The final arrival in the royal marriage race that began with the death of Princess Charlotte in 1817, she was a first cousin of Queen Victoria and the mother of Queen Mary.
Princess Mary Adelaide Wilhelmina Elizabeth, the second daughter of Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, was born in Hanover on November 27th, 1833. Her father was the youngest and favorite son of King George III and her mother was Princess Augusta, youngest daughter of the Landgrave Frederick of Hesse. Princess Mary was christened on January 9, 1834 and named after her godparents: Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (her father's favorite sister), Queen Adelaide, King William IV, and Princess Elizabeth, the Landgravine of Hesse-Homburg. She had one sister, Princess Augusta and a brother, Prince George, born three days after Queen Victoria.
Her early years were spent at the Viceregal Palace and Villa Montbrilliant. At the age of three she was taken to England with her mother and they stayed at Windsor Castle. William IV was fond of his god-child and gave her a gold chain and locket containing his hair. In 1837 the family moved to England first living in Cambridge House Piccadilly, and then Cambridge Cottage in Kew. Princess Mary Adelaide, her sister Princess Augusta and their parents attended the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 and later her wedding in 1840.
At the age of seven she began her education, being taught by a governess at home. She took lessons in Latin, Scripture history, and Italian, along with lessons in dancing, and music. She had a particular interest in history and geography. When she was fourteen, her mother later took over her education. Mary was an excellent mimic, had a beautiful mezzo-soprano voice and enjoyed the opera and theatre. She was tall, with ash-blonde, wavy hair, dark blue eyes and a good complexion. But Mary Adelaide had problems with her size. While she had been a striking child with pretty blonde curls, later on she was known rather unflatteringly as 'Fat Mary' or 'Mary the mountain' yet despite her size she moved with a natural grace. She was confirmed on December 19, 1850.
She spent her childhood days at Kew. Her father died in 1850 when she was seventeen-years-old. She and her mother moved from Cambridge Cottage to St. James Palace. At the time it was thought that she should find a husband of wealth and standing. Queen Victoria, intrigued by match-making, joined in the hunt. Her suitors were restricted to the royal blood, and members of the British aristocracy were not considered.
In 1866, through Bertie and Alexandra (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) she met Prince Francis of Teck - as a serene highness he was of lower rank, four years younger and had no money. On April 6th they became engaged during a stroll in the Rhododendron Walk in Kew Gardens and the couple were married on June 12, 1866 in the little church on Kew Green. Because of the differences in their ranks, the marriage was morganatic and their children were 'Serene Highnesses' instead of 'Royal Highnesses'. The newlyweds were given the apartments at Kensington Palace that Queen Victoria had lived in as a child. Their first child, the future Queen Mary was born on May 26th, 1867, in the same room that Queen Victoria herself had been born. They had three more children - Adolphus (Dolly) on August 13, 1868, Francis (Frank) on January 9, 1870 and Alexander (Alge) on April 14th, 1874.
Mary Adelaide inherited the trait of her 'wicked uncles' the sons of George III. Money had no meaning to her and she believed the the British public should support its royals. She was generous beyond her means in the field of charity, her main extravagance was entertaining. To avoid her creditors, in 1883 she and her family fled to Florence Italy. They returned in 1885 and she managed to get permission to have White Lodge, a grace and favor residence in Richmond Park, as a rural retreat.
In 1891 her daughter Princess Mary became engaged to Prince Albert Victor . Shortly before their wedding he died and a year later she became engaged to his brother, Prince George, the future King George V.
Princess Mary Adelaide died 27 October 1897 at White Lodge, Richmond Park, Surrey, and was buried in the royal vault at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
© Marilyn Braun 2009
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