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Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh

She was the eleventh child and fourth daughter of King George III of the United Kingdom and his consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. She married her first cousin, Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, when both were 40, and was his widow in later life. In her last years, her niece Queen Victoria was on the throne as the fourth monarch during Mary’s life, after her father and two of her brothers, George IV and William IV of the United Kingdom.

Princess Mary
Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh

25 April 1776
Buckingham House

30 April 1857 (aged 81)
Gloucester House

Prince William Frederick
Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh

George III of the United Kingdom

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Princess Mary was born on 25 April 1776, at Buckingham Palace, London. Her father was the reigning British monarch, George III. Her mother was Queen Charlotte. Mary was baptized on 19 May 1776, in the Great Council Chamber at St. James’s Palace, by Frederick Cornwallis, The Archbishop of Canterbury. The King was a devoted father, finding time to often visit the royal nursery. Engaging in active play with his young children, he behaved quite informally in contrast to the dignified Queen Charlotte, who had more difficulty abandoning the formal behaviour expected of their class. Despite her outer reserve, however, Charlotte took a role as conscientious as her husband in their children’s upbringing.

For the royal princesses, the Queen carefully oversaw their welfare, education, and development of moral values. Faced with less time due to her public duties and close marriage to the King, she appointed Lady Charlotte Finch to manage the royal nursery and administer her ideas.

According to Flora Fraser, Mary was considered to be the most beautiful daughter of George III; but Flora calls her a “bland beauty”. Mary danced a minuet for the first time in public at the age of sixteen in June 1791, during a court ball given for the king’s birthday. In the spring of 1792 she officially debuted at court. Around 1796 Mary fell 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 stipulated that her elder sisters should marry first. In 1799 Prince Frederik died of an infection while serving in the army, and Mary was allowed to go into official mourning.

Mary’s youngest sister and beloved companion Princess Amelia called her “Mama’s tool” because of her obedient nature. Amelia’s premature death in 1810 devastated her sister, who had nursed her devotedly during her painful illness.

Mary’s upbringing was very sheltered and she spent most of her time with her parents and sisters. King George and Queen Charlotte were keen to shelter their children, particularly the girls. Mary, however, married on 22 July 1816, to her first cousin, Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. 

On their wedding day, Mary’s brother, The Prince Regent, raised the bridegroom’s style from Highness to Royal Highness, an attribute to which Mary’s rank as daughter of the King already entitled her.

William Frederick had initially sought to marry Mary’s niece Princess Charlotte of Wales. The historian A. W. Purdue suggests that Mary’s motive for marrying her cousin sprang from her dislike of Queen Charlotte’s restrictive household. Princess Charlotte observed that the duke “is much in love, & and tells me he is the happiest creature on earth. I won’t say [Mary] does as much, but being her own mistress, having her own house, & being able to walk in the streets all delights her in their several ways.”

The couple lived at Bagshot Park, but after William’s death she moved to White Lodge in Richmond Park. They had no children together. Mary was the last surviving child of George III, and was said to be the favourite aunt of her niece, Queen Victoria.

Princess Mary was quite close to her eldest brother, and she shared his dislike toward his wife, their cousin Caroline of Brunswick. When the latter left for Italy, Princess Mary congratulated her brother “on the prospect of a good riddance. Heaven grant that she may not return again and that we may never see more of her.”

 Princess Mary died on 30 April 1857 at Gloucester House, London, aged 81. At the time of her death, she was the last surviving child as well as the longest-lived child of King George III and Queen Charlotte.


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