Mary of Teck (London, May 26, 1867 – Ib., March 24, 1953) was the wife of King-Emperor George V of the United Kingdom and therefore Queen Consort of the United Kingdom and British Dominions and Empress Consort of India. By birth, she was princess of Teck, in the Kingdom of Württemberg, and received the treatment of Her Serene Highness. As such she was the last queen consort of the United Kingdom of regal origin as she was born a princess in her own right.She was born and raised in Britain because her German-born father was married to a British princess. At the age of 24, she became engaged to the heir to the throne, Prince Albert Victor of Clarence, but died unexpectedly of pneumonia six weeks after the engagement was announced.The following year, she became engaged to the new heir, Albert”s brother George. Before he acceded to the throne, she was successively Duchess of York, Duchess of Cornwall and Princess of Wales. As Queen Consort from 1910, she cared for her husband during his health problems, supporting him in the difficulties that arose during the First World War and in the important political changes that arose as a result of this and the emergence of socialism and nationalism in England.
After the death of George V in 1936, his eldest son Edward became king-emperor, but abdicated the same year to marry American socialite and twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. Mary provided support for her second son, Albert, who occupied the throne as George VI until his death in 1952. The queen died the following year, at the beginning of the reign of her granddaughter, Elizabeth II. For a brief period, there were three queens in the country: Mary herself, her daughter-in-law Elizabeth as queen mother, and Elizabeth II.
Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, May, was born on May 26, 1867 at Kensington Palace in London. Her father was Prince Francis, Duke of Teck, son of Duke Alexander of Würtemberg and his morganatic wife, Countess Claudine Rhédey von Kis-Rhéde. His mother was Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, third daughter of Prince Adolf, Duke of Cambridge and Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel. She was baptized in the Chapel Royal at Kensington Palace on July 27, 1867 by Charles Thomas Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales – later King Edward VII and her father-in-law – and her maternal grandmother, Princess Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge.
According to the English biographer Pope-Hennessy, Mary received a “good education, but also a rather strict one.” As the eldest of four children and the only woman, she “learned to exercise her natural discretion, firmness and tact,” settling the petty juvenile quarrels of her three younger brothers. The Teck children often played with their cousins, the Prince of Wales”s sons, who were of similar ages. She was educated at home by her mother and her governess – as were her brothers, who were later sent to continue their studies at boarding schools. The Duchess of Teck spent much of her time with her children, which was unusual for a lady of her class and age, and prepared Mary to participate in various charitable works, among them, visiting the homes of humble people.
Although her mother was a granddaughter of George III, Mary was a minor member of the British royal family. On the other hand, her father had no significant personal wealth and carried the minor royal treatment of Serene Highness due to the morganatic union of her parents. However, the Duchess of Teck was granted a Parliamentary Annuity of £5000 and also received £4000 a year from her mother, the Duchess of Cambridge. In spite of these supports the family was deeply in debt and to economize they went to live abroad from 1883. The Tecks traveled through Europe visiting different relatives and stayed a season in Florence, Italy, where May enjoyed visiting art galleries, churches and museums.
The Tecks returned to London in 1885 and took up residence at White Lodge in Richmond Park. May had a close relationship with her mother and acted as her unofficial secretary, helping her organize parties and social events. She also maintained a close relationship with her aunt, the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz-formerly Princess Augusta of Cambridge-to whom she wrote weekly. During World War I, Margaret of Connaught, Princess of Sweden, helped her send letters to her aunt, who lived in enemy territory in Germany, until her death in 1916.
In December 1891 she was engaged to her third nephew, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, eldest son of the Prince of Wales. Mary”s choice as the Duke”s bride was due in part to Queen Victoria”s great affection for her, as well as her strong character and sense of duty. However, Albert Victor died of pneumonia six weeks after the engagement, during the influenza pandemic that struck Britain in the winter of 1891-1892.
Despite this setback, Queen Victoria continued to favor her as an ideal candidate to marry a future king. Her relationship with Albert”s brother, Prince George, Duke of York – now second in line to the throne – evidently grew closer during the period of shared mourning. They became engaged in May 1893 and soon fell deeply in love. Their marriage was successful. George wrote to her daily when they were apart and unlike his father never had mistresses.
