The Death of George, Duke of Kent

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Through history, the British Royal Family has lost any number of men to active combat, but it’s a number that has dwindled considerably in more recent centuries. The last king to die in battle was Richard III in 1485; the last king to actively participate in one was George II in 1743. Since then, the trend has been to preserve monarchs and from there direct heirs to the throne. Younger sons have a bit more wiggle room, most recently evidenced by the top secret deployment of Prince Harry last decade.

The most recent war casualty of a senior British royal was Prince George, Duke of Kent, fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary, during World War II. Aged only 39, George died from an airplane crash near Caithness, Scotland on August 25, 1942 during non-operational duties.

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Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood

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If ever there was a 20th century English princess that did things “correctly,” it would be George V’s daughter, Princess Mary. I say this mainly because the extent of what we don’t know about her could fill a book. She lived a life devoted to public duty, supporting her father, her brothers, Edward VIII and George VI, and later her niece, Queen Elizabeth. Today, however, marks the anniversary of her wedding to Henry Lascelles, Earl of Harewood in 1922, and so we’ll take this opportunity to take a quick look at her life.

Mary was born on April 25, 1897 to George, Duke of York and his wife, Mary of Teck, Duchess of York at York Cottage on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk. She was her parents’ third child, joining her elder brothers, Princes Edward and Albert in the York nursery. At the time of her birth her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, was still on the throne and her father was second in line to the throne, making her position mirror that of Princess Charlotte today. Notably, she was christened Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary, however Queen Victoria apparently proposed naming her “Diamond” in honor of her Diamond Jubilee which took place that year, marking her 60th year as queen.

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The Sapphire Jubilee: 65 Years Ago Today, Elizabeth II Ascended the Throne

Today marks the Blue Sapphire Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, commemorating her 65 years on the throne. Of course, there has never been a Sapphire Jubilee before, with the Queen surpassing the record of 63 years held by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in September 2015. So how will the Queen be celebrating? She won’t be. Instead she will spend the day quietly at Sandringham and neither she nor the Duke of Edinburgh will undertake any public engagements.

Indeed, this is how the Queen usually marks February 6th, which to her is not only the anniversary of ascending the throne, but the day she lost her much-beloved father, George VI. Thus the passage of 65 years is not only a milestone of her own career, but a reminder that its length is due to his premature death. For similar reasons she declined to make hay out of breaking Queen Victoria’s record to avoid the awkwardness of essentially celebrating a relative’s death.

Recently, Netflix debuted “The Crown,” following the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s marriage and reign. The series dramatized the reality of a young wife and mother shedding whatever semblance of domesticity or privacy she had been able to cultivate for the endless duty and isolation of the throne. The heart of that story is well-captured by the series, but today it’s worth examining the real figures and events behind the story.

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It’s Difficult to Beat Missy of Edinburgh’s Princess Game

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Queen Marie in the early 1920s

I referenced an anecdote from Sarah Bradford’s biography of George VI yesterday and I’m sharing another today. Needless to say I recommend the book, which kept me occupied for the entirety of an eight-hour flight back in December. The most ringing of all my endorsements.

Anyway, this anecdote concerns Marie “Missy” of Edinburgh, eldest daughter of Prince Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and his wife, Marie of Russia. Missy, born on October 29, 1875, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and would go on to marry Ferdinand I, King of Romania, serving as Romania’s queen from 1914-1927. After her husband’s death she saw the reigns of both her son, Carol I, and her grandson, Michael I, though not in that order (we’ll cover this in a later post), made frequent trips back to England and died just two years shy of the deposition of the Romanian royal family in 1940.

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Marie of Romania in 1893, the year of her marriage

Now, while Marie lived a colorful and eventful life, how she came into contact with the future George VI (then known as Prince Albert) is downright hilarious. Missy was a first cousin of Albert’s father, George V, and a favorite of his – before their respective marriages, George had even been a bit in love with her and she came very close to being the next queen of England.

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England’s Most Awkward Dinner Party

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On July 9, 1936 King Edward VIII hosted his second official dinner at his residence, Fort Belvedere. In attendance were his brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of York, Winston Churchill, and his long-time “companion,” Mrs. Wallis Simpson sans her husband, Mr. Ernest Simpson. The event was published in the Court Circular, which caused a bit of a stir because it made it appear as though, by socializing with them, the Yorks were condoning Edward’s relationship with Wallis.

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That Time Edward VIII Watched the Proclamation of His Kingship…With Wallis Simpson

 

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On January 21, 1936, this happened. Now, I only recently found this out, having given it literally no amount of thought, but monarchs don’t watch the formal proclamation of their accession. In Edward’s case, he not only did it, but he did it publicly from a window in St. James’s Palace next to none other than his  long-time, still-married companion, Wallis Simpson. #Scandal. Well, sort of.

Edward’s father, George V, died on January 20 at Sandringham House in Norfolk after a 25-year reign. Edward was 43, unmarried, childless and had, in certain circles, a reputation for being a bit of playboy, particularly if the women in question were married.

At the time that he became king, his relationship with Wallis Simpson wasn’t well-known to the public – thus, seeing them together wouldn’t raise alarm bells for most people. But it certainly did for those who knew who Wallis was, particularly members of Edward’s government, his family and his courtiers. As Edward was about to find out, what had been tolerated for the throne’s heir, would emphatically not be for its king.

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