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Mary was born at Kensington Palace, London, in May 1867, the daughter of Francis, Prince and Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. Through her mother she was a great-granddaughter of George III1 and she was a second cousin to Queen Victoria. She was named after the Queen who was also her godmother and given the names Victoria Mary Augusta Louis Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes. However, she was always known to her family as 'May' after the month in which she was born, and she was to later take the title Princess May. When her godmother first saw the infant future Queen she wrote in her diary, 'a very fine child with quantities of hair – brushed up in a curl on the top of its head! - and very pretty features'.
Her mother and father had been given the apartments at Kensington Palace, which Queen Victoria herself had grown up in. Francis, however, had a title but no wealth as he was the offspring of a morganatic2 marriage, so they tried to live off Mary Adelaide's allowance of £8000 per annum. However, the Princess was frivolous in her spending on jewels, fine clothes and parties and despite the best attempts of her 16-year-old daughter3 they were pushed out of London by the deeply upset Queen.
The family including her younger brothers Adolphus, Francis and Alexander departed for Florence in Italy that September under the name Hohenstein. While there Mary spent her time visiting museums, churches and art galleries and studying art, Tuscan literature, French and Italian. But two years later the family arrived back at Victoria Station, London, having been forgiven their indiscretions. Princess Mary, now 18, found the transition back to court life hard saying she found herself to be 'a daughter, secretary and lady in waiting' to her mother, who was still living a hectic social life. However, she was soon taken under the wing of her Aunt Augusta, Grand Duchess of Mecklenberg-Strelitz4 and given the formal training she would need in later life.
Princess Mary Duchess of York
She was betrothed in 1891 to marry Victor Albert, the Duke Of Clarence, the eldest son of the Prince of Wales5. However, the Duke was to die six weeks later of pneumonia, before the marriage could take place. The Queen had taken a liking to Mary and still wanted to see her become Queen, so she persuaded the Duke of York6 to propose marriage.
Princess Mary and the Duke of York were married on 6 July 1893 at the Chapel Royal, St James Palace, London.
Princess of Wales
In 1901, following the death of Queen Victoria, Mary became Princess of Wales, her fourth title. But it was her fifth that was to be immortalised.
The Prince and Princess were to have six children: David, Prince of Wales7, Albert, Duke of York8, Mary, the Princess Royal, Henry, Duke of Gloucester, George, Duke of Kent and John. Unfortunately, the youngest son John was not a very healthy child suffering from epilepsy from a very young age. From the age of 11 a decision was made to keep John away from his siblings; he stayed at Wood Farm, Wolferton, near Sandringham, where he died aged just 14.
On the death of his father Edward VII, George succeeded to the throne and Mary fulfilled the potential seen in her by Victoria as his Queen. Cunard was to name the largest ocean-going cruise liner of the day after her. Queen Mary's only public words were the 28 words she used to launch her namesake.
George and Mary were to celebrate their silver jubilee in 1935 but concern was already increasing about the unsuitability of the bachelor Prince of Wales. He was already spending considerable time in the company of the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, although this was not generally known by the British public. George died in January of 1936 and a year of constitutional pandemonium followed with David succeeding as Edward VIII.
Queen Mary made it known that she strongly disapproved of Mrs Simpson as a potential consort for the new King. So, after much discussion at the highest political level about all the implications, Edward abdicated in favour of his shy younger brother the Duke of York, who now found himself King George VI9. In the early years of George's reign Queen Mary was a great support to the timid, stammering man10 who had found the crown thrust upon him. She set about teaching him, as she herself had learnt on her return to England, the constitutional responsibilities that were expected of him. She herself carried out a lot of public visits to encourage public support for the monarchy following the feeling of resentment over Edward's abdication.
Queen Mary was considered by many to be an austere and regal figure who customarily appeared in public wearing a tall, round, brimless hat known as a toque. But the British public held her in great affection. During the Second World War she won international acclaim for her work for charities and hospitals. However, the war was also to bring further personal loss in 1942 when her youngest surviving son, the Duke of Kent, died in an RAF training exercise in Scotland. Along with the King and Queen Elizabeth, Mary the Dowager Queen did much to lift the morale of the people of Britain throughout the war years. Following the war in 1952 she experienced the death of her beloved son Bertie and saw the throne passed on to her granddaughter Elizabeth II.
The Three Queens
One of the most poignant pictures of the Royal Family in the 20th Century was taken at Paddington station. It depicts the new monarch Queen Elizabeth II with her recently bereaved mother, Queen Elizabeth, and grandmother, Queen Mary, all veiled in black watching as the coffin of George VI is lifted on to the Royal Train for its progress to Windsor; three generations of Queen, all of whom came to be Queen via a roundabout route, from three very different backgrounds.
Three months before her granddaughter's coronation on 24 March, 1953, she died at Marlborough House, London. The following week she was laid to rest beside her husband at St George's Chapel, Windsor, having lived for almost 86 years and having seen three of her descendants rule.