Princess Mary was born, on 25 April 1776, at Buckingham Palace. Mary was christened on 19 May 1776, in the Great Council Chamber at St. James Palace, by Frederick Cornwallis, The Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were Landgrave Frederick of Hesse-Cassel (her first cousin once-removed); The Duchess of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (her cousin’s wife); and Princess Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (her third cousin once-removed). As we have learned previously, each of King George’s daughters possessed a distinct personality. Princess Mary, “Minny” to her sisters, was said to be the prettiest of the bunch. Mary was known as the family “nurse.” When her younger sister Amelia was dying, it was Mary who traveled to Weymouth to tend the girl. As the Regency came into place with George III’s madness, Mary wrote daily report to her bother regarding their father’s condition. Mary stressed how Queen Charlotte’s presence upset her husband, and it was with her suggestion that the daughters visit their father instead.
Like her sisters before her, Mary resisted her mother’s manipulations. The Queen had insisted that her daughters share her cloistered existence at Windsor. Mary, however, as the oldest unmarried Princess, opened the Grand Ball at Carlton House for the 1814 victory celebration. She danced with the Duke of Cumberland. Later, she opened her brother’s fete for Arthur Wellsley, the Duke of Wellington. On that evening, she danced with the Duke of Devonshire. She was considered the best of George III’s daughters when it came to social situations.
Around 1796, Mary had fallen in love with the Dutch prince Frederick, while he and his family lived in exile in London. Frederik was a son of William V, Prince of Orange, the Dutch stadholder, and younger brother to the future King William I of the Netherlands. However Frederik and Mary never wed because George III had stipulated that her elder sisters must marry first. In 1799, Prince Frederik died of an infection while serving in the army, and Mary was allowed to go into official mourning.
In 1815, Mary’s cousin William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, presented himself as a possible suitor. They married on 22 July 1816. On that day, the Prince Regent granted the Duke the style of His Royal Highness by Order in Council. The Duke had been encouraged to stay single so that he might become a suitable groom for Princess Charlotte of Wales, heir to the throne. He was the “just in case” – just in case no foreign match could be found for Charlotte. Both he and Mary were age 40 at the time of their marriage; therefore, no children came of their joining.
Ironically, the Duke of Gloucester had been one of the reasons George III had put the Royal Marriage Act in place. William Frederick was the son of George III’s brother Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. However, his mother was one of the illegitimate daughters of Sir Edward Walpole and Walpole’s low class mistress. William Frederick was known as “Silly Billy” within the family because of his lack of both charm and intelligence. Mary wrote, “I do not know what other people feel when going to be married, but, as yet, I have done nothing but cry.”
Mary likely had very good reason to shed a few tears. Gloucester shocked his dear family by coming out as a Whig. Although he permitted his wife to attend her family in times of distress, Mary found it more difficult to escape her husband’s tight hold for pleasanter times. Gloucester allowed Mary to support her sisters during her mother’s death. (He actually went abroad to leave his wife to her duties.) He even gave her permission to participate in attending her father. Yet, when she wished to enjoy her family celebrations, Gloucester did not approve. He was an Evangelical and did not believe in Sunday travel. Mary’s husband thoroughly disapproved of the decadent Prince Regent. The man even barred his wife the use of the downstairs reception rooms at their home for entertaining. Poor Mary had to receive guests in her rooms on the uppermost floors of the house.
The Duke of Gloucester died in 1834. Mary dutifully nursed her husband through his illness. Mary lived to the ripe old age of 80. She outlived all of George III’s fifteen children. Mary passed away on 30 April 1857 at Gloucester House, London.
Part V continues tomorrow with Princess Sophia.