Mary and Prince George were married on July 6, 1893 in the Chapel Royal of St. James”s Palace in London. The celebration was attended by the entire British royal family, monarchs of many European nations and the highest nobility, including Queen Victoria, King Christian IX of Denmark – the groom”s maternal grandfather – and Tsarevich Nicholas. The wedding procession marched from Buckingham Palace towards St. James”s Palace and along the route, specially decorated for the occasion, a crowd gathered. An estimated 2,000,000 people took to the streets to witness the procession. According to The New York Times, “the event eclipsed, in pomp and splendor, any state ceremony recently performed in connection with the British court.” The service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson.
The new Duke and Duchess of York took up residence in a house called York Cottage, located on the grounds of Sandringham House in Norfolk, and in apartments at St. James”s Palace. York Cottage was a modest home for royalty, but it was a favorite place for George who had a penchant for living a relatively simple life. Over the next few years the couple had six children: Edward, born in 1894 and later Edward VIII, married in 1937 to Wallis Simpson; Albert, born in 1895, later George VI, married in 1923 to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and father of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom; Mary, born in 1897 and married in 1922 to Henry Lascelles, Earl of Harewood; Henry, born in 1900 and married in 1935 to Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott; George, born in 1902 and married in 1934 to Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark; and John born in 1905.
The duchess loved her children, although she placed them in the care of a nanny as was generally done in the upper class families of her time. The first nanny was fired for being insolent and the second for abusing the children. This second woman pinched Eduardo and Alberto whenever they were about to be taken to their parents, so that they would start to scream and were quickly returned to her. When she was discovered, she was replaced by her assistant Mrs. Bill, a more loving woman.
At times, Mary gave the impression of having been a distant mother. At first she failed to notice the nanny”s abuse of the young Princes Edward and Albert, and she kept her youngest son, Prince John, on a private farm at Sandringham in the care of Mrs. Bill, perhaps to conceal from the public that he suffered from epilepsy. Despite her austere public image and the trappings of her private life, she was a caring mother in many respects, used to reveal to her children her amusing, affectionate and frivolous side, and personally taught them history and music. Edward wrote affectionately of his mother in his memoirs, “Her soft voice, her cultivated mind, the cozy room overflowing with personal treasures, were all inseparable ingredients of the happiness associated with the last hour of a child”s day . Such was my mother”s pride in her children, that everything that happened to each one was paramount to her. With the birth of each new child Mother would begin an album in which she carefully recorded each progressive stage of our childhood.” He expressed a less charitable view, however, in private letters to his wife after his mother”s death: “My sadness was mingled with disbelief that a mother could have been so harsh and cruel to her eldest child, for so many years, so exacting to the end, without ever yielding one iota. I fear that the fluid that ran through her veins was always as cold, as it is now in her death.”
As Duke and Duchess of York, George and Mary were responsible for a variety of public duties. In 1897, she became patron of the London Dressmaking Guild, succeeding her mother. The guild, initially established as the London Guild in 1882, was renamed several times, finally taking the name of its patroness in 1914.
Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901 and her son, Albert Edward, ascended the throne as Edward VII. For most of the rest of that year, George and Mary were treated as Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. For eight months they traveled throughout the British Empire, visiting Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, Ceylon, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, South Africa and Canada. No other royal before them had undertaken such an ambitious journey. Mary broke down in tears at the thought of leaving the children in the care of their grandparents for such a long period.
On November 9, 1901, nine days after his return to Britain and on the King”s sixtieth birthday, George received the title of Prince of Wales. The family moved their London residence from St. James”s Palace to Marlborough House. As Princess of Wales, Mary accompanied her husband on trips to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Württemberg in 1904. The following year, she gave birth to her last child, John. She had a difficult delivery and although she recovered quickly, her newborn son suffered from respiratory problems.
Beginning in October 1905, the Prince and Princess of Wales undertook another eight-month journey, this time to India, and again left the children in the care of their grandparents. They passed through Egypt and back and stopped in Greece on the way back. This trip was followed almost immediately by another to Spain, for the wedding of King Alfonso XIII to Victoria Eugenia de Battenberg, where the bride and groom escaped dangerously from an assassination attempt. A week after returning to Britain they traveled to Norway for the coronation of King Haakon VII and Queen Maud, George”s sister.
On May 6, 1910, Edward VII died and the Prince of Wales ascended to the throne as George V, making Mary Queen consort. When her husband asked her to choose one of her two official names, Victoria Mary, she preferred not to take the name of her husband”s grandmother, Queen Victoria, and chose to be called Mary. King George V was crowned with Queen Mary on June 22, 1911 at Westminster Abbey. Later that year, the new kings traveled to India for the Delhi Durbar – a ceremony held to endorse the coronation of the British kings – which took place on December 12, 1911; they then traveled the subcontinent as the Emperor and Empress of India, returning to Britain in February.
