by Suzanne Hudson
A shocking revelation
I love a mystery. There’s something about one that captures my imagination and like a dog with a bone, I can’t let it go until I’ve solved it. You never know when you might stumble across one. On a day trip to Harewood House, in Yorkshire, England, a chance remark by my mother ignited something, which then took hold of me for the next three days.
Harewood was the marital home of Princess Mary, only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary and aunt of the present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Princess Mary was born in the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, in 1897.
Mary was educated at home by governesses but sometimes joined her brothers for lessons. She was fluent in French and German and from an early age developed a lifelong interest in horses and horse racing. As a teenager during World War 1, Mary visited many hospitals with her mother and in June 1918 she began a nursing course in London, working two days a week at Great Ormand Street Hospital. She married a wealthy aristocrat, Viscount Lascelles, later the Earl of Harewood, in 1922.
We were just nearing the end of our tour of this fascinating house when my mum told to me she had previously read that Princess Mary was unhappily married and that her much older husband could be ‘cold and abusive’. I was shocked by this news. As we had toured the magnificent rooms of Harewood, I had seen only wealth and privilege. And yet, it now appeared that being a princess didn’t make you immune to being a victim of abuse. The servants would have been aware of the situation, but would not have dared to speak out against their master, the Earl.
My mum explained that there had been rumours that Mary did not want to marry Viscount Lascelles, who was fifteen years her senior, but had been coerced into it by her parents. Lascelles was a friend of the King and one of Britain’s most wealthy and eligible bachelors. The story was that Lascelles had proposed to her after making a bet at his gentlemen’s club. His friends had dared him to propose to the princess and he didn’t want to look like a coward.
Princess Mary was no longer this distant figure from history, she had become real to me, human and tortured. Her story gripped me and I wanted to know everything about her. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied until I had got to the truth.
Research begins in earnest
Back home that evening, it took just a few clicks on my laptop and my search began. Within seconds up popped specialist websites, by people with a fascination with European royalty.
I obsessively trawled through blogs and forums, scanning the text for any tit bits of information that would confirm or deny the rumours about Mary. I found further confirmation of the ‘bet’ story and suggestions that Mary had been the victim of ‘verbal and physical abuse’.
Her brother, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, to whom she was very close, was said to be against the marriage because he did not want his sister to marry someone whom she did not love and barely knew. She had apparently ‘cried her eyes out’ the night before the wedding.
The ‘aha’ moment
Hours passed. Just when I was about to tear myself away and go to bed, I hit upon a nugget of gold. Someone called Angele had posted the following comment on a thread about Mary’s marriage:
‘It is my understanding that Mary was very much in love with Walter Montague Douglas Scott, son and heir to the Duke of Buccleuch and these feelings were reciprocated. Unfortunately though, for various reasons, it was not thought to be a suitable match. I do think that Mary made the best of the situation, probably helped by her sense of duty, which I believe she had in abundance.’
The romantic in me wanted to believe that that Mary had known true love before she had to marry Lascelles. Further reading revealed that the handsome Walter, who was three years older than Mary, was not considered to be ‘rich enough’ to marry the King’s daughter. The pair had apparently been devoted to each other since childhood.
My imagination was now running riot, visualising Mary homesick and miserable at Harewood, pining for her lost love.
Continued research revealed that Mary’s brother Henry ended up marrying Walter’s sister Alice. Mary and Walter would have both attended that wedding and must have met at other occasions in later life. Was the spark still there? Did their eyes ever meet across a crowded room?
And did Mary, who had always been taught to negate her own feelings, ever wonder ‘What if?’’
About the author:
Suzanne is a teacher and writer, with a passion for social history. She studied ‘English and Communication Arts’ at the University of Huddersfield and completed a PGCE (Primary) through the University of Wolverhampton. Suzanne has been a primary school teacher for over 25 years. In more recent years she has been working as a supply teacher, which has enabled her to pursue some freelance projects. She has been involved in two WWI history projects, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. ‘Postkarte from the Front’ (2016) was run by the West Yorkshire Print Workshop and was inspired by a collection of original WWI postcards. Suzanne created and delivered a series of WWI creative writing workshops in local primary and secondary schools, and the pupils’ work formed part of an exhibition. During 2018-19, she worked with the ‘Dewsbury Sacrifices’ project, which was run by group of volunteers in Dewsbury to research the lives of the 1053 names listed on the town’s WWI cenotaph. She project managed, created and delivered WWI creative writing workshops in nine local primary schools, which involved over 700 children.