. They hired a nanny, Bertha Lutz, to look after the child, but decided to return to England where Violet made a mournful visit to the newly-established Adoption Society where she arranged to give away her son.
Whoever the identity of the father, the financial circumstances of the Karslakes suddenly improved.
Of course it is impossible to say if either of them approached anyone at Buckingham Palace to suggest that Prince George may have been the father of Violet’s child, but their lifestyle changed dramatically.
Adoption: Cass Canfield, an American publisher adopted the child, changing his name from Anthony Karslake to Michael Canfield
For the next few years, they led a peripatetic life - buying and selling houses, jumping on transatlantic liners when the fancy took them, and living the life of very rich people.
They took a house in Montreal, followed almost immediately by a bigger one. They also acquired a lakeside retreat at North Hatley, 100 miles east. They bought and sold and they kept moving.
It was almost as if they were a couple on the run.
To Karslake, a former Household Cavalry officer used to a life of discipline, living with an increasingly volatile Violet, and working as a bank clerk, was a struggle.
Soon Violet wanted to travel the globe again. She started in Bermuda, crossed the Atlantic to England, then onto Port Said in Egypt, back across the ocean to Buenos Aires, dropping in to New York in between times. She spent money compulsively.
Sometimes her husband accompanied her, sometimes he did not.
Eventually the couple moved back to England, acquiring several houses — in Tisbury, Wiltshire and Knightsbridge and Mayfair in Central London.
Despite such an opulent lifestyle, no one seemed to question where all the money had come from.
Meanwhile, what had happened to the baby Violet had given away?
Cass Canfield was an American-born publisher based in London whose authors included Arnold Bennett and J.B. Priestley. The son of an immensely wealthy engineer, he inherited $20 million on his father’s death and had no need to work.
His wife Katsy had borne him a son but told him she was unable to have any more. The publisher’s remedy was to inquire into adoption.
His home in Wilton Street, Belgravia, was a ten-minute walk from the offices of The Adoption Society in Sloane Street and it wasn’t long before the Canfields had adopted a baby to complete the family.
That child was Violet’s.
When the Canfields took a boat journey across the Atlantic to New York that summer, their new 13-month-old baby’s name was registered in the ship’s log as Anthony Karslake. But soon after they officially renamed him Michael Temple Canfield.
Sadly, the boy was not to have a happy childhood.
According to author Diana DuBois, who many years later would write a biography of the woman who became his second wife: ‘Michael grew up in the Canfield household feeling very much like an outsider. He developed learning disabilities and a facial tic, and his parents sought psychiatric counselling for him.’
There was clearly a deep-seated problem. Indeed, throughout his childhood, he told family and friends: ‘I hope I’ll die young just to get out of this world.’
Nevertheless, he went to a top private school, Brooks, in Massachusetts, then joined the Marines as a private soldier before going to Harvard.
Intriguingly, his friend John Marquand Jr. recalled: ‘Michael always gave the impression he was a little different from us.’
He mentioned his ‘English’ traits and said: ‘There was this aura about him, that maybe he was really Lord Somebody.’
At the root of his psychological problems was the aching pain of knowing that he had been adopted but not being told who his blood parents were. It was a knowledge denied him unto death, for his adoptive parents would tell him only that they had met his real parents.
As for any details, they remained adamantly silent.
Heritage: Until his death in 1960, Michael Canfield was told he looked like Prince George, Duke of Kent (left)
People in Michael’s circle mischievously began to debate who they might be.
It was suggested that he might be the son of Edward VIII later the Duke of Windsor — because their profiles seemed so strikingly similar: certainly he stood out in preppy East Coast society with his English tweeds and his English manner.
After university, having no other great ambition, he went into publishing but lacked his adoptive father’s drive and focus.
Plus, he had taken to drink. Nonetheless he proposed marriage to a gorgeous socialite, Lee Bouvier, whose older sister, Jackie, was dating a young U.S. senator called John F. Kennedy.
A friend of Michael’s believed that Lee jumped at the chance to marry him because she was ‘hellbent on beating Jackie to the altar’. In due course, they were best man and matron of honour at Jackie’s marriage to JFK.
The newly-weds decided to move to England and, inevitably, the rumours about his parentage were given a new lease of life.
Almost uniquely for an American citizen, Michael was elected a member of White’s, the elite gentleman’s club in St James’s — a sure sign somebody believed the whispers that he had possible royal connections.
But Michael Canfield remained a deeply unhappy man.
Impotence brought on by too much alcohol, together with his wife’s vaulting social ambition - she later became Princess Lee Radziwill when, after their divorce, she married for a second time, to a Polish nobleman - put paid to their relationship.
Soon, Michael found solace in the arms of a formidable English aristocrat 11 years his senior, Laura Charteris. She had previously been married to a confidant of the royal family, the Earl of Dudley.
American Royalty: Mr Canfield married Lee Bouvier (right)- younger sister of Jackie Kennedy (left)
The peer confessed to her he’d always known who Michael’s father was — Prince George, Duke of Kent.
Laura later recalled in her memoirs: ‘There certainly was a resemblance in the face. Michael was tall with very fine limbs and beautiful hands.’
Intending to marry Michael, Laura asked his mother Katsy Canfield who his parents really were.
‘Michael is English...very well-born,’ was all she got in frosty, dismissive, reply.
However, matters became clearer after they married in 1960 and Laura took her new husband to lunch with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Laura said: ‘The Duke never stopped staring at Michael. So much so that I asked: “Is anything the matter?” The Duke quietly replied: “Yes. I am certain your husband is my brother’s son.” ’
This first official acknowledgement of his parentage came too late for Michael Canfield.
Prince George, Duke of Kent, had died in 1942 in a plane crash at Eagle’s Rock, near Dunbeath, Caithness, in circumstances that have never been properly explained.
His Sunderland flying boat was officially heading to Iceland where he was to meet senior members of the U.S. military.
Michael’s real mother, Violet, was also now dead. One night early in 1951 she switched on the gas fire in her bedroom but did not light it. She got into bed and turned out the light.
The coroner’s verdict was that she had taken her life while the balance of her mind had been disturbed.
As well it might have been. She had not seen her son since their parting when he was just 13 months old. Her son was equally unhappy.
‘He never resolved the conflict of his dual heritage,’ wrote his second wife’s biographer Diana DuBois.
‘He never got rid of his demons, and they claimed him in the end. Michael drank more than ever in his last years.’
And so it was that Michael Canfield boarded a BOAC flight bound for London at Christmas 1960. As the plane sped up the north-eastern coast of America he slipped into a coma and his heart stopped.
Aged just 43, he expired from a lethal combination of drink and pills — dying, just as his father Prince George had done, in his early 40s, in an aeroplane.
His royal heritage had given him nothing but misery.
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