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Queen Mary

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

A brief biography;

'Princess Victoria Mary ("May") of Teck', was born at Kensington Palace, London on 26 May 1867.

Her father was Prince Francis, Duke of Teck, the son of Duke Alexander of Württemberg by his morganatic wife, Countess Claudine Rhédey von Kis-Rhéde. Her mother was Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, the third child & younger daughter of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, & Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel.

Mary was baptised in the Chapel Royal of Kensington Palace on 27 July 1867 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, & her three godparents were Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII & May's future father-in-law), & Princess Augusta, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Before she became Queen, she was known to her family, friends & the public by the diminutive name of "May", after her birth month.

Did You Know? She had eight forenames; Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes, the most of any British royal.

Although technically a princess of Teck, in the Kingdom of Württemberg, she was born & raised in the United Kingdom.

In 1891 at the age of 24, she was betrothed to her second cousin once removed Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, but six weeks after the announcement of the engagement, he died unexpectedly during an influenza pandemic. The choice of Mary as bride for the Duke owed much to Queen Victoria's fondness for her, as well as to her strong character & sense of duty, (the grandmother of Europe chose well).

Princess Victoria Mary shortly before her marriage to the Duke of York in 1893

Mary became close to Prince George, Duke of York, during their shared period of mourning, & Queen Victoria still thought of her as a suitable candidate to marry a future king. In May 1893, George proposed, & Mary accepted. They were soon deeply in love, & their marriage was a success. George wrote to May every day when they were apart &, unlike his father Edward VII, he never took a mistress. They married 6 July 1893 at the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace.

They had six children: Edward, Albert, Mary, Henry, George, & John.

Despite Mary's austere public image & her strait-laced private life, she was a very caring mother, revealing a fun-loving & frivolous side to her children & she also taught them history & music.

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For eight months in 1901 they toured the British Empire, visiting Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, Ceylon, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, South Africa & Canada. No royal had ever undertaken such an extensive tour before. She broke down in tears at the thought of leaving her children, who were to be left in the care of their grandparents (king Edward VII & Queen Alexandra), for such a long time.

On 9 November 1901, nine days after arriving back in Britain, George was created Prince of Wales, so Mary was now the Princess of Wales.

On 6 May 1910, Edward VII died. Mary's husband ascended the throne & she became queen consort. George asked her to drop one of her two official names, Victoria Mary, she chose to be called Mary, preferring not to be known by the same style as her husband's grandmother, Queen Victoria. Queen Mary was crowned with the King on 22 June 1911 at Westminster Abbey. In the same year the new King & Queen travelled to India for the Delhi Durbar held on 12 December 1911, & toured the sub-continent as Emperor & Empress of India.

Queen Mary in coronation robes Portrait by William Llewellyn, c. 1911
Portrait by William Llewellyn, c. 1911

During the First World War (1914-1918), she instituted an austerity drive at the palace, food was rationed & she visited wounded & dying servicemen in hospital, which caused the Queen great emotional strain.

Queen Mary with her daughter Mary, Princess Royal during the First World War. 1914-18
Queen Mary with her daughter Mary, Princess Royal during the First World War

In January 1919 Queen Mary's youngest son, John, died at the age of thirteen. She described her shock & sorrow in her diary & 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 & me] much."

Her support of her husband continued during the later half of his reign (reigned.1910-1936). Mary advised him on speeches & used her extensive knowledge of history & royalty to advise him on matters in his role as king.

George V died on 20 January 1936, Queen Mary's eldest son ascended the throne as Edward VIII. Mary was now the queen mother, though she did not use that style, & was instead known as Her Majesty Queen Mary.

In the same year (1936), Edward announced his desire to marry his twice-divorced American mistress, Wallis Simpson. Mary disapproved of divorce, which was against the teaching of the Anglican church, & thought Simpson unsuitable to be the wife of a king. After receiving advice from the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, as well as the Dominion governments, that he could not remain king & marry Simpson, Edward abdicated.

Though loyal & supportive of her son, Mary could not understand why Edward would neglect his royal duties in favour of his personal feelings. Simpson had been presented formally to both King George V & Queen Mary at court, but Mary later refused to meet her either 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.

Did you know? When Mary attended the coronation, she became the first British dowager queen to do so.

Mary took a keen interest in the upbringing of her granddaughters, Princesses Elizabeth & Margaret, & took them on various outings in London, such as art galleries & museums.

Queen Mary with her granddaughters, Princesses Margaret (front) and Elizabeth, May 1939. Mary often took her granddaughter out on trips in London
Queen Mary with her granddaughters, Princesses Margaret (front) and Elizabeth, May 1939

During the Second World War (1939-1945), George VI wished his mother to be evacuated from London. She reluctantly accepted to live at Badminton House, Gloucestershire, with her niece, Mary Somerset, Duchess of Beaufort, the daughter of her brother Lord Cambridge.

Her personal belongings were transported from London in seventy pieces of luggage! Her household, which comprised fifty-five servants, occupied most of the house, except for the Duke & Duchess's private suites, until after the war. In support of the war effort, Mary visited troops & factories & directed the gathering of scrap materials. She was known to offer lifts to soldiers she spotted on the roads. In 1942, her youngest surviving son, Prince George, Duke of Kent, was killed in an air crash while on active service with the Royal Air Force (RAF). After the war Mary returned to Marlborough House.

Mary was keen collector of objects & pictures with a royal connection. She paid above-market estimates when purchasing jewels from the estate of Dowager Empress Marie of Russia & paid almost three times the estimate when buying the family's Cambridge Emeralds from Lady Kilmorey, the mistress of her late brother Prince Francis.

In 1924, the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens created Queen Mary's Dolls' House for her collection of miniature pieces. She was known to express to hosts, or others, that she admired something they had in their possession, in the expectation that the owner would be willing to donate it. In addition to being an avid collector, Mary also commissioned many gifts of jewellery, including rings which she presented to her ladies-in-waiting on the occasion of their engagements.

Visit The Royal Collection Trust for a full description.

Queen Mary 1947 portrait photograph
Queen Mary, 1947 Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

On 6 February 1952, King George VI died, the third of Queen Mary's children to predecease her; her eldest granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth, ascended the throne, becoming Queen Elizabeth II. The death of a third child affected her greatly. She remarked to Princess Marie Louise: "I have lost three sons through death, but I have never been privileged to be there to say a last farewell to them."

On 24 March 1953 Mary died in her sleep at the age of 85, ten weeks before her granddaughter's coronation. Her remains lay in state at Westminster Hall, where large numbers of mourners filed past her coffin. She is buried beside her husband in the nave of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Queen Mary's funeral carriage. At her funeral, Mary's coffin was draped in her personal banner of arms. God save the Queen
Queen Mary's funeral carriage. At her funeral, Mary's coffin was draped in her personal banner of arms.

During her lifetime Mary had six titles & styles;

  • 26 May 1867 – 6 July 1893: Her Serene Highness Princess Victoria Mary of Teck

  • 6 July 1893 – 22 January 1901: Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York

  • 22 January 1901 – 9 November 1901: Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall & York

  • 9 November 1901 – 6 May 1910: Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales

  • 6 May 1910 – 20 January 1936: Her Majesty The Queen

  • 20 January 1936 – 24 March 1953: Her Majesty Queen Mary

Queen Mary's coat of arms. Mary was the Queen consort of George V
Queen Mary's coat of arms

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