Apr 15, 2022
11 mins read
Like her predecessor, this lady was undoubtedly of royal blood, but she suffered an insecure, and you could even say a miserly upbringing as a child. But that is where all similarity ends. She was blessed with a remarkable memory and an outstanding intellectual quality. Some say she lacked beauty, charm and even a joyful nature, yet her attention to detail and business-like approach to everything would never change throughout her life. We now look at the extraordinary times of Mary of Teck.
Mary was born in precisely the same room as Queen Victoria some 49 years earlier. Kensington palace would be home, and if any young girl required a role model, then Victoria was certainly fitting for this title. Victoria was a woman who, at times, allowed clouding of her judgement; Mary was the complete opposite. Mary's parents were also different in their nature.
Her father was Prince Franz duke of Teck, a well-known playboy of the day who had no money to back up his extravagances. Her mother was Mary Adelaide, the youngest daughter of Prince Adolphus, George III's youngest son. The couple tied the knot, but doing so only brought more disillusioned aspects into play, mainly because Adelaide was just as needy as her husband but possibly twice as extravagant! Victoria, wouldn't allow her cousin to live in poverty and so provided a wing at Kensington. Mary was indeed lucky to be born at such a lavish venue.
Little did she know then how she had arrived at such a fortunate dwelling. But despite Victoria's magnificent setting, Mary would undergo much of her childhood living in a financial crisis. So bad did her parent's debts become, all their possessions were taken away, and the couple fled to France. Eventually, Victoria gave in to the begging letters; she cleared their debts and brought them home to live in the White lodge on the grounds of Richmond Park.
Mary struggled for a while, her reputation tarnished by her parent's behaviour, but out of the blue, in November 1891, she was summoned to Balmoral castle at the queen's request. At the time, Victoria was looking for a suitable bride for Albert, Duke of Clarence. Mary had been placed on a shortlist. Mary had heard all about this man, his homosexual adventures, and many other experiences with women of a less suitable character. Not to mention he used to bully Mary when they were together at nursery. So I guess Mary thought, what's not to like. However, it was a big opportunity and one she was unlikely to turn down. Mary excelled in every department, Victoria was very impressed by her, and all that was left to do now was convince Albert's parents, the prince and princess of Wales. Mary was invited to a party in December, and Albert proposed. It was a massive step as not only was she to become married but to a man who was only two steps away from becoming king of England.
The Wales's still had some doubts because they hated to be apart from their children and because this young woman was seen as somewhat intimidating. Maybe it was, after all, a marriage made in heaven, and I'm sure Victoria knew what she was doing when bringing them together. But Albert's mother, still to be convinced, was beginning to lose sight of the whole marital setting. Victoria realised something was afoot and brought the wedding date forward to ensure it went ahead on 27 February 1892. But tragedy struck early in January; Albert fell ill and died suddenly. The Wales family were grief-stricken; Mary was stunned. But with time, the pain subsided, and things returned to a comparatively normal state, at least for Mary. Luckily for Mary, they had taken her into their hearts and would start to arrange meetings between herself and George.
Now George was a man's man, more so after his naval service, although he paid little attention to this new potential lady in his life. Mary was again guided by her mother, again in deep debt and again desperate for her daughter to marry into wealth. So with some careful and diligent effort, Mary began the task of winning over George. But working away in the background was Victoria, who now had made up her mind that George must wed Mary and insisted the prince of Wales must not intervene in her wishes. The only stipulation the prince wanted was that Victoria named him the duke of York, something she grudgingly agreed to. George proposed to Mary on 2 May 1892, and Mary accepted with a wedding set for 6 July.
George was certainly a joker; he once told Mary that he was already married and had three children. She nearly had a heart attack, but the couple would eventually make a great match despite their different senses of humour. The most important thing was that they stood together and complimented each other. The wedding went ahead, and Mary glided down the aisle, her benefactor close by Victoria, urging her on to greatness and duty to the crown. Initially, the couple would live in York cottage, close by to Sandringham. When in London, they would spend time at St James Palace.
Mary wasted no time removing memories of George's mother. It was, in her opinion, time to let that stage of his life go, and by bringing six children into the world, it would certainly mean George had little time for anything other than his own family now. It was glorious to see so many new children, but Mary lacked a parenting style conducive to bringing them up in a proper manner. Much of the time, she delegated their care to others. However, the nanny who took responsibility was harsh, cruel and overbearing. She would twist their arms when taking them to see their parents. Mary couldn't work out why the children continually cried throughout their 30-minute visit until it was revealed years later in the memoirs of David (Edward VIII). Yet Mary always struggled to show genuine care and love, and it's said she was never happier than when away on royal engagements. Her seclusion meant she could be herself and away from the frivolous unintelligent people back at court.
The most glaring aspect of Mary's care of her children was one in particular. John was born with respiratory problems, which turned into epilepsy. Mary never showed any real love towards this boy, to the point when she became queen, John was sent into exile at a farm a couple of miles away from Sandringham. Her thoughts on the matter were that his presence would bring an undesirable image to the court. Mary never mentioned him again, and John died peacefully in his sleep in January 1919.
