Shown in the photograph is Queen Mary (1867-1953), grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. Queen Mary was a manic collector of jewelry and other fine pieces. During the reign of her husband, King George V (1865-1936), she vastly expanded the Royal Collection, often from the houses of friends. Mary is shown here wearing “the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara” which is also referred to as “Granny’s Tiara,” which she gave to Elizabeth in 1947, the year she married Prince Philip.
Queen Mary was Queen Elizabeth’s grandmother. She was married to George V. George V was the father of Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, who preceded Queen Elizabeth on the throne.
Queen Mary got it wrong. One is supposed to “love people and use things.” She did the very opposite. Mary loved things and used people. The Queen had an “emotional lurch of the heart when she saw beautiful jewels,” but hated to pay for them. On seeing something she coveted, she said, “I’m caressing it with my eyes.” But it didn’t stop there. She acquired jewels, furniture, Faberge animals, watches, and gold musical boxes by means that ranged from begging to extortion to outright theft. She loved to visit India where the “maharajas handed out jewels like blackberries.” (1)
Antique dealers, jewellers, and estate owners locked away their valuables before Queen Mary came calling. If she spied a small silver vase or a china plate that she fancied, she would hint that she expected to be given it as a gift. At that point, the host or proprietor had no choice but to hand it over to the Queen. The Queen then instructed her chauffeur to put her new bauble in the car to add to the Royal Collection.
One day Queen Mary almost met her match. She was taking tea one late afternoon with Old Lady Hudson. The Queen began admiring a set of chairs that belonged to Lady Hudson. The chairs were painted by Angelica Kauffman. The Queen remarked that Lady Hudson’s chairs would go splendidly with the Kauffman table she owned. Lady Hudson no doubt smiled but did not offer her chairs to Queen Mary. The clock ticked on. Queen Mary continued to sip her tea. The sun went down. Queen Mary still showed no sign of getting up and departing.
More time passed. Finally, when the clock struck nine o’clock, Lady Hudson capitulated. She had held on valiantly, but, at the end, she was an old woman and she was ready for the Queen to go home. So “the chairs went off in the royal Daimler.” (1)
At times, when Queen Mary wasn’t given something she desired, it is rumored she went ahead and stole it.
In the early 20th Century, wearing expensive jewelry was a way of defining status and Queen Mary was all about defining status – her status – as an elevated member of society. She was born the daughter of two royals who frittered away their money, infuriating their benefactress Queen Victoria, resulting in the whole family being tossed out of their apartments at Kensington Palace and run out of London. Mary ended up studying in Italy. Years passed and Mary returned to England. Queen Victoria cast her eye about looking for a suitable spouse for her grandson George, second in line for the throne. She selected Princess Mary, seeing in her “queen potential.” Upon the death of King Edward VII in 1910, George ascended the throne and Mary became his Queen.
Queen Mary with granddaughters, the Princess Margaret Rose and the future Queen Elizabeth II
Mary then set about to fulfill the potential seen in her by Queen Victoria and to become as royal as royal could be. She proceeded to outdazzle the royals around her, projecting such a flawless image of majesty that, to many, she ceased to be human. She was so decorated and gem-encrusted that, “at Lord Harewood’s wedding, a myopic E.M. Forster bowed to the iced and many-tiered cake under the impression that it was Queen Mary.” (1)
Queen Mary was so busy collecting, carrying out her royal duties, and hobnobbing with nobility that she had little time for motherhood, though she had borne six children. She had no passion for them. She left their care to cruel servants who pinched them. She did not kiss, cuddle, or hug her children. They were all starved of love, particularly her youngest child, John, born handicapped and epileptic. He was hidden away in a cottage with caregivers until his death at fourteen.
Upon her death from lung cancer in 1953, her son, David, Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, remarked:
I somehow feel that the fluids in her veins must always have been as icy-cold as they now are in death.
(1) Brendon, Piers and Whitehead, Phillip. The Windsors: A Dynasty Revealed. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1994)
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