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British RoyalsHistoryInsightPrince & Princess of Wales

Royal Baby Name Focus: Mary

Royal Baby Cambridge Number 3 is due imminently and the bookies have already made their minds up as to the new fifth in line to the throne. They’re confident Prince George and Princess Charlotte are getting a baby sister and she’s going to be called Mary. It’s been hot favourite for the royal baby for several weeks so as we wait to find out if they’ve called this one right, let’s take a look at a name with real royal pedigree.

The Top Job

Mary packs a real royal punch having been the name of more queen regnants in the British Isles than any other.

Mary I (r. 1547 – 1553) was the first woman to rule England in her own right after claiming the throne in heroic fashion on the death of her brother, Edward VI. However, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon is better known for her attempts to suppress Protestantism which led to a wave of executions and earned her the nickname Bloody Mary.

Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots (r. 1542 – 1567) took the throne at the age of just six days on the death of her father, James V, and so began a bumpy royal life that would end in her execution on the orders of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England.

Mary II (r. 1688 – 1694) snatched the Crown from her father, James II, in a coup known to history as the Glorious Revolution. Mary II shared power with her husband, William III (more on him later), the only time two monarchs have ruled jointly in Britain.

The consorts

Mary of Modena (r. 1685 – 1688) was the second wife of James II of England and Scotland. The birth of her son, James, in 1688 caused a wave of panic about a potential new Catholic monarchy and triggered a series of events that led to her husband’s deposition and the accession of William III and Mary II.

Mary of Teck, consort to George V

Mary of Teck (r.1910 – 1936) was queen to George V and instrumental in building the modern House of Windsor. She also helped steady the ship following the abdication of her eldest son, Edward VIII, and was a major influence on her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

Mary of Guelders (r. 1449 – 1460) was queen consort of Scotland, marrying James II in 1449 and taking on real power after his death in 1460 when she ruled as regent for their son, James III.

Mary of Guise (r. 1538 – 1542) was the consort of James V of Scotland and became regent of the country when he died just days after the birth of their daughter, Mary (see above).

Princess Royal

The title of Princess Royal, given to the eldest daughter of a monarch, has been used since the 17th century and its first holder was a Mary.

Mary, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange(1631 – 1660) was the eldest daughter of King Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria. Her marriage to William II, Prince of Orange resulted in one son who went on to rule Britain as King William III (and marry another Mary, see above).

Mary, Countess of Harewood

Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood (1897 – 1965) was the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. Christened Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary, she always know by her last name. Mary married Viscount Lascelles, later Earl of Harewood, in 1922.

Calling the King Dad…

As well as the monarchs we’ve already mentioned, several other rulers of England and Scotland have used the name for their daughters. The House of Norman waited several decades for a Mary before King Stephen (r. 1135 – 1154) gave the name to his youngest child. Plantagenet powerhosues, Edward I, Edward III and Edward IV, all had daughters called Mary. The first Tudor monarch, Henry VII,  used it for his second daughter while James I of Britain had a little girl with the name, too (no doubt name in honour of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots). It took a while for the Hanoverian kings to warm to it but George II and George III both named a daughter Mary.

Stuck in the middle…

We could go through all the times Mary has been used as a royal middle name but chances are Prince George will be welcoming his first baby by the time we’ve finished. It’s certainly popular as a middle name so here are just a few highlights.

Mary is one of the Queen’s middle names

The Queen has it as one of her names (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary) while two of her granddaughters bear it too (Beatrice Elizabeth Mary and Louise Alice Elizabeth Mary). Edward VII and Queen Alexandra used it as a middle name for two of their three daughters (Victoria and Maud) while Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gave it to three of their five girls (Victoria, Alice and Beatrice).

Missing in Action

Spare a thought for Mary de Bohun who should have been England’s first queen with the name. She was the first wife of Henry IV of England and married him when he was just plain old Harry Bolingbroke. They had a large family but poor Mary died before he snatched the throne and became king.

The chances of a Princess Mary?

Mary has been one of the most popular baby names across all parts of the UK for centuries but it’s fallen from favour in recent years, perhaps because it was so well used for so long. It didn’t even make the top 100 picks last year (according to the Office of National Statistics official countdown for England and Wales) and with their first two children, William and Kate chose names that were popular with other mums and dads, too, perhaps an indication that another name is topping their list?

But Mary packs a royal punch and the bookies aren’t budging from their predictions that if baby Cambridge number three is a girl, then the name will be getting another regal chapter in its history. Time will tell but Mary has a royal pedigree all of its own.

Photo credits: Kensington Palace Twitter; Mary, Queen of Scots, by Francis Clouet, Public Domain, Wiki Commons ;Mary of Teck, by W. & D. Downey 61, Ebury St. W. – Cabinet Photo, Public Domain, Wiki Commons; Mary, Countess of Harewood, by Beagle’s Postcards, Public Domain, Wiki Commons;Elizabeth II, by NASA/Bill Ingalls – Public Domain, Wiki Commons

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.