Mary had much to thank Victoria for; not only had she resolved her family's debt, but she had given titles to her children. But Mary's mother was a very attentive grandmother and loved to dote on her grandchildren. Mary attempted to stop this, mainly because George despised his mother in law. Sadly Mary Adelaide died in 1897 after an emergency operation. She had fallen down some stairs at York cottage, and this by far was enough to accelerate her death. Just three years later, her husband died. Mary did not mourn her mother too much, although the people did. Mary Adelaide had been an enormous supporter of charity, and the public recognised how generous she had been throughout her life. But again, as in her past, debt was the word on most lips; she had passed away owing 70,000 pounds.
In 1901 the unthinkable happened; Mary was clearly distraught at the news that her lifelong friend and companion Victoria had passed away. This, of course, meant that one day soon, Mary of Teck would now become the queen. Mary held much more than can be described in words for her queen, and the admiration for her was one thing she hoped to personify in her lifetime.
Mary made great friends with ladies throughout life but assumed men to be of little importance and of a weak stature. One man she eventually overcame was her husband, and funnily, at times, she was so overwhelmed by his mutterings that she would give him a poke with her ever-present umbrella.
Her relationships with her children changed as they grew. Her daughter was one in who Mary had not shown much interest. She was said to be lacking a certain quality but managed to hook herself to a wealthy man to the joy of Mary. When viscount Lascelles took her daughter, although fifteen years difference in age, Mary was delighted, the same could not be said of her sons. She seemed to get along much better with her daughters in law. Her grandchildren proved to be her catalyst for love. Mainly Bertie's daughters Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, but in particular "Lilibet" her name for the future queen Elizabeth II, a young girl who was said to have resembled her in looks and even personality.
Mary's life would again change in 1910. Edward VII died, and now George would become king and Mary queen. But further tensions were just around the corner, for cousin Willy was stirring up trouble in Europe and the outbreak of World War I was now looking imminent. The big question was, what should George do? If he were to fight his near neighbours, he'd have to remove any Germanic connection for his own family. Although the Hanoverian bloodline continued, a name change was definitely the right way to go. Mary went along with the idea and adopted the now new official title of the house of Saxe Coburg-Gotha. If Englishmen were to shed blood, they could at least know they were fighting on behalf of an English name. The name, though, proved troublesome it just wasn't English enough, a further dilemma for the royals, but afterthought was changed to what we know today, the house of Windsor.
The war changed everything, and queen Mary dived into helping out on the domestic front, winning great admiration and support for her endeavours. Although she was never truly loved by the public, her stiff upper lip did nothing in the field of popularity. But After the war concluded, the lives of all began to settle down again. But abroad, the first signs of defragmentation of British rule were starting. Australia and India were appealing for independence. The roaring twenties came and went. Mary continued her pedestrian life and refused to be sucked into the glamour and spirit in which she now found her country fully resplendent. Her Victorian values stayed, whereas her sons abandoned all to join in the fun.
Edward VIII was quite possibly Mary's favourite son, Edwards father once said to him, "you dress like a cad, you look like a cad, you are a cad." But despite the disapproval, the people loved him. Even Mary quite possibly had a wry smile for his actions; his drinking, mistresses, and utter irresponsibility took him at times beyond reproach.
In 1935 it was a silver jubilee year. Mary had decided they should celebrate. The whole event was a massive success with as much pomp and circumstance as you could liberally throw at it. Yet this was to be the royal swan song due to George dying on 20 January 1936 at the age of 70. It was now Edward viii who would be crowned king but started what can only be described as the most traumatic event of Mary's life.
Edward had seen a succession of mistresses come and go over time, but his latest conquest was an American, and his love for this woman was undying. She was Wallis Simpson. And it soon became apparent he intended to marry her. Mary was absolutely against this and threw the full weight of the royal family behind this outrage. The proposed queen was a divorcee and commoner, and quite possibly the worst thing was she was American, a woman Mary said was fit to be a mistress but not a queen.
Both people and parliament agreed with Mary on this occasion. But rather than give up his girl, Edward decided to abdicate on 11 December 1936. After his speech, he returned to the family home; Mary said little and showed no emotion except in calling for her coat to return to London. Mary said goodbye to Edward, then turned to her second son Bertie; she curtsied and said God save the king. She left without a backward glance. Mary never again moved her stance on the subject.
Edward had been cast out, and he lived in America for the rest of his life. Edward's last words on his death bed were "mamma mamma." But it is doubted that his mother would have responded even then. Mary threw herself into service and devoted her time to the royal family. She would live to the grand old age of 85, although this lady had witnessed much upheaval and times of high joy and excitement.
Mary was a character who had a passion for worldly possessions. Jewels, furniture, art, in fact, anything she could retrieve that was once part of the royal palaces. She would do everything to get them back, even if they were displayed in museums. So emphatic was her process to gain these priceless antiquities she would label them to ensure they never moved elsewhere again. Little notes were attached saying that "darling vase" or that "beautiful chair" if all else failed in returning some of the items, she'd send payment to soften the blow. The collection eventually ran into thousands of pieces. It has been reported that not all of them were genuine, but as far as Mary was concerned, she had them, and that's really all that mattered.
When Mary died in 1953, it was found she had written to her son on his abdication; her words read. "all my life I have put my country before everything else, and I simply cannot change." She was a very admirable lady, but one that will go down in history, not being either likeable or lovable.