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British RoyalsFeaturesHistoryQueen Elizabeth II

The hidden tragedy of 1952: Queen Mary’s loss

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Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, lived to the age of 85 and saw 6 different reigns- Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V (her husband), King Edward VIII, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II. She faced immense personal tragedy, as she outlived three of her sons. 

Prince John, the youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary, died on 18 January 1919 at the age of 13. At the age of 4, the family discovered that John suffered from epilepsy. From 1916, he lived at Sandringham House with his beloved governess, “Lala”, and died in 1919 from a severe seizure. Although the couple were believed to be rather emotionless about it, Mary described his death as “a great shock, tho’ for the poor little boy’s restless soul, death came as a great relief” and George said it was “the greatest mercy possible”. 

Prince George, The Duke of Kent, George and Mary’s third son and fourth child, died shortly before his 40th birthday in 1942. He was in an RAF plane that had set out from Scotland to Iceland (on non-operational duties) that crashed near Dunbeath, Caithness. 

After her husband’s death in January of 1936, Mary watched her eldest son, David, take the throne as King Edward VIII. However, in less than a year, he abdicated in order to marry his American mistress, Wallis Simpson, and her second eldest son, Bertie, took the throne as King George VI in December of that year.

Queen Mary was a steadying influence on George, and the Royal Family as a whole, throughout his reign. On 7 February, 1952, Lady Cynthia Colville brought Major Edward Ford into the Queen’s bedroom where she was having breakfast. Mary immediately guessed that it was the King, and they confirmed that he had passed in his sleep at Sandringham.

Dressed in black, Queen Mary left from Marlborough House in the afternoon on 8 February to greet her granddaughter, the new sovereign. She approached Elizabeth for the first time, as Elizabeth would have had to approach her grandmother for her entire life, and said “God Save The Queen.”

At her son’s funeral, Queen Mary was both frail and strong; though she was physically small, she held herself straight and solemn. She was unable to attend her son’s internment, but watched the funeral procession from the windows of Marlborough House. Those around her said that Bertie’s death affected her in a profound way, more so than the deaths of Princes John and George. 

Queen Mary passed away not long before her granddaughter’s coronation in June 1953. She specifically requested that the coronation not be postponed at all for her death. 

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About author

Historian and blogger at AnHistorianAboutTown.com