Queen Mary, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (May 26, 1867 – March 24, 1953), known popularly as “Princess May,” was the Queen consort of King George V of the United Kingdom. She officially used the names “Victoria Mary” until her husband ascended the throne in 1910.
Born Her Serene Highness Princess Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes of Teck at Kensington Palace, the daughter of the impoverished Francis, Duke of Teck, she was a great-granddaughter of King George III and a first cousin once removed of Queen Victoria. Her mother was Queen Victoria’s first cousin, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, a rather short, vastly stout royal popularly and apparently happily known as “Fat Mary” (“The mob like fat people,” Queen Victoria reportedly said of her 200-plus-pound cousin’s ceaseless celebrity).
Despite her Serene Highness rank (her beloved father was the product of a morganatic marriage that left him questionably semi-royal), Princess Mary (May) of Teck was at first engaged, in 1891, to Prince “Eddy”, Duke of Clarence, the elder son of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII of the United Kingdom). On Prince Eddy’s sudden death, she became engaged to his younger brother, Prince George, who was duly created Duke of York. They were married on July 6, 1893, at St James’s Palace.
Princess Mary had been brought up with a strong sense of duty and regarded her marriage in this light, having accepted Prince Eddy’s proposal only because it was expected of her. She had far more in common with Prince George, and theirs was an exceptionally successful marriage, producing one daughter and five sons (the youngest, Prince John, an epileptic, died young, largely hidden from view and kept apart from the family), whom they raised very strictly.
In 1901, on Edward VII’s accession to the throne, her husband automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, in addition to his other peerages. For six months the couple were known as the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. On November 9, 1901, the new King created his son Prince of Wales and May became the Princess of Wales. When Edward died on May 6, 1910, they became King and Queen. They were crowned in Westminster Abbey on June 22, 1911. King George V and Queen Mary were subsequently crowned Emperor and Empress of India at New Delhi on December 11, 1911.
World War 1 was an ordeal for the British Royal Family, because of its German connections. Queen Mary, in particular, had spent much of her childhood in Germany and remained in contact with her German relations for much of the war. The King suffered from recurring illnesses after 1928. He died in 1936. The widowed Queen Mary, now a Queen Mother, attempted to dissuade her eldest son, Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, from marrying Wallis Simpson and abdicating the throne. She found her failure difficult to accept and refused to receive Wallis even after their marriage.
She lived on to see her second son, George VI of the United Kingdom, make a success of his reign. In a show of family solidarity following the Abdication Crisis, Queen Mary attended the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey in May 1937. In doing so, she broke a centuries old custom that English (and later British) queens dowager did not attend the coronations of their successors.
Following the death of husband, Queen Mary moved from Buckingham Palace to Marlborough House, formerly the London residence of her widowed mother-in-law, Queen Alexandra from 1910 to 1925. During World War 1I, she lived at Badminton with the Duke of Beaufort. The duchess was her niece, the former Lady Mary Cambridge (1897-1987), elder daughter of Adolphus, 2nd Duke of Teck and 1st Marquess of Cambridge).
On George VI’s death in 1952, Queen Mary’s eldest granddaughter came to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II, but she did not survive to see the coronation in the following year. She died in London on March 24, 1953, and was buried next to her husband in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. Queen Mary was regarded as the matriarch of the royal family; her funeral and lying-in-state created unprecedented scenes of public mourning.
It is said that E. M. Forster once bowed to the cake at a wedding reception when he mistook it for Queen Mary. One of the queen’s godsons, Sir Michael Duff, did a killingly funny imitation of her, in full drag, and once, to his surprise, Sir Michael bumped into the queen when he was in full Marian costume. The queen reportedly took no notice, greetly him warmly, and walked on.
Queen Mary’s titles from birth to death were as follows:
- Her Serene Highness Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (May 26, 1867 to July 6, 1893)
- Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York (July 6, 1893 to January 22, 1901)
- Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall and York (January 22-November 9, 1901)
- Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales (November 9, 1901 to May 6, 1910)
- Her Majesty Queen Mary (May 6, 1910 to March 24, 1953)
As the mother of Edward VIII and George VI of the United Kingdom, Queen Mary was a queen mother. As the widow of George V, she was also a queen dowager. However, she was never official styled as such. Instead, she was styled “Her Majesty Queen Mary” from her husband’s ascension to the throne until her death in 1953.