Princess Mary was known as ‘Yorkshire’s Princess’ and she was the royal with strong connections to Filey, her children were regular holidaymakers during the 1920s and the Princess considered buying the White Lodge as a seaside home during the 1930s. In the 1950s she returned to open the new promenade, named the Royal Parade in her honour.
It is fitting therefore that a Yorkshire author has just released a biography of Princess Mary. Elisabeth Basford’s book, Princess Mary: The First Modern Princess, is the first full biography of Princess Mary, the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, who the author argues redefined the role of ‘princess’ for the modern age.
Princess Mary was sister to two kings, King Edward (the Duke of Windsor) and King George VI (the Queen’s father) and through her life would witness no fewer than six sovereigns (including her niece Queen Elizabeth II). Elisabeth Basford presents Mary as the ‘princess who redefined the role for the modern age’, paving the way for the likes of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex.
Princess Mary was one of the hardest-working members of the Royal Family, she was known for her no-nonsense philosophy and her life was characterised by many ‘firsts’. She was the first female chancellor of a university, the first female honorary General of the British Army and the first daughter of a monarch to train and work as a nurse.
She lived through the two world wars and they were to have a huge impact on her life. During the First World War she came up with the idea that every soldier and sailor (all 2,620,019 of them) serving with the British and Commonwealth forces should receive an embossed Princess Mary Gift Tin for Christmas 1914, containing cigarettes, tobacco, a pipe and a lighter. The tins were a huge boost to morale and are today highly valued collectables.
Her marriage to Viscount Lascelles of Harewood House, made her the Countess of Harewood. and she was dubbed ‘Yorkshire’s Princess’. It was a match made heaven and the Princess won the hearts of the county’s people. However, in the recent Downton Abbey film her husband, Lord Harewood, was portrayed as something of a brute, scarred by post-traumatic stress from his time serving on the Western Front with the Grenadier Guards. Elisabeth Basford denies this and writes that it ‘couldn’t be further from the truth’. Indeed, Lord Harewood’s death in 1947 left Mary ‘utterly bereft’. Harewood House, where they moved from Goldsborough Hall, is in some respects the legacy of that marriage. It was transformed into a treasure house akin to a Royal Palace, complete with Chippendale furniture, Capability Brown parkland and Robert Adam interiors. Today it is one of Yorkshire’s biggest tourist attractions.
The Princess was said to be an ‘inveterate letter writer’, particularly to her two brothers. Her favourite was supposedly Edward, and his abdication in order to marry the twice-married American socialite Wallis Simpson, left her torn between loyalty to her brother and the duty to the crown.
She had two children with Lord Harewood, both boys were regular sights on The Crescent, enjoying holidays at Filey throughout the 1920s and 1930s. During the 1920s it was reported that the Princess was pondering buying an apartment on The Crescent as a holiday home. When the White Lodge came onto the market in the late 1930s the interest was such that Lord Harewood himself came to inspect the property. However, the villa was eventually sold and converted into the White Lodge Hotel.
Princess Mary passed away at Harewood House in 1965. From her dedication to the war effort, to her role as the family peacemaker during the Abdication Crisis, Mary can be described as the princess who redefined the role for the modern age. In this new biography, Yorkshire author Elisabeth Basford offers a fresh and frank appraisal of Princess Mary’s fascinating life. Perhaps one day, post-pandemic, we should invite Elisabeth to come to Filey to speak about Yorkshire’s, and Filey’s, Princess.