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Could Queen Mary have become Queen Regent and reigned for a king?

She was handpicked by Queen Victoria as the perfect queen consort for an evolving monarchy but new research reveals that Queen Mary might actually have reigned as a regent in a shock move designed to save the throne.

Fascinating new work by Christopher Wilson, published in The Daily Telegraph, examines recently released papers that show a plan being formed for Queen Mary to take over following the Abdication of her eldest son, King Edward VIII.

The papers reveal that on December 7th 1936, as it became clear that Edward VIII would not give up his plans to marry Wallis Simpson, all possibilities of what to do with a vacant throne were considered.

First in line was Albert, Duke of York who was known to be extremely shy and who had a stammer. The duke, aware of the impending change of reign, had wept on the shoulder of his mother, Queen Mary, at the thought of taking on the huge responsibility.

Other options, including passing the throne to the charismatic Duke of Kent, were debated. But the papers show an even more intriguing idea had taken hold. On December 7th 1936, Treasury Solicitor, Sir Thomas Barnes suggested that Queen Mary become Regent.

His thinking was as practical as it was radical. Aware that Edward VIII remained a popular figure outside palace walls, despite deep unease about his suitability to rule within inner royal and government circles, Sir Thomas was searching for a solution that would allow the public time to adjust to the loss of a much loved king.

He wanted Queen Mary to become Queen Regent as a kind of ‘soft launch’ of a new monarchy. Ultimately, a new king would be introduced. But Sir Thomas Barnes’ idea was to phase that in, to avoid a new monarch being seen as an ‘interloper’. Queen Mary, popular and well respected, would become the outward face of a monarchy that would rebuild away from public gaze.

It would have been the ultimate turnaround for the queen who, as a young princess, had been a figure of fun to the snobbier elements of the court when her parents had to take their family overseas when they ran into money troubles. However, by 1936, Mary was a queen and an empress and had helped establish the House of Windsor at a time when monarchies around Europe had been falling. The fact that one way suggested of ensuring her own dynasty didn’t topple was making her its temporary head is a fascinating glimpse into the tumultuous days before the Abdication.

She would have been the first queen to take the role of regent since Katherine Parr in the mid 16th century.

Ultimately, the plan was rejected. Albert, Duke of York succeeded as King George VI and his devotion and courage, especially as a wartime king, turned him into one of the most successful and popular monarchs of modern times.

Queen Mary was at his side throughout. And she also took a leading role in raising King George VI’s own heir, Elizabeth, to whom she was devoted. Through her influence on her son and granddaughter, Mary did reign. But the prospect of her as regent is a fascinating new chapter in her still evolving story.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.