Born a rejected princess from an exiled family, Mary of Teck endured tragedy and upheaval to become the Queen Consort of all Britain—but a crown only seemed to bring her more heartache. While she may not be well known now, the violent twists and turns of her life shaped our current reality. Here are facts about Mary of Teck, the hidden queen.
Queen Mary of Teck Facts
1. Her Family Tree Was Twisted
Mary of Teck was born into a faded fairy tale. Although she entered the world in 1867 in the same room her cousin Queen Victoria, Mary’s bloodlines were decidedly on the shadowy side of the royal family. Her parents, Francis of Teck and Princess Mary, were younger or less legitimate children, and the House of Teck had long been in disrepair. Sadly, it was about to get worse for the little girl—fast.
2. Her Mother Was Messy
Mary’s mother and father weren’t just from the wrong pedigrees, they also had personal problems in their own right. Despite the fact that the Tecks were purse-poor, the elder Princess Mary was a notorious spender. Dubbed “Fat Mary” for her love of expensive feasts and her corresponding girth, the high roller also adored fine clothes and foreign holidays. This would have disastrous consequences.
3. Her Family Disgraced Themselves
While the Teck coffers started to gather cobwebs, Princess Mary kept spending—until it came to a ruinous climax. In 1883, the Tecks had to take their young family and escape to the continent, fleeing from their debtors to try to live cheaply among kind-hearted relatives. Suddenly, little Mary’s status went from unremarkable to “black sheep.” And it was a long way back to the top.
4. She Had A Volatile Childhood
Besides her ignominious family stock, Mary’s upbringing was bizarre in other ways. Although the Tecks were back in England by 1885, it still wasn’t a stable life. On the one hand, her parents could be delightful and merry, lovingly nicknaming her “May” after her birth month. On the other hand, things could sour in the blink of an eye, and they were incredibly strict. But things only worsened as Mary came of age.
5. She Was A Social Reject
As Mary grew into a young woman, a huge problem began to develop. Her parents desperately wanted to see her married, but her off-brand royal lineage presented a hurdle. As a royal, Mary wasn’t actually allowed to marry a member of the regular aristocracy, yet none of the true nobles wanted anything to do with her, either. And then there was another matter entirely…
6. People Thought She Was Ugly
Unfortunately for poor Mary, the British upper crust was none too pleased with her looks. They deemed her “very German-looking”—the height of an insult at the time—as well as “frumpish.” For an excruciatingly long stretch, it looked like the eldest daughter of Teck was going to expire as an old maid. Except in one moment, everything changed.
7. She Made A Surprising Comeback
As Mary entered her early 20s, a twist of fate altered the course of her life forever. When Queen Victoria needed to find a potential bride for her grandson, Prince Albert Victor, Mary’s status as one of the only unmarried British princesses turned into a selling point. Victoria thought of her, and the Tecks were suddenly back on top…but it came with a hefty price.
8. Her Crush Seemed Like Prince Charming
On the surface, Prince Albert Victor was the most eligible bachelor in England. His father and mother were the Prince and Princess of Wales, and Albert himself was second in line for the throne and fully expected to become King one day in his turn. What more could a girl want? Even so, Mary probably should have thought twice.
9. She Got Hoodwinked
Mary’s new fiancé may have been a dazzling marriage prospect, but he had a little-known flaw. Described as “amiable but indecisive” as well as “densely stupid,” Victoria had already tried to get Albert hitched to a succession of princesses, but no one was biting. Gee, I bet Mary felt special. Only, that wasn’t the worst of it.
10. She Walked Into A Royal Nightmare
Albert’s bad luck on the blueblood dating scene wasn’t because he was a little simple; it far more chilling than that. A long list of rumors trailed the prince’s reputation, including whispers that he’d fathered a secret love child, that he had been involved in a brothel orgy, and even that he was Jack the Ripper, swear to God. Run girl, run. But Mary didn’t.
11. She Rose In The Ranks Overnight
On December 3, 1891, the stage was set for Mary’s supposed fairy tale. At the country mansion of Luton Hoo, Prince Albert proposed to her, and like any clever girl angling for a crown, Mary accepted. Both the Tecks and the bona fide royal family looked forward to the upcoming nuptials. Instead, though, immense tragedy struck.
12. Her Betrothed Met A Dark End
Just six bare weeks after Mary had set herself up to become Prince Albert’s wife, the heir to the throne had to go and die. Yep, talk about a cruel twist of fate. Prince Albert became a victim of the infamous influenza outbreak of the 1890s, passing just days after his 28th birthday. And his final words were…not complimentary to Mary.
