Her influence continues to this day

V70 years ago there was a Year of the Three Queens in the UK. The young heir to the throne Elisabeth ascended after the untimely death of her father George VI. took the throne on February 6, 1952. Her mother Elisabeth had previously only officially been a king’s consort, “Queen Consort”, but her name was also Queen Elisabeth. In order to distinguish herself from her daughter, the 51-year-old widow was addressed as “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother”. This became the affectionate and shorter “Queen Mum”. But there was another “queen mother” that year: the former king’s wife Maria von Teck. She in turn had received the official title of “Dowager Queen Mother” after the death of her husband, King George V, in 1936. But she didn’t want to be addressed as the “Dowager Queen Mother”. And so she remained “Her Majesty Queen Mary”.

That Maria von Teck would one day become “queen” was just as little foreseeable when she was born in 1867 as when her granddaughter was born in 1926: Elisabeth was only the eldest daughter of the second son of the British King George V and his wife Maria by Tek. She in turn was a great-granddaughter of the British King George III through her mother, and her mother was also a cousin of the reigning Queen Victoria at the time. But Maria’s father, Franz von Teck, came from a “morganatic marriage”. Her grandmother had been aristocratic, but not of “lower class” and a scion from the Württemberg royal family.

However, Princess May, as Maria was called, had a godmother in Queen Victoria, who was able to disregard such conventions. And so in 1891 she engaged Maria von Teck to her grandson Albert Victor, the future heir to the throne of Great Britain. The eldest son of the then Prince of Wales was a man of dubious character and reputation. There is speculation to this day that he may have been the famous serial killer Jack the Ripper. Only a few months after getting engaged to Maria, the only 28-year-old Albert Victor died – probably from influenza.

engagement upon request

Queen Victoria nevertheless stuck to her plan, seeing in Maria a perfect “king’s wife”. After the period of mourning, the twenty-four-year-old became engaged in 1893 to the next younger brother of the deceased, Prince George. He was the opposite of the older one. Maria and he had a harmonious marriage and had six children. It is said that George was the first British prince and then king in the history of the country who did not keep a mistress – unlike his father Edward VII, who had countless mistresses, including Alice Keppel, the great-grandmother, for many years the wife of the heir to the throne, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

Maria von Teck and Prince Georg in their wedding year 1893


Maria von Teck and Prince Georg in their wedding year 1893
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Image: from The Queen’s Diamonds by Hugh Roberts (p. 138)

Among Maria’s six children was “the lost prince”, as little John was called for decades. Because he was almost missing and only made headlines again in 1998 when he appeared in a picture that was stuck in a photo album of his eldest brother Edward, the Duke of Windsor, and was auctioned at the time. John, born in 1905, suffered from epilepsy; a form of autism is also not ruled out. It was initially said that he was hidden from the public because the prospective king and his wife were ashamed of him. In the meantime, however, historians believe that the mother in particular only wanted to protect the boy, who died at the age of 13. This is supported by the fact that Maria von Teck was otherwise a loving mother and grandmother. She was devoted to John to the last and spent time with him, unlike, say, eldest brother Edward, who wrote to his then-lover Freda Dudley Ward in 1919 that the boy was more of an animal than anything else and a brother to him in flesh only .

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