She was born on April 25, 1897 in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee year. Queen Victoria called her "My dear little Jubilee baby" and her grandfather, the Prince of Wales suggested calling her Diamond. Instead she was christened Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary, however, she was always known as Mary, after her maternal grandmother Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck.
She was born at York Cottage, on the Sandringham estate, the third child and only daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, the future King George V and Queen Mary. Her siblings were Prince Edward (later Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, Albert (later King George VI), Henry, Duke of Gloucester , Prince George, Duke of Kent and Prince John. Her christening took place on June 7, 1897 at St. Mary Magdalene Church on the Sandringham estate. Her godparents were Queen Victoria, King George I of Greece, the Dowager Empress of Russia, Princess Victoria of Wales and Prince Francis of Teck.
She was extremely shy but she was her father's favorite child. Cooking was a favorite pastime and she enjoyed working the model dairy that her grandmother Queen Alexandra had set up at Sandringham, milking the cows, churning the milk, and making little pats of butter for her father's breakfast. She had her own school room, sharing her lessons with the younger daughters of the Duke of Devonshire. She studied piano and singing and shared drill classes with her brothers. Quick and intelligent, she was an excellent rider, and a good linguist, fluent in French and German.
During the First World War she was active in welfare organizations, particularily involved in projects to provide comfort to troops. This concern led to the creation of the Princess Mary gift box which was sent out to troops in Christmas 1914. These boxes contained one ounce of pipe tobacco, twenty cigarettes, a pipe, a tinder lighter, a Christmas card from the King and Queen and a photograph of Princess Mary. Non-smokers received a box containing a packet of acid tablets, a khaki writing case containing pencil, paper and envelopes together with the Christmas card and photograph. Princess Mary also took a nursing course and in 1918 went to work at the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
In 1922 she married Henry, Viscount Lascelles, a man 15 years her senior at Wesminster Abbey. At first they made their home at Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough. Seven years after their wedding, Lord Lascelles succeeded his father as the sixth Earl of Harewood and they moved into Harewood House. Princess Mary loved Yorkshire and she was known as the 'Yorkshire Princess'. They had two sons, George the present Earl of Harewood, born in 1922 and Gerald born in 1923.
Her public duties reflected a particular concern with nursing, the Women's Services and the Girl Guide movement. She was appointed Commandant in Chief of the British Red Cross Detachments in 1926 and she also became Colonel-in-chief' of a number of regiments. Following the death of her aunt, Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife, she was created Princess Royal by her father on January 1, 1932.
At the outbreak of World War II, the Princess Royal became chief controller and later controller commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS, renamed the Women's Royal Army Corp in 1949). In that capacity she travelled Britain visiting its units, as well as wartime canteens and other welfare organizations.
After her husband's death in 1947, she continued to live at Harewood house with her son and his family. She became Chancellor of Leeds University in 1951, and continued to carry out many duties at home and abroad, representing the Queen at the independence celebrations of Trinidad in 1962 and Zambia in 1964. During a trip to Canada in 1962 she became the first woman to be installed as an honorary bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Upon receiving this honor she said 'I have not been a great lawyer, but I'm fast becoming one'. One of her last official engagements was to represent the Queen at the funeral of Queen Louise of Sweden in early March 1965.
She died suddenly of a heart attack on March 28, 1965 while walking in the garden with her eldest son and his family. She is buried on the Harewood estate.
© Marilyn Braun 2006
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