13. Her Fiancé Dealt Her A Final Betrayal
According to one source, Mary’s new fiancé didn’t spend time on his deathbed thinking about her, not in the least. Instead of pining for Mary, some of Prince Albert’s final words were pleas for his attendants to bring an unnamed ex lover to his bed, so he could say goodbye to the person he really cared about. And they say fairy tales aren’t real.
14. She Made A Heartbreaking Tribute
Prince Albert’s passing threw the entire nation into despair, and Mary may have had it worst of all. For those six short weeks, she had imagined learning to love her Prince, and now he—and his crown—had been ripped away from her. At Albert’s funeral, she even mournfully laid her bridal wreath of orange blossoms on his coffin.
Still, it wasn’t long before she moved on to someone even more scandalous…
15. She Went After Her Fiancé’s Brother
While in mourning, Mary grew close to Prince Albert’s younger brother Prince George, who now very conveniently took Albert’s place in line for the throne. Queen Victoria, still focusing on securing the succession, helped along the pair’s nascent feelings. Yet once more, Mary should probably have had some big reservations…
16. Her New Love Interest Had Problems
Like his brother, George might have looked like a catch from afar, but there were unsettling issues behind closed doors. Just months before, George was in negotiations to marry Princess Marie of Edinburgh, only to have the girl outright reject him. The snub destroyed his self-confidence, and his interest in Mary had a strong smell of “rebound.” And that wasn’t all.
17. Her Motives Were Suspect
George was also uncomfortable with the idea of, you know, wedding and bedding his dead brother’s fiancée, and Mary wasn’t much better. They were almost too embarrassed to even converse, and most of what drew them together at first was a sense of duty to the nation. Yeah, “duty”: Not the universal aphrodisiac. To no one’s surprise, then, the proposal was their most awkward moment yet.
18. She Accepted A Second Proposal
For months, George and Mary were like a couple of pre-teens at a middle school dance, constantly making eyes but never moving toward each other. In the end, the royal family had to orchestrate their solo time by asking George to take Mary to look “at frogs in the pond.” George, thank God, finally took this pitiful opportunity to get down on one knee, and Mary said yes…again.
19. She Had A Fairy Tale Wedding
On July 6, 1893, Prince George and Mary wed at the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace. Mary had to completely scrap the wedding dress she had planned for Prince Albert, but her new frock was a showstopper, with flounces of Honiton lace and a diamond tiara from Queen Victoria herself. Yet the day’s most touching moment happened away from prying eyes…
20. Her Groom Made A Grand Gesture
The morning of their big day, both George and Mary were busy getting ready when the groom accidentally caught sight of his bride-to-be down one of Buckingham Palace’s long hallways. His response was truly romantic. The prince gave “a low and courtly bow” to Mary, a gesture that touched the girl to her core. It was the beginning of something no one expected.
21. She Had One True Love
After the series of tragedies that led up to the nuptials, no one expected much of the royal match. Within a couple months, however, the two awkward nerds were deeply in love—and they would remain so their entire lives, with George refusing to ever take a mistress. But that didn’t mean it was smooth sailing; their time together was downright heartbreaking.
22. She Had A Big Brood
For a time, Mary’s new life as a royal was a kind of domestic bliss. She and George lived “simply” (for royals) even after becoming the Princess and Prince of Wales, and Mary soon gave birth to a whopping six children, from their eldest son Edward to their youngest son John. The bustling brood of heirs was exactly what the crown wanted…yet a darker story lurked within their lives.
23. She Was A Negligent Mother
Mary was a distant mother and often missed horrific things happening to her children right under her nose. At one point, a possessive nanny was mistreating her sons, pinching them when they visited their mother so they would cry and return to her more quickly. Mary found out about this belatedly, putting her children through months of torment in the meantime.
But as we’ll see, that house had grimmer tales to tell.
24. She Got What She Always Wanted
On May 6, 1910, George and Mary’s calm, quiet life exploded from the inside when they succeeded to the throne as King George V and Queen Mary upon the passing of George’s father. It was what Mary must have known was coming from the moment she accepted George’s betrothal, yet it went wrong from almost the very beginning.
