Friday 25 April 2014

The Long Life of Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh

Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh (London, England, 25th April 1776 - London, England, 30th April 1857)
Princess Mary by William Beechey
By William Beechey

On several occasions here at the Guide I have introduced daughters of the house of Hanover. Their lives were not always long and nor were they always happy, married off for political expediency or gain. Today's guest is Princess Mary, aunt to Queen Victoria and loyal sister to a number of our previous guests. Her life was longer than many of her siblings and though her marriage came relatively late in life, it proved to be a settled union.

Mary was born to George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz at the Queen's residence of Buckingham House and like so many of her siblings, she was christened at St James's Palace. Presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Cornwallis, the event was attended by many illustrious names from European nobility.

Princess Mary by Thomas Gainsborough, 1782
By Thomas Gainsborough, 1782

The young princess was known for her wit, impeccable behaviour and beauty and it was soon considered that she would make somebody a fine royal bride. At her 1792 debut she charmed the court and at the age of 20, had a fateful meeting with Prince Frederick of Orange, who was exiled to London with his family. The young couple fell in love with one another yet their desire to marry would be unfulfilled. When he learnt of his daughter's attachment to the prince, George III decided that any such union must be postponed in favour of marrying Mary's three elder sisters off first. It was to prove a fateful decision as the young prince died in 1799 whilst on military service in Italy.

Princess Mary was utterly devastated by the loss of her beloved and in recognition of their bond, she was permitted to go into official mourning. Members of her family, particularly Princess Amelia, were Mary's strongest allies during this unhappy time and presently she emerged from mourning, though there was to be no more talk of marriage for some years.

Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh

In 1810 Mary suffered another devastating loss when her closest sibling, Amelia, died. Like the rest of her family she felt the loss deeply and the death greatly affected Mary. However, a perhaps unexpected turn of events was set in place when Mary's first cousin, Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, learnt that Princess Charlotte of Wales was to marry. Despite rumours of whirlwind passionate liaisons with continental ladies, William had not married, having been viewed as a possible match for Charlotte. Now though, Charlotte had been betrothed to another and the 40 year old Duke was left without a bride; it was swiftly decided that Mary, his equal in age and superior in status, would be the ideal candidate.

Daguerreotype of Queen Victoria, Princess Alice, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, 1856
Daguerreotype of Queen Victoria, Princess Alice, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, 1856
 Read more at the Royal Collection

The cousins were married on 22nd July 1816 at St James's Palace and took up residence in Bagshot Park. Here they passed many happy and devoted years together; though their marriage was childless, they were respected and loved by their families and Mary would remain a firm favourite into her old age.

Mary finally left Bagshot on the occasion of her husband's death in 1834, when she moved to White Lodge in Richmond Park. Here she remained for the rest of her life, as faithful and close to her family as ever she had been.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
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Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Unknown said...

Plenty of romantic peaks and troughs there! As is so often the case, it seems, the chance of a happy union is often averted during this era in favour of a more suitable option! At least she found some harmony later in life.

Catherine Curzon said...

I think it's telling that this marriage was a very successful one by the standards of some that we've seen and was a match made without any eye on dynastic wranglings and of course, both the participants were well into adulthood when they tied the knot!

Charlotte Frost said...

Illogically, I am astounded to see a PHOTO of one of George III's children, but I am!

Catherine Curzon said...

I know exactly what you mean; I was hugely excited!

Gail Gauthier said...

The significance of that being a picture of one of George III's children was lost on me until you mentioned it. Oh, my goodness.

Catherine Curzon said...

Isn't it wonderful? Someone commented on Twitter that such photos "pushed the veil of history aside", which was a lovely way of putting it.