Mary (1867-1953), consort of King George V (1865-1936) and grandmother
of the present Queen Elizabeth II, photographed prior to her wedding
to the then Prince George, Duke of York – an event photographed
also by Lafayette.
Née Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (but called “May” by her intimates), she was the only daughter of Prince Francis of Teck, a grandson of the King of Württemberg, and Princess Mary of Cambridge, granddaughter of King George III and Queen Victoria's first cousin. In fact, she was born in the same room in Kensington Palace as her distinguished aunt, a coincidence which cemented their fond relationship. It was Queen Victoria who had singled out May as the princess most suited for the heir to the British throne, Prince Albert Victor of Clarence and Avon (known as “Eddy”).
They were engaged in December 1891, but in January 1892 Eddy died, leaving his fiancée and the throne to his younger brother George. The pair were married in June 1893, and proved to be very understanding partners and contented with each other. Both were shy and private and they delighted in a simple way of life, surrounded by family in their modest York Cottage on the Sandringham estate.
However duty toward the nation was always their priority, and they toured extensively in the British Isles and the Empire, first as the Prince and Princess of Wales, then as the King and Queen. Although totally devoted to her husband's position and comfort, Mary carried out many public engagements on her own, and continued to do so during her years of widowhood. These were not glamourous events, but serious charity work, such as making relief parcels for soldiers and championing the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, of which she became the Commander-in-Chief.
In her long life she saw six monarchs, from Queen Victoria to Elizabeth II, and mourned the deaths of her three sons. The 1936 abdication of her oldest son, King Edward VIII, for the love of Mrs Wallis Simpson was the greatest blow to her sense of duty and dignity. Her recovered composure after this crisis caused Winston Churchill to state famously: “She looked like a queen, and she acted like a queen!”
European history might have been rather different, if Hans Heinrich XV, when he came to London in 1891 looking for a wife, had obliged his own family by asking for Mary's instead of Daisy Cornwallis-West's hand. It was said that Mary’s ever impecunious father was in favour of an alliance with the future Prince of Pless.
Daisy and Mary were acquainted socially with each other in England. Daisy met King George and Queen Mary in Berlin in 1913 at the marriage of the German Emperor’s daughter, after which Queen Mary paid a flying visit to her favourite aunt, Princess Augusta Caroline, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. This remarkable old lady with an encyclopaedic memory of European history was also much loved and admired by Daisy, who found a great pride and comfort in visiting her during the First World War when their English origins were the cause of much suspicion in Germany.
At the end of her first visit to Neustrelitz in August 1915, having no other method of getting a message to England, Daisy asked Princess Augusta to forward her letters to Queen Mary and Queen Alexandra. Queen Mary responded to her aunt Augusta: “Please tell her that G(eorge) and I think of her and are sorry for her in the difficult position in which she is placed.”