Whenever Queen Mary, Consort of King George V, is mentioned, what do you think? A stern, old fashioned matriarch who did not care about her family or do you think a traditional, caring queen who not only loved her family but also loved her country. Here I would like to look at the life and times of Queen Mary, from her upbringing as Mary of Teck to Queen of the United Kingdom and British Dominions.
Princess Victoria Mary of Teck was born on 26th May 1867 at Kensington Palace in London. Her parents were Prince Francis, Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge who was the youngest Daughter of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge. When May was baptised in the chapel royal of Kensington Palace, her godparents included Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales (later her father in law King Edward VII) and the Princess Augusta. Mary was the eldest of four children and their upbringing was enjoyable but very strict, she and her three brothers spent hours and hours playing with their cousins, who were the children of the Prince of Wales. Mary and her family were only minor members of the Royal Family which is surprising considering her Mother was a Grandchild of King George III so therefore they carried the lower Royal style of Serene Highness.
Prince George, son of the Prince of Wales was not the first major Royal that Mary was engaged to. In December 1891 she became engaged to her second cousin, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence who was the eldest son of the Prince of Wales and elder Brother of Prince George. It was to Queen Victoria’s delight that Mary accepted Albert’s proposal due to her being so fond of her, Victoria admired Mary for her strong character and sense of duty. This engagement was to be very short lived however, just six weeks after the engagement, Prince Albert died when the worldwide influenza epidemic swept through the harsh British winter of 1891-92. It became apparent during their shared mourning, that Mary and Albert’s brother George were becoming very close, leading to, in May 1893, George proposing to Mary, which she quite happily accepted. Not only were the happy couple joyful over their news but so was Queen Victoria, who still favoured Mary as a wife for a future King of Britain.
Mary and George married on 6th July 1893 in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. Once married, the new Duke and Duchess of York lived at York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate, a fairly modest and simple house for Royalty nonetheless it was a favourite of the Duke’s. As readers will know George and Mary went on to have six children: Edward (later King Edward VIII), Albert (later King George VI), Mary, Henry, George and John. Like many of that time, the children all had a very strict upbringing, they were placed in the care of three nannies, one was dismissed for insolence and another for abusing the children. They were replaced by Charlotte ‘lalla’ Bill, who would fondly remember the children right up to her death in 1965. It was upon embarking on motherhood that Mary really came under scrutiny, she appeared to many as a very distant mother, failing to notice the abuse of Edward of Albert and allowing her youngest Son John to be placed in a private farm at Sandringham likely to hide his epilepsy from the public. We do have to balance this uncaring, harsh mother though with a mother who loved and cared deeply for her children. It has been noted that in private Mary was a caring mother in many respects, often showing a fun-loving, frivolous side to her children and teaching them history and music.
On 22nd January 1901, Queen Victoria died and Mary’s father-in-law ascended the throne as King Edward VII. George and Mary were now styled Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York and for the majority of the year they undertook a huge tour of the British Empire, visiting Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, Ceylon, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius and Canada. It was the most ambitious Royal tour ever undertaken and the thought of leaving her children for such a lengthy period left the Duchess in tears. (Surely proof to all the sceptics that Mary loved her children).
Just over nine years later, on 6th May 1910, King Edward VII died and his Son George ascended as King George V, Mary of course was now Queen Consort. King George V and Queen Mary were both crowned on 22nd June 1911 at Westminster Abbey. It was when Mary became Queen that she came into conflict with her Mother-in-law, the Queen Mother, Queen Alexandra. The two Queens were on friendly terms although Alexandra could be very stubborn, demanding precedence over Mary at the funeral of Edward VII, she did not rush in leaving Buckingham Palace for the new King and Queen nor did she hand over some of the jewels that were now rightfully Mary’s. Surely it is not this that gives people the impression that Mary was a nasty, uncaring Queen, by the sounds of it this conflict was brought on by Queen Alexandra and her alone.
Something that stands out for me about Queen Mary happened during the First World War. Purely for her love of her country and wanting to help the war effort, Mary instituted an austerity drive at the palace whereby she rationed food and clothes. She also visited wounded and sometimes even dying servicemen in hospital, although she found doing this a great emotional strain - nobody told Mary she had to do this, she just did it because she wanted to do it. Although we live in the same country, it has always been known that the Royals and us live completely different lives, by having Mary visiting the wounded and dying it was as though it was showing that in times of war, nobody lives separate lives. It was not long after the First World War that the King and Queen had to deal with a more personal war. At just thirteen years of age, their youngest Son, Prince John died from a severe seizure, both the King and Queen were devastated with Queen Mary writing that the news was ‘a great shock, tho for the poor little boy’s restless soul, death came as a great relief’.
For the latter half of her husband’s reign she was a staunch supporter of him, from his decision to change the Royal House to Windsor, Irish Independence to Indian nationalists. , Mary maintained an air of self-assured calm and her intelligence and judgement were second to none. When King George V died on 20th January 1936, Mary’s eldest son Edward ascended the throne as King Edward VIII although within a year Edward caused a major constitutional crisis by announcing his desire to marry his twice divorced American mistress Wallis Simpson. Queen Mary disapproved of divorce, which was of course against the teaching of the Anglican Church, she also thought Mrs Simpson was wholly unsuitable to be the wife of a king. Wallis Simpson had been presented previously at Court to King George V and Queen Mary but after the Abdication crisis Mary refused to meet her either publicly or privately. Although her love for Edward would never lessen, she could never comprehend why Edward would renounce the throne in favour of his personal feelings, a question that to this day nobody still knows the right answer.
In later years Mary took a keen interest in the upbringing of her granddaughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, taking them on various excursions in London, art galleries and museums. In 1942 at the height of the Second World War, her youngest surviving Son, Prince George, was killed in an air crash while on active service, a second child to predecease her. A third child predeceased Mary in 1952, King George VI died on 6th February of that year and Mary’s Granddaughter ascended the throne as Queen Elizabeth II. For a short period of time there were three Queens in the country, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Queen Mary.
Queen Mary died on 24th March 1953 from lung cancer at the age of 85. Some ten weeks before her Granddaughter’s coronation Mary stated in her will that in the event of her death, the coronation must not be cancelled, a remarkable gesture from the Queen don’t you think?
So there we have the evidence, its time for my verdict. Yes, I do think Mary was a Queen of hearts. Throughout her long life Mary suffered such tragedy, the loss of her husband and three sons surely must have taken its toll on the Queen and yet people still to this day describe Mary as a harsh and uncaring woman. Mary may have had traditional values, but what is wrong with having values, she disapproved of her Son’s marriage to Mrs Simpson but quite frankly she wasn’t the only one, she stood her ground with many people including her husband and in laws but who doesn’t. Most importantly of all Queen Mary was totally dedicated to her position as Queen and that is what stands above everything else. It is often said that Queen Elizabeth II steers her reign upon the influence of her Grandmother Queen Mary and lets be honest our Queen, 62 years later, is not doing too bad now, is she!