Mary of Teck

Posted: July 31, 2013 in Historic People


Born on 26 May 1867 at Kensington Palace and christened Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes, her three godparents were Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII and May’s father-in-law), and Princess Augusta, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Born and raised in Britain by her parents, Francis, Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, she was informally known as ‘May’, although technically Princess of Teck.
May was the only daughter and the eldest child, and learned from a young age to “exercise her native discretion, firmness and tact” by resolving her younger brother’s petty squabbles.
May was educated at home by her mother, the Duchess of Teck, and governess, and was enlisted in many charitable activities, including visiting the dwellings of the poor.
The Duchess of Teck was granted a parliamentary annuity of £5000, and received an estimated £4000 a year from her mother, the Duchess of Cambridge. Despite this, the family were deeply in debt and lived abroad from 1883. The family travelled throughout Europe, visiting their various relations and stayed in Florence, Italy, for a time, where May enjoyed visiting the art galleries, churches, and museums.
On their return to London in 1885, the family resided at White Lodge in Richmond Park, where May helped organise parties and social events with her mother, whom she was extremely close.
In December 1891, at the age of 24, May became engaged to Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. However, just six weeks from the announcement of the engagement Albert Victor died unexpectedly from the influenza pandemic.
In May 1893, Albert Victor’s brother, Prince George, Duke of York and the future King, proposed to May, of which she accepted, possibly with having become close during their shared period of mourning. They were soon deeply in love, and George wrote to May every day that they were apart.
On 6 July 1893 at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, in London, the couple married
The new Duke and Duchess of York lived in York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, and in apartments in St James’s Palace. York Cottage was a modest house for royalty, but it was a favourite of George, who liked a relatively simple life.
Their marriage was a success, and unlike his father, George never took a mistress. They had six children: Edward, Albert, Mary, Henry, George, and John.
Queen Mary was on times seen to be a ‘distant mother’, having put her children in the care of a nanny. The first nanny was dismissed for insolence and the second for abusing the children. This second woman, anxious to suggest that the children preferred her to anyone else, would pinch Edward and Albert whenever they were about to be presented to their parents, so that they would start crying and be speedily returned to her. On discovery, she was replaced by her effective and much-loved assistant, Mrs. Bill, with whom her youngest son, Prince John, was housed in a private farm on the Sandringham Estate, in the care of Mrs. Bill, possibly to hide his epilepsy from the public.
In his memoirs Edward, the eldest son wrote of his mother: “Her soft voice, her cultivated mind, the cosy room overflowing with personal treasures were all inseparable ingredients of the happiness associated with this last hour of a child’s day … Such was my mother’s pride in her children that everything that happened to each one was of the utmost importance to her. With the birth of each new child, Mama started an album in which she painstakingly recorded each progressive stage of our childhood”.
However, in his private letters to his wife after his mother’s death, he expressed a less charitable view: “My sadness was mixed with incredulity that any mother could have been so hard and cruel towards her eldest son for so many years and yet so demanding at the end without relenting a scrap. I’m afraid the fluids in her veins have always been as icy cold as they are now in death.”
On the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901, May’s father-in-law ascended the throne as King Edward VII.
For most of the rest of that year, George and May were styled Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York.
For eight months they toured the British Empire, visiting Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, Ceylon, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, South Africa and Canada. No royal had undertaken such an ambitious tour before, and May broke down in tears at the thought of leaving her children, who were to be left in the care of their grandparents, for such a lengthy period of time.
Nine days after having arrived back in Britain, on 9 November 1901, George was created Prince of Wales.
In 1904, and as Princess of Wales, May accompanied her husband on trips to Austria-Hungary and Württemberg.
The following year, May gave birth to her last child, John. It was a difficult labour, and although May recovered quickly, her newborn son suffered respiratory problems.
In October 1905 the couple embarked on eight month tour of India, again leaving their children in the care of their grandparents.
During their tour they also travelled to Egypt and Greece, followed by a journey to Spain where they attended the wedding of King Alfonso XIII to Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, at which the bride and groom narrowly avoided assassination. Only a week after returning to Britain, May and George went to Norway for the coronation of George’s brother-in-law and sister, King Haakon VII and Queen Maud.
Edward VII died on 6 May 1910, and George V ascended the throne with May becoming queen consort. May was asked to drop one of her two official names, Victoria or Mary, and preferring not to take the name of her husband’s grandmother, Queen Victoria, she chose to use the name Mary.
On 22 June 1911 at Westminster Abbey, Mary and George were crowned King and Queen. A few months later on 12 December they toured the sub-continent as Emperor and Empress of India, returning to Britain in February.
Two months after the end of the war, Queen Mary’s youngest son, John, died at the age of thirteen. She described her shock and sorrow in her diary and letters, extracts of which were published after her death: “our poor darling little Johnnie had passed away suddenly … The first break in the family circle is hard to bear but people have been so kind & sympathetic & this has helped us [the King and me] much.”
In the late 1920s, George V became increasingly ill with lung problems, exacerbated by his heavy smoking. Queen Mary paid particular attention to his care. During his illness in 1928, one of his doctors, Sir Farquhar Buzzard, was asked who had saved the King’s life. He replied, “The Queen”. In 1935, King George V and Queen Mary celebrated their silver jubilee, with celebrations taking place throughout the British Empire. In his jubilee speech, George paid public tribute to his wife, having told his speechwriter, “Put that paragraph at the very end. I cannot trust myself to speak of the Queen when I think of all I owe her.”
On 20 January 1936 George V died, and Queen Mary’s eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales ascended the throne as Edward VIII. Queen Mary officially became Queen Mother, yet she did not use the title and was instead known as Her Majesty Queen Mary.
Within the same year controversy surrounded the royal family due to Edward’s involvement with Mrs Wallis Simpson. Edward had announced his intention of marrying his twice-divorced American mistress of which Queen Mary disapproved, and of which was against the teaching of the Anglican Church, and thought Mrs. Simpson wholly unsuitable to be the wife of a king. After receiving advice from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Stanley Baldwin, as well as the Dominion governments, that he could not remain king and marry Mrs. Simpson, Edward abdicated. Though loyal and supportive of her son, Queen Mary could not comprehend why Edward would neglect his royal duties in favour of his personal feelings.
Mrs. Simpson had been presented formally to both King George V and Queen Mary at court, but Mary later refused to meet her, in public or privately. She saw it as her duty to provide moral support for her second son, Prince Albert, Duke of York, who ascended the throne on Edward’s abdication, taking the name George VI. When Mary attended the coronation, she became the first British dowager queen to do so. Edward’s abdication did not lessen her love for him, but she never wavered in her disapproval of the damage she believed had been done to the Crown.
During the Second World War Mary reluctantly moved from London to Badminton House in Gloucestershire, on the request of her son King George VI. There she stayed with her household of fifty five staff and her niece, Mary Somerset, Duchess of Beaufort.
In support of the war effort Mary would visit troops and factories and also offered lifts to soldiers she would see on the roads.
In 1942, while on active service, her youngest surviving son, Prince George, Duke of Kent, was killed in an air crash.
The stress of the war had also taken its toll on the King George VI health, exacerbated by his heavy smoking and subsequent development of lung cancer, where on 23 September 1951, he underwent surgery where his left lung was removed following the discovery of a malignant tumour.
On the morning of 6 February, George VI was discovered dead in bed at Sandringham House in Norfolk. He had died from a coronary thrombosis in his sleep at the age of 56.
Queen Mary died of lung cancer the following year, on 24 March 1953, aged 85, at Marlborough House, London and was buried beside her husband in the nave of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

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