25. Her Mother-In-Law Took From Her
Not everyone was ready to see Mary ascend to power. Her mother-in-law Queen Alexandra, deep in mourning for King George’s father, dragged her heels leaving Buckingham Palace, and even pocketed some royal jewels that now rightfully belonged to Mary. At this time, though, Mary was getting grief from her husband, too…
26. Her Husband Hated Her Name
Mary had always signed her letters as “Victoria Mary”—which her husband George hated. So when it came time to choose her regnal name, George insisted that she let go of one of them. Since she couldn’t very well match the OG as “Queen Victoria,” she chose the elegant “Queen Mary” instead. Of course, in a few years, Mary would long for these simple problems.
27. She Put Herself Through Trauma
The first trial of Mary’s new reign was also one of the most harrowing moments of the 20th century: The coming of WWI. In the wake of the conflict, Mary demanded that the palace undergo rationing like everyone else in England, and she insisted on visiting fatally wounded men in the hospital even when it started to take a toll on her mental health. Yet behind the scenes, she had blood on her hands.
28. She Betrayed Her Family
During these years, Tsar Nicholas II and the rest of the Russian Imperial Romanov family begged for asylum with King George and Queen Mary. This was no random plea, either—George and Nicholas were cousins, and looked eerily alike to boot. Despite this, Mary and her husband refused them flat. They would live to regret it.
Months later, the Romanovs infamously perished in the Russian Revolution. Closer to home, things weren’t much better.
29. Her Husband’s Body Started To Fail
The Great War didn’t just take an enormous toll on Mary, it also cost her husband, King George. A heavy smoker, the stress of the situation—I mean, you try selling out your own cousin to the Bolsheviks—ground George’s lungs into dust. By 1928, the King suffered from bronchitis, septicemia, and a whole host of other issues. Well, Mary knew just what do to.
30. She Saved Her King
Whatever flaws Mary had as a mother, she seemed determined not to make the same mistakes as a wife. She became George’s most determined nurse, staying by his side whenever she could, and making sure he got enough rest. Mary was so instrumental, when someone asked one of the royal doctors who had pulled George back to life, the medic replied, “The Queen.” But you can only cheat fate for so long.
31. Her Husband Had A Swift Decline
In the mid-1930s, King George V was suffering more than even Mary could heal. On January 15, 1936, the King, complaining of a cold, went to lie down in his bedroom. For the next five excruciating days, he never got up once—indeed, he never got up again. Instead, he drifted in and out of consciousness and mumbled feverish ramblings. When the end came, it was explosive.
32. She Lost The Love Of Her Life
On January 20th, Mary’s beloved husband was so close to the precipice, his doctor Lord Dawson put out an official bulletin announcing that, “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close.” At 11:55 pm that evening, George did indeed pass, proving the doctor right. Only there was something very, very wrong with the picture.
33. Her Husband’s End Was Suspicious
The doctor hurried from the house after the King’s passing, and he soon made a disturbing confession. Without Queen Mary ever knowing, the medic had dosed King George with a lethal injection of morphine, effectively euthanizing the monarch. He claimed this preserved the king’s dignity, but Mary—who was extremely religious—probably had much different ideas.
34. She Turned Into A Queen Mother
Somehow, even with all this turmoil, Mary’s family tragedies still weren’t over. Although her eldest son became King Edward VIII and she became the Queen Dowager in the wake of George’s end, it was not the Queen Mother’s proudest moment. In fact, today Edward is infamous for just how disastrous his reign became…and Mary found herself right in the middle.
35. She Disapproved Of Her Son’s Love Life
Within a year of taking the throne, Mary’s son caused a complete constitutional crisis. To the horror of everyone, Edward decided he wanted the divorcee Wallis Simpson as his queen, even though Church and State were both against the idea. Well, so was Mary. The Dowager disliked Simpson intensely as a bride, and soon refused to meet with her either in private or in public. That became very complicated, very quickly.
36. Her Son Dealt Her A Cruel Blow
Before 1936 was out, Edward abdicated—relinquishing the birthright that Mary had given him—in order wed Simpson. And while some saw this as a romantic gesture, Mary herself was utterly heartbroken. Although she deeply loved Edward and even doted on him, she could never forgive him for his disloyalty to her crown. Like, ever.
37. She Was Cunning
Few people know it, but Mary was smart as a whip underneath her conservative looks and strait-laced living. Edward once described her “cultivated mind,” and she had a deep, passionate knowledge of history and royalty that she often used to help King George V write his speeches. You can be darn sure she used those smarts, too…but not always for good.
38. She Was Extravagant
Mary was obsessed with collecting royal trinkets, and she happily emptied the palace treasury on jewels that took her fancy, including when she bought baubles from the estate of the Dowager Empress Marie of Russia. Desperate to get what she wanted, Mary even once paid three times the market value for a collection of emeralds.