The beginning of her period as queen consort brought her into conflict with the dowager Queen Alexandra. Although the two were on friendly terms, Alexandra was obstinate, demanded precedence over Mary at the funeral of Edward VII, delayed in leaving Buckingham Palace, and retained some of the royal jewels that should have passed to the new queen.
During World War I, Mary instituted austere management at the palace, rationed food, and devoted herself to visiting wounded and dying combatants in the hospital, which caused her great emotional strain. After three years of war against Germany and with anti-German sentiment at its peak in Britain, a request for asylum from the Russian imperial family deposed by a revolutionary government was rejected, possibly in part because Tsarina Alexandra was German. News of the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia provided an impetus to those British who wished to substitute a republic for the monarchy. After republicans used the German heritage of the tsar”s wife as an argument for reform and because of the anti-German sentiment that prevailed in the United Kingdom, George renounced his German titles and renamed the royal house from the German “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha” to the British “Windsor”, taking the latter as the official surname for all paternal descendants of Queen Victoria. Other members of the nobility also renounced their German titles and changed their names to an English form, for example, the Battenbergs, Ludwig and Victoria -and their descendants-, became Mountbatten. The Queen”s relatives also renounced their German titles and adopted the British surname of Cambridge -derived from the duchy of Maria”s British grandfather-. The war ended in 1918 with the defeat of Germany, followed by the abdication and exile of the Kaiser.
Two months after the war ended, Mary and George”s youngest son John died at the age of thirteen. She described her grief and shock in her diary and in letters, excerpts of which were published after his death: “Our beloved little John left suddenly . The first blow in the family circle is hard to bear, but people have been kind and empathetic and that has helped the king and me a lot.”
Mary continued to strongly support her husband during the second half of his reign. She assisted him in the preparation of his speeches and used her extensive knowledge of history and royalty to advise him on certain matters affecting his position. George appreciated her discretion, intelligence, and judgment. She maintained an air of self-possessed calm throughout all her public engagements in the postwar years, a period marked by civil unrest over social conditions, Irish Independence, and Indian Nationalism.
Towards the end of the 1920s, George V became increasingly ill with lung problems, which were exacerbated by excessive smoking, with Mary paying special attention to his care. During his illness in 1928, she asked one of his doctors, Farquhar Buzzard, about who had saved the king”s life and he replied, “the queen.” In 1935, King George V and Queen Mary reached their silver jubilee and celebrations were held throughout the British Empire. In his jubilee speech, George paid public tribute to his wife, he told his speechwriter, “Put that paragraph all the way through. I cannot trust myself to speak of the Queen, when I think of all that I owe her.”
George V died on January 20, 1936, after his physician Bertrand Dawson, 1st Viscount Dawson of Penn, gave him the injection of a “lethal combination” of morphine and cocaine that probably hastened his death. His eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales, ascended the throne as Edward VIII. Mary officially became the Queen Mother, although she did not use that title and continued to be known as Queen Mary.
That same year, Edward VIII caused a constitutional crisis when he announced his desire to marry his American mistress, the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. Mary disapproved of divorce because it was against the teachings of the Anglican church and considered Mrs. Simpson to be completely unsuitable to be the wife of a king. After receiving notice from the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Stanley Baldwin, as well as the rulers of the British dominions, that he could no longer be king and marry Wallis Simpson, Edward abdicated. Although she acted loyally and provided support for her son, Mary did not understand why Edward abandoned his royal duties in favor of his personal feelings.Mrs. Simpson had been formally introduced to King George V and Queen Mary at court, but the queen later refused to meet her again in public or private.She considered it her duty to provide moral support for her second son, the reserved and stammering Prince Albert, Duke of York, who ascended the throne in Edward”s place under the name George VI. She was the first British widowed queen to attend a coronation. Edward”s abdication did not diminish her love for him, but she never hesitated to show her disapproval of the damage she felt had been done to the crown.
Queen Mary was interested in the education of her granddaughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, and used to take them on excursions around London to art galleries and museums – the princesses” own parents considered this unnecessary because it aggravated an already demanding educational regime.
