George’s health remained a cause for concern and the deaths of his sister, Louise, the Princess Royal and one of his oldest friends, Sir Charles Cust, in addition to the death of Lord Stamfordham, who had been his private secretary, were a blow to him. Yet, there were happy times too. Their youngest son George, the Duke of Kent married Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark on 29 December 1934. May wrote to her husband earlier that year, “I am sure we shall like Marina & that she will be a charming addition to the family.” The following year, her husband celebrated his Silver jubilee. He noted in his diary, “The greatest number of people in the streets I have ever seen in my life. The enthusiasm was indeed most touching.”
Later that year, Mary celebrated her 68th birthday and George his 70th birthday. Afterwards, they travelled to Sandringham where he collapsed with a cold. He was ordered by his doctors to stay at Sandringham while Mary now had to preside over the Court Ball and the Ascot races alone. During this time, their third son, Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, became engaged to Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott, the daughter of the 7th Duke of Buccleuch. Their wedding took place in November, though in quite a sombre mood as the bride’s father had died in October. Mary recorded, “A lovely day for the wedding of Harry & Alice in the Chapel here. We went down to the Bow Room at 11. Met various members of our family & saw the bridesmaids who looked charming – Lilibet and Margaret looked too sweet. Alice arrived before 11.30 looking lovely in her wedding dress. We had a beautiful service & the Archbishop of Canterbury gave such a nice address… We had luncheon in the supper room, about 120 guests, all our family & many of the Scott family – They left after 3… May God bless the dear Couple.”
George and Mary went to visit his sister Victoria shortly after the wedding, and she was not at all well. By early December they were receiving daily messages on her condition, and she died on 3 December 1935. The loss of his favourite sister was a serious blow, and he felt forced to cancel the opening of parliament, which was supposed to take place later that day. He would not appear in public again. Four days before Christmas, George and Mary travelled to Sandringham by train. During the first days of January, George managed to go outside on his white pony with Mary walking beside him. On 14 January, George went outside for the last time. Mary noted, “Poor George who had not been feeling well for some days, felt worse & had to go to bed before dinner.” On 17 January, she sent for the chief physician Lord Dawson of Penn, and The Prince of Wales was sent for. George spent his final days sitting in front of a fire in his bedroom as Mary sat with him from time to time.
The end came on 20 January just before midnight – helped by two consecutive lethal injections of morphine and cocaine. Mary immediately went over to her eldest son, stooped and kissed his hand. He was now King. Mary wrote, “Am brokenhearted. At 5 to 12 my darling passed peacefully away – my children were angelic.” His coffin rested in Sandringham Church for just 36 hours, and on 23 January it was taken to Wolferton station by gun-carriage. It was taken to Westminster Hall where his four sons would later – incognito – take part in a vigil. Mary was most touched by the gesture, and she had a painting commissioned of the moment. After lying in state for four days, the coffin was taken to Windsor for the funeral.
Ten months after the death of her husband, Mary moved out of Buckingham Palace and into Marlborough House. She saw her eldest son often during this time and was grateful for the consideration he showed her. Just as she was settling in it became known that the new King’s mistress – Wallis Simpson – was finally divorced. His intention to marry Wallis led to him abdicating by December. Mary would later declare that no single event in her whole life had caused so much real distress or had left her with a feeling of humiliation. Her eldest son later wrote, “To my mother, the Monarchy was something sacred and the Sovereign a personage apart. The word ‘duty’ fell between us. But there could be no question of my shirking my duty.” On 10 December 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated in favour of his younger brother, The Duke of York, who became King George VI. Mary noted in her diary, “Dark gloomy day.” The former King left England the following day. His new title was going to be “The Duke of Windsor.” After the whole ordeal, Mary fell ill over Christmas. When The Duke of Windsor married Wallis Simpson in June 1937, Mary wrote, “Alas! The wedding day in France of David & Mrs Warfield… We all telegraphed him.”
In July 1938, she wrote to her eldest son, “You ask me in your letter of the 23rd of June to write to you frankly about my true feelings with regard to you and the present position and this I will do now. You will remember how miserable I was when you informed me of your intended marriage and abdication and how I implored you not to do so for our sake and for the sake of the country. You did not seem able to take in any point of view but your own… I do not think you have ever realised the shock, which the attitude you took up caused your family and the whole Nation. It seemed inconceivable to those who had made such sacrifices during the war that you, as their King, refused a lesser sacrifice… My feeling for you as your Mother remain the same, and our being parted and the cause of it, grieve me beyond words. After all, all my life I have put my Country before everything else, and I simply cannot change now.”
Just as life settled back into normality, the Second World War began to loom. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, Mary moved to Badminton House, where she would remain for five years. She was initially restless there and felt cut off from London. She longed to be of “use” for the country, and she began to visit London frequently. She became very active and did all she could to help. On 25 August 1942, her son The Duke of Kent was killed in an aeroplane crash, and she wrote, “I felt so stunned by the shock I could not believe it.”
Mary returned to Marlborough House on 11 June 1945. However, she found herself unable to entertain there and could not stay up late anymore. In October, she finally saw The Duke of Windsor again when he visited London. She was most delighted when Princess Elizabeth became engaged to Prince Philip of Greece and wrote, “Heard with great pleasure of darling Lilibet’s engagement to Philip Mountbatten. They both came to see me after luncheon looking radiant.” She became a great-grandmother in November 1948 with the birth of Prince Charles.
She was now 81 years old and still going strong, though she now occasionally used a wheelchair. She cut down on many of her activities, and she saw fewer people. On 6 February 1952, she got the shock from which she would never recover. Early that morning, her son King George VI had been found dead in his bed. When her granddaughter, now Queen Elizabeth II, arrived back home, Mary drove out to Clarence House to meet her, saying “Her old Grannie and subject must be the first to kiss Her hand.” Her health was never the same, and after her son’s death, she began to age rapidly. She let it be known that if she were to die before the coronation that it should not be postponed.
She was right in that she would not live to see the coronation of her granddaughter. During the evening of 24 March 1953, the formidable Queen Mary died. She was buried beside her husband at St George’s Chapel.1