39. She Could Be Petty
By the end of her life, Queen Mary of Teck was practically a British institution—but she hid her worst self from the public. In her quest for ever more royal memorabilia, Mary started to get downright aggressive and gauche in her tactics. She would often trawl through royal inventories, mark down what had been borrowed but not returned, and then immediately write to the holders and demand the pieces back.
Oh, but she was just getting started.
40. She Made Obscene Demands
Mary’s most outrageous demands happened face-to-face. Get this: When she was over at someone’s estate and saw paraphernalia she liked, the Queen Consort would loudly proclaim how much she admired the piece. It was all in the hopes that her hosts would feel obligated to politely “donate” the item to their Queen. Then again, there were even darker rumors surrounding this behavior…
41. People Think She Was A Kleptomaniac
Although there is no evidence to substantiate the claims, many people began to whisper that Queen Mary was actually a kleptomaniac and that her relentless and unorthodox collecting was just one symptom of her disorder. Some even said the monarch would outright steal from her hosts, as illustrated most recently in a scene from the Downton Abbey movie. Again: Probably not true, definitely hilarious to think about.
42. She Passed Down Her Knowledge
As Mary neared the twilight years of her life, her mind somehow got even sharper. She not only supported her second son Albert as he became King George VI after Edward’s ignominious reign, she also did one better. She kept a watchful eye over her grandchildren, the future Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret, and insisted on giving them a well-rounded education in defiance of their more traditional parents’ wishes.
43. She Made Her Husband Cry
Although both Queen Mary and King George V had tough exteriors, their love ran deep—deeper than even most royalty buffs might know. When the monarchs celebrated their silver jubilee back in 1935, King George instructed his speechwriter to put his comments about his wife Mary at the end. The reason why was heartbreaking.
He feared he would choke up, saying, “I cannot trust myself to speak of the Queen when I think of all I owe her.”
44. Her Baby Was In Grave Danger
Mary’s last pregnancy and labor with her baby son John was incredibly difficult, and although Mary recovered after the ordeal, the little Prince John had a much tougher time of it. The boy struggled with respiratory problems, tending toward fragility well into toddlerhood. As the years wore on, though, it became clear that Mary’s youngest son was in much bigger trouble.
45. Her Youngest Son Had A Mysterious Illness
John had always been a willful and mischievous child, but when he was four years old, a strange change took place. He became both “winsome” and “painfully slow,” and within months he had suffered his first major seizure, confirming to Queen Mary and the royal doctors that he was epileptic. Mary’s reaction has lived in infamy.
46. She Kept Her Son A Secret
For years following his diagnosis, Mary and George kept Prince John under wraps from the public. While in many ways this was to protect the young boy, whose health rapidly deteriorated, experts have also suggested it was to keep John’s “shameful” illness a secret, and no one outside of the family circle knew he had epilepsy. Sadly, Mary’s son had precious little time left, anyway.
47. Her Son’s End Was A “Relief”
On January 18, 1919, Prince John suffered a massive seizure and passed at the tender age of 13. Although Mary wrote in her diary that it was a “great shock,” the tragedy also produced a more surprising emotion. After the little prince’s years of suffering, Mary confided to a friend that his passing was also “a great relief.”
And still, Mary’s twisted family troubles weren’t over.
48. She Buried Her Son
In 1952, Mary suffered her last tragedy in a life full of tragedies: King George VI, her second-oldest son, passed, turning her granddaughter into the new Queen Elizabeth II. This made three children that Mary had buried, and the blow nearly knocked her over. As she confessed to a friend, “I have lost three sons…but I have never been privileged to be there to say a last farewell to them.”
49. She Had A Bizarre Last Wish
In the end, Mary didn’t have to wait long for a release from her pain. The next year, she too passed at the age of 85, just weeks before Elizabeth’s coronation. Mary was a Queen of England until the very end. She left explicit instructions that her death shouldn’t delay the coronation, and everything went as scheduled. Keep calm and carry on, indeed.
50. Her Son Gave Her A Bitter Farewell
Mary might never have quite managed to forgive her son Edward for abdicating, but he did his mother much worse. After the Queen Dowager passed, Edward wrote a bitter, spiteful letter to Wallis Simpson remembering how “hard and cruel” Mary was and lamenting that “the fluids in her veins have always been as icy cold as they are now in death.” Ouch.