During World War II, George VI wished his mother to be evacuated from London and although she was reluctant, she finally decided to go to live at Badminton House, in Gloucestershire, with her niece Maria Somerset, Duchess of Beaufort, daughter of her brother Lord Cambridge. Her personal belongings were transported in seventy pieces of luggage. His servants, who consisted of fifty-five servants, occupied most of the house until after the war, except for the private rooms of the duke and duchess. The only ones to complain about the arrangements made were the royal servants, who found the house too small, although Mary caused her niece”s anger when she asked her to remove the old ivy from the walls, considering it unattractive and dangerous. From Badminton she continued to visit troops and factories and led the collection of scrap materials to support the war effort; she was known for her habit of giving rides in her car to soldiers she encountered during her journeys. In August 1942, her youngest son, Prince George, Duke of Kent, was killed in a plane crash near Scotland while on active service for the Royal Air Force. Mary finally returned to Marlborough House in June 1945, when the defeat of Nazi Germany brought the war in Europe to an end.
Mary of Teck was an enthusiastic collector of royal-related objects and paintings. She paid more than the market estimate when she bought the jewels of the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna Romanova, and paid almost three times the estimated sum when she bought the emeralds of the Cambridge family, which were in the possession of Lady Kilmorey, the mistress of her late brother Prince Francis. In 1924, the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens created Queen Mary”s doll”s house for her collection of miniature pieces. In fact, she was criticized for her aggressive acquisition of art objects for the Royal Collection. On several occasions she expressed to her hosts and acquaintances that she admired something they had in their possession, with the expectation that they would be willing to donate it. Her vast knowledge and exhaustive research of the Royal Collection”s holdings helped to identify items and works of art that had been lost over the years because the royal family had loaned many objects from previous generations. Once he identified through old inventories the lost items and the people who owned them, he requested in writing that they be returned.
In 1952, King George VI died, so he was the third of her children to die before her, her eldest granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth, ascending the throne. Ill since late February, Queen Mary died on March 24, 1953 at 10:20 a.m. in her sleep at Marlborough House, of lung cancer – the public version was “gastric trouble” – at the age of 85, ten weeks before Elizabeth II”s coronation. During his last hours, his health condition worsened, causing a weakening of his heartbeat, and three official communiqués were issued informing about his physical deterioration. He had previously informed his family that in case of his death, the coronation should not be postponed. Upon hearing the news, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced her death during the parliamentary session and suspended it in national mourning. Her remains were exhibited in Westminster Hall between March 29 and 30, where a large number of people (approximately 120,000) paraded in front of her coffin. Subsequently, a funeral service was held led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Francis Fisher, and broadcast by the BBC. She was buried next to her husband in the nave of St. George”s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
In August 1953 the news was released that in his will he had left a fortune valued at 379,864 pounds sterling, a fact that was published by the Principal Probate Registry in London.
Sir Henry Channon wrote: “She was in relation to politics magnificent, jovial, worldly, indeed sublime almost, though cold and hard. But she was a great queen.”
The ships RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Mary 2; the British Royal Navy warship HMS Queen Mary, which was destroyed in the Battle of Jutland in 1916; Queen Mary College of the University of London; Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong; Queen Mary Reservoir in Surrey, UK; Queen Mary”s Peak, the highest mountain in Tristan da Cunha and Queen Mary Land in Antarctica, were named in her honor.
A number of distinguished British actresses have portrayed Queen Mary in theater, film and on television, including Wendy Hiller in Crown Matrimonial, Flora Robson in King”s Story, Peggy Ashcroft in Edward and Mrs Simpson, Phyllis Calvert in The Woman He Loved, Gaye Brown in All the King”s Men, Eileen Atkins in Bertie and Elizabeth, Miranda Richardson in The Lost Prince, Margaret Tyzack in Wallis and Edward and Claire Bloom in The King”s Speech.
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Titles and treatments
By birth, Mary was Princess of Teck, in the Kingdom of Württemberg, and received the treatment of Her Serene Highness. After her marriage and before her husband acceded to the throne, she was successively Duchess of York, Duchess of Cornwall and Princess of Wales with the treatment of Her Royal Highness. From May 6, 1910, after the death of Edward VII, George V ascended the throne and Mary became Queen Consort of the United Kingdom, receiving the treatment of Her Majesty.
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Mary of Teck received multiple honors and decorations, both British and foreign, among others, she was invested as lady companion of the Order of the Garter in 1910 -the most important British order-, lady first class of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert, companion of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, as well as the Legion of Honor, among others.
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To the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom are added the arms of his family: first and fourth quarters, the arms of his grandfather, Prince Adolf, Duke of Cambridge -which are the royal arms used by the House of Hanover-, second and third quarters, the arms of his father, Francis, Duke of Teck.
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