The Duchess of Cornwall and York, later Queen Mary, was wife of George V and mother to Edward VIII and George VI. An austere and regal figure, she was admired for her strong sense of duty and her steadfastness through both World Wars.
Born in London on 26 May 1867, Mary was originally engaged to the heir apparent, Prince Albert, but a year after he died in 1892 she became engaged to his younger brother George, and they married in July 1893. George and Mary held the titles of Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York.
The Duke and Duchess visited Australia in May 1901 to open the first Commonwealth Parliament. Their tour was one of the most lavish undertaken by the monarchy. An Orient steamship liner was chartered for the voyage as no royal yacht could span the required distances between coaling ports. The Daily Telegraph's London correspondent reported that the 'The tour of the Duke and Duchess of York is likely to cost the British ratepayer a cool quarter of a million…' (The Daily Telegraph)
Arriving on their liner on 6 May, the Duke and the Duchess were greeted with enthusiasm by the people of Melbourne. They attended a full programme of receptions, dinners and events. Public holidays were granted to allow people to glimpse the royal couple. Australia's connection to the British Empire was clearly evident.
The Argus reported a typical event at Government House the day after their arrival, when the Duke 'received all citizens who were anxious to evidence their loyalty in that manner. The gathering was the most important ever witnessed in the colony. About 4,000 gentlemen attended, and paid their respects to the Heir Apparent with due decorum, and yet with celerity. The Duke shook hands with each and by pleasant tact and savoir faire placed all at their ease.' (Argus Melbourne, 8 May 1901, p. 6) The Duke and Duchess were kept busy with a program ranging from dinner and a University Commencement to the presentation of prizes to public schools. They also managed to briefly visit country Victoria and during their 10-day stay managed to fit in a day's shooting.
The Royal tour also included visits to other Australian states, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada.
George and Mary had six children: Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor; Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, later King George VI; Princess Victoria; Prince Henry the Duke of Gloucester; Prince George the Duke of Kent; and Prince John.
George ascended the throne on his father's death on 9 May 1910. During his reign, which spanned World War I, the royal house abandoned the title the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (or the house of Hanover or Brunswick) and became known as the house of Windsor. After George died in 1936, Mary lived for another 17 years, long enough to see her granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II ascend to the throne, although she died three months before the formal coronation.
Mary is buried alongside her husband in St George's Chapel, Windsor.
The Daily Telegraph, 9 May 1901, p.4