Her Royal Highness The Princess Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary, GBE, CI, GCStJ, GCVO was born at York Cottage, Sandringham, to the then Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary). Born during Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, she was named after her paternal great grandmother, her paternal grandmother, the then Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra), and her maternal grandmother, Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck. She was always known by the last of Christian names, Mary. Princess Mary was educated by governesses, but shared some of lessons with her brothers, Prince Edward (later Edward VIII), Prince Albert (later George VI), and Prince Henry (later Duke of Gloucester). She became fluent in German and French and developed a life-long interest in horses and horse racing. Her first state appearance was at the coronation of her parents at Westminster Abbey in June 1911.2
During World War I, Princess Mary visited hospitals and welfare organizations with her mother, assisting with projects to comfort to British servicemen and assistance to their families. One of these projects was Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Fund, through which £100,000 worth of gifts were sent to all British soldiers and sailors for Christmas 1914. She took an active role in promoting the Girl Guides movement, the VADs, and the "Land Girls." In 1918, she took a nursing course and went to work at Great Ormond Street Hospital. King George V created her Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (civil division) on 3 June 1917. She received the Imperial Order of the Crown of India (CI) on 25 April 1919 and the Dame Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (GCStJ) on 12 May 1926. Her brother, George VI, created her Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) on 11 May 1947. She also held the family orders of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.
On 28 February 1922, Princess Mary married Henry Charles George, Viscount Lascelles, K.G. (9 September 1882-23 May 1947), the elder son of Henry Lascelles, 5th Earl of Harewood, and Lady Florence Bridgeman. Their wedding at Westminster Abbey was the first royal occasion in which Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother), a friend of Princess Mary's and one of the bridesmaids, participated. She and her husband made their home in Yorshire, first at Goldborough, and later at Harewood House. She took a keen interest in the interior decaration of Harewood House, the Lascelles family's seat, and in farming pursuing, becoming an expert in cattle breeding.
Princess Mary's public duties reflected her concerns with nursing, the Girl Guide movement, and the Women's Services. She became honorary president of the British Girl Guide Association in 1920, a position she held until her death. In 1926, she became the commandant-in-chief of the British Red Cross Detachments. Earlier, in 1918, she became the colonel-in-chief of The Royal Scots (the Royal Regiment). In 1935, she became colonel-in-chief of the Royal Signal Corps and in 1947, she became colonel-in-chief of West Yorkshire Regiment (later amalgamated with The East Yorkshire Regiment (The Duke of York's Own) to form the Prince of Wales' Own Yorksire Regiment in 1958). She also served as colonel-in-chief of the Indian Corps of Signals (1936-1950), the Royal Austrailian Corps of Signals (1937-65), the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's, 1930-1965), the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals (1940-1965), and several other Commonwealth regiments.
Princess Mary and Lord Lascelles had two sons:
The Princess Royal was particularly close to her eldest brother. After the abdication crisis, she and her husband went to stay with the former Edward VIII, by then created Duke of Windsor, at Enzenfeld Castle near Vienna. In November 1947, she declined to attend the wedding her niece, the future Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, to protest the fact that the Duke of Windsor had not been invited.
At the outbreak of World War II, the Princess Royal became chief controller and later controller commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS, renamed the Women's Royal Army Corp in 1949). In that capacity she travelled Britain visiting its units, as well as wartime canteens and other welfare organizations. On the death of her younger brother, the Duke of Kent, she became the president of Papworth. The Princess Royal became air chief commandant of Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service in 1950 and received the honorary rank of general in the British Army in 1956.
After her husband's death in 1947, the Princess Royal lived at Harewood House with her elder son and his family. She became the chancellor of Leeds University in 1951, and continued to carry out official duties at home and abroad. She attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953 and later represented the Queen at the independence celebrations of Trinidad in 1962 and Zambia in 1964. One of her last official enagements was to represent the Queen at the funeral of Queen Louise of Sweden (formerly Lady Louise Mountbatten) in early March 1965.
The Princess Royal suffered a fatal heart attack during a walk with her elder son, Lord Harewood, and his children on the grounds of the Harewood House estate. She was buried at Harewood after a private family funeral at York Minister.
Ronald Allison and Sarah Riddell, eds., The Royal Encyclopedia (London: Macmillan, 1991).
"Honors List, New Princess Royal, Public Service Awards," The Times, 1 January 1932, p. 11, column E.
"The Princess Royal An Active, Unobtrusive, And Purposeful Life," The Times, 26 March 1965, p. 14, column A.
1 Princess Mary's original surname may have been Wettin. Her paternal great grandmother, Queen Victoria, was the last British monarch of the House of Hanover. When her paternal grandfather, King Edward VII, ascended the throne in January 1901, the name of the British Royal House changed to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In June 1917, King George V adopted Windsor as the name of the British Royal House and the surname of all descendants of Queen Victoria who were British subjects, excluding females who married and their descendants. Princess Mary's surname was Windsor until her marriage, whereupon it changed to Lascelles.
2 The Princess Royal's exact titles and styles changed serveral times in her lifetime. From birth to death, she was styled as follows: