Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes was born on 26 May 1867 at Kensington Palace, London, and was the eldest child of Francis, Duke of Teck, and Mary Adelaide of Cambridge.
Despite the fact Mary’s mother was a granddaughter of George III, the family’s status was relatively minor as Francis’s father had married a commoner and his children had lost their rights to any royal inheritance they may have claimed. In 1863, William of Wurttemberg elevated Francis and his siblings to the rank of Prince and Princesses of Teck, with Francis becoming Duke of Teck in 1871. Although technically a Princess of Teck, Mary was raised in England alongside the children of the Prince of Wales but her family were poor and often went abroad to save money.
The family’s poverty did not attract many suitors for Mary, but Queen Victoria saw her as a suitable candidate for marriage for her grandson, Albert Victor. Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, had become increasingly embroiled in scandals over the years, including hints some of his liaisons were homosexual in nature, so Queen Victoria was keen to see him settled into marriage but his reputation made it hard to attract a bride.
Mary was only too happy to accept a marriage offer and she became engaged to Albert Victor in December 1891 but he died of influenza just six weeks later. Although she hadn’t been in love with Albert Victor, Mary was devastated by his death since her marriage prospects had taken a severe blow. However, Mary grew close to Albert Victor’s younger brother, George, and they eventually married in London on 6 July 1893 at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace.
George and Mary spent their time between St. James’s Palace and York Cottage on the Sandringham estate but Mary had a difficult time with her domineering mother-in-law, Alexandra of Denmark, who was reluctant to let her son go. As Duchess of York, Mary carried out numerous public duties, including a long tour around the world which required her to leave her children behind for eight months. Although Mary loved her children, she was never entirely comfortable around them and the children were left to the care of nannies, as was the fashion of the time. Mary was often accused of being cold, particularly since one of the nannies was abusive, and it was some time before it was discovered.
In 1901, not long after returning from their tour, George was created Prince of Wales and the couple moved to Marlborough House from St. James’s Palace. In 1905, Mary gave birth to her last child, John, who suffered from severe epilepsy, and he was hidden away from the public at Sandringham where he died in 1919, aged thirteen.
After the death of Edward VII, George and Mary were crowned on 22 June 1911 at Westminster Abbey, with Mary dropping the Victoria from her name in favour of being Queen Mary. Mary’s new status as queen consort often brought her into conflict with her mother-in-law who was reluctant to concede her former place as queen.
As the First World War raged over Europe, Mary spent a lot of time visiting wounded soldiers in hospital which is said to have caused her great emotional stress. With anti-German feelings running high, George V dropped the family’s German titles, renaming the royal household to Windsor, and ordering other British royals to do the same.
After the war ended, Mary continued to be a source of strength to her husband during his frequent bouts of ill-health, and carried out her public engagements with dignity despite the social unrest plaguing the country. King George’s health continued to decline and he eventually died on 20 January 1936, with his eldest son, David, succeeding to the throne as Edward VIII. Within a year, the British monarchy was in crisis when David announced his intention to marry his American mistress, Wallis Simpson. When David was told he could not marry Wallis and remain king, he chose to abdicate in favour of his younger brother, Albert, who became George VI. While Mary would always have great affection for David, she never forgave him for abandoning his royal duty and refused to acknowledge Wallis Simpson, either in private or in public.
David formally abdicated on 10 December 1937 and his brother gave him the title of Duke of Windsor two days later, effectively preventing David from seeking election in the House of Commons or speaking in the House of Lords. David was allowed to keep his HRH ranking but his wife and any children would not be so entitled. David and Wallis were married in a private ceremony on 3 June 1937, at Château de Candé, near Tours, France, but George VI forbade any members of the royal family from attending, something David would never forgive. Relations between David and George VI would never fully heal and David was warned never to return to Britain without the king’s permission.
When the Second World War broke out in Europe, George VI urged his mother to leave London for her own safety and she reluctantly moved to Badminton House, Gloucestershire, with her niece, Mary Somerset, Duchess of Beaufort. Never one to sit still, Mary supported the war effort by visiting troops and directing efforts to collect scrap metal. In 1942, tragedy struck when her youngest son, George, Duke of Kent was killed in an air crash while on active service. When the war ended, Mary returned to Marlborough House in London.
During her lifetime, Mary was an avid collector, particularly of objects and jewellery with royal connections. She was quite aggressive in her collecting and if she admired something while visiting, said object more than likely found its way into her collection. However, Mary’s vast knowledge of royal artefacts did have a positive side as many loaned out treasures were finally returned to their rightful owners. The most famous of Mary’s belongings has to be the exquisite doll house created by Sir Edwin Lutyens to hold her miniatures.
George VI died in 1952, and was succeeded by his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, but Mary died on 4 March 1953, weeks before her granddaughter’s coronation. The coronation went ahead as planned as Mary did not wish it to be delayed by the subsequent period of mourning. Mary lay in state at Westminster Hall, where large numbers of mourners filed past her coffin, and she was then buried beside her husband in the nave of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.