Friday, August 10, 2018

Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor Paperback – December 5, 2014 by Anne Edwards (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers )

One of the earliest defining points of Queen Mary's life was when she was still Princess May and her fiance, Prince Eddy died, just as she was serenely contemplating her future as Princess of Wales and then Queen of England. When Eddy died, young Princess May did not make a single false move and within a decent interval she was engaged to Eddy's brother George, who was now second in line to the throne. This smooth transition between fiances to secure her future as Queen of England highlights the Queen's own ambition and dedication to the creed of royalty.

At the time of Princess May's marriage to the future King George V, Queen Victoria (Aunt Queen to May; Grandmama to George) was still on the throne; when Queen Mary died, her grand-daughter Elizabeth was preparing for her coronation. So Queen Mary was a central figure in major events of the early 20th century, such as the two World Wars, and an enduring symbol of British royalty when other royal families were destroyed or exiled.

Anne Edwards paints a portrait of a single-minded woman who puts her duty to the Crown above all else - this duty and loyalty was a positive central force in her marriage and a strong positive symbol for England - behind the scenes, however, it was also an excuse to ignore and neglect her six young children. Queen Mary did not have any natural maternal instinct, so her only connection with her children was through her passion for the Crown - it is significant, that as an adult her son Bertie refers to his brother the King as "David" in his diary, but his mother is consistently called "Queen Mary". With no maternal influence over the nursery, her two older sons were abused and neglected by a mentally incompetent nanny for four years before a senior member of staff told the Queen that her older son was bruised and the younger boy was seriously malnourished. She maintained a cold and distant relationship with all her children for the rest of their lives, leading to severe psychological problems in her two oldest sons.

Reading about the Duke of Windsor's upbringing and his relationship with his parents gives new insight into the Abdication Crisis. When he was Prince of Wales, he was surprisingly responsible and involved during the First World War, but for the first time I wondered about the impact of the Russian tragedy - when his cousins, the Tsar, his wife and children were all shot during the Russian Revolution. Surely this had some impact on his attitude to the throne? Ultimately, however, he was a man with extremely low self esteem and a poor understanding of his place in the constitution, who distracted the politicians from weightier world matters during the 1930s - he had to go. If Queen Mary ever questioned whether she held any blame for his inability to take the throne, she never said so. Once her son abdicated his crown and his responsibilities, she saw no place for him again, and she never mentioned his occasional visits in her diary.

If you are interested in the intricacies of royal relationships threaded into historical events, then this is an excellent book for you. While Queen Mary may have felt justified in neglecting her children for her royal duties, eventually they paid the price for her neglect, yet they could only admire her unswerving dedication to her responsibilities. While David (Prince of Wales/ Duke of Windsor) failed to live up to expectations, her son Bertie managed to surpass anyone's expectations, leading England successfully through World War II with the support of his mother, his wife and his daughters. Ultimately it was Queen Mary's unwavering strength of purpose that helped the British royal family endure when other royal families crumbled.

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