Queen Mary, the widow of George V, and grandmother of the Queen, died at Marlborough House on 24 March 1953, a few months before the Coronation. She was eighty-five years old. Unusually for a Queen consort, an official biography was commissioned. The last similar exercise was the life of the Prince Consort, commissioned by Queen Victoria. The task was entrusted to James Pope- Hennessy. Pope-Hennessy embarked on his three year quest for Queen Mary in 1955. It was to take him to many royal courts and to the lunch and tea tables of retired courtiers and Ladies-in-Waiting. He had access to a great number of private documents. He was shown royal residences both in England and in Europe. Part of the time he lived at a guesthouse in Bodensee, in Germany, where the cost of living was cheaper and he was able to write quietly. As he went along, he kept notes about who he met and what he saw. Pope-Hennessy had not intended the notes of his royal interviews to be published for fifty years (i.e. until 2009). He described them as follows: To supplement the manuscript and printed sources I kept a private and confidential file recording in considerable detail the conversations I had both with Queen Mary s immediate descendants, related German, Danish and Norwegian royalty and with surviving members of the Court of King George V and Queen Mary. None of these interviews have been published, nor could they be until a lapse of fifty years. They are strictly confidential and form, I believe, a not uninteresting study of royal psycholology as it was and as it largely remains today. In THE QUEST FOR QUEEN MARY Hugo Vickers tells the story of the book and places these figures in context.
Queen Mary (born of Teck) is perhaps one of the most overlooked of the British Queens. She had been engaged to her future husband’s elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale but he died just six weeks after the announcement of the engagement. She then married the Duke of York, the future King George V and was his Queen consort from 1910. They went on to have six children together, though the youngest, Prince John, suffered from epilepsy and he died at the age of 13. She survived her husband and lived through the reigns of her sons, the disastrous King Edward VIII and King George VI. In 1952, her eldest grandchild became Queen Elizabeth II and Mary died the following year, leaving instructions that her granddaughter’s coronation was not to be postponed.
James Pope-Hennessy was commissioned to write her official biography, which was released in 1959. The Quest for Queen Mary is edited by Hugo Vickers and contains the many notes Pope-Hennessy made in his quest for Queen Mary, including interviews with foreign royalty and nobility. This makes it really quite a special book and offers a unique insight into not only Pope-Hennessy method but also into Queen Mary’s life.