The wedding of George V and Mary of Teck (guest post)

10 January 2011

I’m thrilled to present another fabulous Royal Wedding guest post, this time by Emma Jolly of Genealogic.

“Never has the English sun . . . poured its rays upon a more imposing spectacle” (The Times, 7 July 1893): The Royal Wedding of Princess Victoria Mary of Teck to the Duke of York (later George V)

As we look ahead to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, it seems a good time to remember the only other wedding in British history of the eldest grandson of a reigning queen. If William and Kate’s day goes to plan, it will be celebrated with great pomp, huge crowds and a long procession – just as George and May’s wedding was in July 1893. The beginnings of that wedding, however, were born of tragedy.

Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (1867-1953) was the daughter of the Duke of Teck and Princess Mary of Cambridge. Although formally known as ‘Princess Victoria Mary’, to her family, and even the press, she was affectionately known to all by the month of her birth – May. Her mother, Mary, was a first cousin of Queen Victoria – the grandmother of the future King George V. Although her father, Francis, was the first Duke of Teck, his parents’ morganatic marriage meant that he was not entitled to his father’s privileges or title. May’s parents had so little money that they were heavily reliant on the generosity of their prominent cousin. Despite being the daughter of a German duke, May was raised in England, and after spending eighteen months studying in Florence, the bookish princess returned to London for her social debut.

Like the earlier royal bride, Catherine of Aragon, May was first engaged to the older brother of her eventual husband. And like Diana Spencer nearly a century later, May was recommended for the role of royal bride by a member of the royal family. In this case, it was her mother’s cousin, the Queen. Victoria believed May would make a suitable wife for her grandson and eventual heir to the throne, Albert Victor (Eddy), the Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Although she barely knew him and he was not very attractive, the impecunious May could not refuse when Eddy proposed in 1891. Tragically, he succumbed to a flu epidemic a few weeks later, and, within days, died of pneumonia. Instead of carrying it down the aisle, May laid her “redundant bridal bouquet of orange blossom on Eddy’s coffin.” (Nicholson, p. 28)

Victoria, who was devastated by the loss of Eddy and by the tragic end to her wedding plans, encouraged Eddy’s younger brother, George, then Duke of York, to comfort the bereaved May. Just five months after his brother’s death, George proposed. Again, May agreed – despite not knowing George very well at all.

On the 6th July 1893 the 28 year old George and his 26 year old bride married in the small Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace, where the Queen herself had married Albert in 1840. The following day, The Times described May’s dress effusively:

Of silver and white brocade with its ingeniously clustered shamrocks, roses and thistles [the national flowers of Britain] is at once simple and elegant. There is no train or, at all events, none that hampers the bride’s graceful movements . . . The bridal veil of fine old Honiton point is caught back of the face, and trails and clusters of orange-blossoms, together with the inevitable bouquet of white flowers carried in her hand . . .

Amongst the one hundred and fifty guests who could fit into the chapel were Royalty from across Europe, including the George’s maternal grandparents, The King and Queen of Denmark. Outside, however, the streets were full of “seething and well-ordered crowds which were gathered together not only from all parts of London and from many parts of the country, but from the far parts of the earth” (The Times).

The Queen wrote a letter to her public and, according to The Times, “had done all that it was possible to insure that the people should participate in the pageant”. Four thousand policemen lined the streets as crowds assembled outside Buckingham Palace in the early hours of the 6th. “The route of the various processions must have extended over some six or seven miles . . . Doubtless the young bride and bridegroom will never forget the roaring and cheering crowds that greeted them.”

The streets near St James’ Park were decorated extravagantly:

Everywhere there was a gorgeous glow of crimson and purple and gold. Flags and banners floated over the roofs of the houses and hung from the upper windows of the lofty buildings overlooking the park; pennons and streamers attached to tall Venetian masts made the roadsides gay with unwonted colour; tapestry and bunting lined the balconies and strove to hide the dingy fronts of smoke-stained London houses. (The Times)

Despite the ostentatious start to the marriage, the honeymoon was understated, being held merely at the couple’s new country retreat on the Sandringham Estate. George was rather understated always, preferring stamp-collecting to parties, and insisting on having the wine labels steamed off the bottles of Buckingham Palace’s finest to avoid showing off to his guests. If mutterings about the expense of William’s wedding become too trying, the Queen may like to try this at the post-wedding reception she is hosting.

Despite an unromantic beginning, George and May’s marriage proved strong and happy. In 1910, on their seventeenth wedding anniversary. George wrote to his wife: “My love grows stronger for you every day mixed with admiration and I thank God every day that he has given me such a darling devoted wife as you are.” (Nicholson, p. 31)

Let’s hope that William will follow in the tradition of his great great grandfather, and will be writing /emailing/texting as lovingly to Kate in seventeen years time.

Sources: Juliet Nicholson’s The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911; Dictionary of National Biography; The Times (London) 7 July 1893

You can visit Emma’s blog, Diary of an Urban Genealogist here. She is also on Twitter and has published a book: Family History for Kids.