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‘Fat Mary’ – The last Princess of Cambridge

by Alexander Bassano, half-plate glass negative, circa 1888

by Alexander Bassano, half-plate glass negative, circa 1888

It has been quite some time since the last Princess of Cambridge – 132 years to be exact. Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge was born in 1833. She had earned the nickname of Fat Mary and is recorded as a “jolly old maid” in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Luckily for her, that was not her only nickname. The Princess of Cambridge was the original “People’s Princess” for devotion to charity, her witty sense of humor, and her “common touch”.

Princess Mary is said to have set the tone for the modern Royal family for her ability to link the Crown and middle class into an alliance, thus reaffirming how important the monarchy was.

As the granddaughter of George II and the youngest of the then Duke of Cambridge, Adolphus Fredrick, and his wife Princess Augusta’s three children, Princess Mary was born in 1833. Also styled the Duchess of Teck, Mary spent her youth with a traditional education for a princess,  including the accomplishments of mastering the arts and languages, and studying the monarchy’s history at her childhood home in Kew.

Mary grew up and developed into a devout Anglican who put charitable giving before all else. She later became known as one of history’s best-known Royal philanthropists.

Parliament gave Princess Mary an annual allowance of £5,000, which she would give at least £1,000 away. The rest was used for the extravagant lifestyle she was known to lead, with clothes and jewels that would make anyone jealous. She would spend her time at local bazaars acting as shop-woman in order to boost traders.

As her life went on she would visit orphanages, lay foundation stones for charitable causes, open schools and lend her support to multiple organisations, including the St John’s Ambulance, Dr Barnardo’s, the NSPCC and many London hospitals, asylums and Christian associations. Mary was incredibly dedicated to her charitable causes.

It goes on to say Mary was especially committed to the Needlework Guild. The guild would find middle-class women to sew clothing for the poor. Mary also had a great likeability among the populace when she would visit ordinary workers in London.

A tribute to the “People’s Princess” reads: “Her association with good causes, like that of other members of the Royal Family, brought the crown and the middle classes into alliance.”

“It raised the prestige and reaffirmed the importance of the monarchy in a time when it was retiring from national politics.”

Mary first turned down a proposal in 1856 from the widowed King of Sardinia.

She went on to marry Prince Francis of Teck, an officer in the Austrian army, although it was a volatile marriage. Together they had three sons and a daughter, Mary, who eventually went on to wed George V.

On 27 October 1897, Princess Mary of Cambridge passed away due to heart failure at White Lodge. Her endless giving and personable nature is a legacy that her namesake will be honoured to follow in.

Featured photo credit: National Portrait Gallery

Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery– Princess Mary