Princess Victoria Mary (“May”) of Teck was born on May 26, 1867 at Kensington Palace, London, in the same room where Queen Victoria, her first cousin once removed, had been born 48 years and 2 days earlier. Queen Victoria came to visit the baby, writing that she was “a very fine one, with pretty little features and a quantity of hair”.
Her father was Prince Francis, Duke of Teck, the son of Duke Alexander of Württemberg by his morganatic wife, Countess Claudine Rhédey von Kis-Rhéde (created Countess von Hohenstein in the Austrian Empire). Her mother was Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, a granddaughter of King George III and the third child and younger daughter of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, and Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel.
She was baptised in the Chapel Royal of Kensington Palace on July 27, 1867 by Charles Thomas Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury. From an early age, she was known to her family, friends and the public by the diminutive name of “May”, after her birth month.
May’s upbringing was “merry but fairly strict”. She was the eldest of four children, and the only daughter, and “learned to exercise her native discretion, firmness, and tact” by resolving her three younger brothers’ petty boyhood squabbles.
They played with their cousins, the children of the Prince of Wales, who were similar in age. She grew up at Kensington Palace and White Lodge, in Richmond Park, which was granted by Queen Victoria on permanent loan.
She was educated at home by her mother and governess (as were her brothers until they were sent to boarding schools). The Duchess of Teck spent an unusually long time with her children for a lady of her time and class, and enlisted May in various charitable endeavours, which included visiting the tenements of the poor.
Although May was a great-grandchild of George III, she was only a minor member of the British royal family. Her father, the Duke of Teck, had no inheritance or wealth and carried the lower royal style of Serene Highness because his parents’ marriage was morganatic.
The Duchess of Teck was granted a parliamentary annuity of £5,000 and received about £4,000 a year from her mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, but she donated lavishly to dozens of charities. Prince Francis was deeply in debt and moved his family abroad with a small staff in 1883, in order to economise. They travelled throughout Europe, visiting their various relations. For a time they stayed in Florence, Italy, where May enjoyed visiting the art galleries, churches, and museums. She was fluent in English, German, and French.
At the age of 24, she was betrothed to her second cousin once removed Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, the eldest son of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark (future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra), but six weeks after the announcement of the engagement, he died unexpectedly during an influenza pandemic.
The following year, she became engaged to Albert Victor’s only surviving brother, George, who subsequently became king. Before her husband’s accession, she was successively Duchess of York, Duchess of Cornwall, and Princess of Wales.
As Queen Consort from 1910, Mary supported her husband through the First World War, his ill health, and major political changes arising from the aftermath of the war. After George’s death in 1936, she became queen mother when her eldest son, Edward VIII, ascended the throne.
To her dismay, he abdicated later the same year in order to marry twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson.She supported her second son, Prince Albert, Duke of York, who assumed the throne as King George VI, in the wake of his brothers Abdication. He was King until his death in 1952.He was succeeded by his eldest daughter and Queen Mary’s granddaughter, Elizabeth II.The death of a third child profoundly affected her.
Mary remarked to Princess Marie Louise: “I have lost three sons through death, but I have never been privileged to be there to say a last farewell to them.”
Other than losing her second son George VI in 1952, she lost Prince John (1905 – 1919) her fifth son and youngest of her six children, when he of died at Sandringham in 1919, following a severe seizure, and was buried at nearby St Mary Magdalene Church.
She was also preceded by Prince George, Duke of Kent (1902 – 1942) her fourth son who was killed in a military air-crash on August 25, 1942.
Mary died on March 24, 1953 in her sleep at the age of 85, ten weeks before her granddaughter’s coronation. She had let it be known that should she die, the coronation should not be postponed. Her remains lay in state at Westminster Hall, where large numbers of mourners filed past her coffin.
She is buried beside her husband in the nave of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Sir Henry “Chips” Channon, (1897 – 1958), was an American-born British Conservative politician, author and diarist. He wrote about Queen Mary, that she was “above politics … magnificent, humorous, worldly, in fact nearly sublime, though cold and hard. But what a grand Queen.”