A British Royal Wedding – Princess Mary and Viscount Lascelles

Last month in the ongoing British Royal Wedding series I featured a post on the wedding of Princess Victoria, the daughter of Queen Victoria.  This month’s post will be about another daughter of a British Monarch, Princess Mary who was the daughter of King George V.  I will briefly discuss the courtship, engagement and wedding of Princess Mary and Viscount Henry Lascelles (later to become the Earl of Harewood).

Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary was born on April 25, 1897 at York Cottage on the Sandringham estate located in Norfolk, England.  Princess Mary (as she was known in the family) was the third child of King George V and Queen Mary; at the time of her birth her parents were then the Duke and Duchess of York.  She was their only daughter among her six brothers – Edward (the future King Edward VIII who abdicated in 1936), Albert (future King George VI), Henry, George and John (known as “the Lost Prince” died as a result of a severe epileptic seizure in 1919).

Princess Mary as a young girl

Princess Mary spent the majority of her privileged childhood years quietly on the Sandringham estate where her family lived a relatively “country” lifestyle despite the fact that her father was the heir to the British throne. Princess Mary’s father was a strict disciplinarian who was often absent due to his royal duties and her mother frequently accompanied her husband in his travels so as a result the Princess and her brothers were generally raised by a governess.

Duke and Duchess of York with their children
(Princess Mary is seen on the left)

Princess Mary at the time of her confirmation

In 1910, with the death of her grandfather King Edward VII, her father ascended to the British throne as King George V.  The Royal family would officially move from the simple and small York Cottage on the Sandringham estate to the grand and large Buckingham Palace in London.

During World War I Princess Mary and Queen Mary visited British soldiers in local hospitals.  Princess Mary had enrolled in a nursing course at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1918 and would eventually work a few days a week in the hospital’s Alexandra Ward named after her grandmother, Queen Alexandra.  The Princess also promoted the Land Girls which was an organization of women started in 1915 to provide manufacturing and agricultural labor in Britain necessitated by the absence of the men fighting in the war.   Princess Mary also actively supported the Girl Guides, a British organization started in 1910 similar to the American Girl Scouts, and she later became the honorary president of the association in 1920 and continued to hold that title for the rest of her life.

Princess Mary worked as a nurse at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London

While living in London, Princess Mary met Viscount Henry Lascelles at a dinner party when he was home on leave during the war.  The Viscount was the eldest son of the Earl and Countess of Harewood from Leeds, Yorkshire and he had served with distinction during World War I as a lieutenant colonel with the Grenadier Guards.  Princess Mary and Lord Lascelles met again at several country house parties in the months that followed, he was 38 years old and she was 23 at the time.  The seemingly unlikely couple had a lot in common and both enjoyed the sporting life with hunting, shooting and other activities common with the British upper class.

After a short time, Lord Lascelles was frequently spending time with the Royal family in London, at Balmoral in Scotland and it was while visiting the Sandringham estate that he proposed to Princess Mary.  The King gave his consent for the couple to be married and it was followed by the approval of the Privy Council which was required under the Royal Marriages Act 1772 for members of the British Royal Family. The engagement was officially announced by the Palace on November 22, 1921. 

Viscount Lascelles and Princess Mary at the time of the engagement

The Royal wedding of Princess Mary and Viscount Lascelles took place on February 28, 1922 at Westminster Abbey in London, as customary the ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  There were eight bridesmaids – Princess Maud of Fife, Lady Rachel Cavendish, Lady Mary Thyne, Lady Victoria Cambridge, Lady Doris Lennox, Lady Diana Bridgeman, Lady May of Cambridge and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  Special Note: The last bridesmaid mentioned, Lady Elizabeth, was destined to marry the bride’s brother, Prince Albert George a year later,  The couple would later become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and they are the parents of the current Queen Elizabeth II.

Viscount Lascelles and Princess Mary on their wedding day

Viscount Lascelles and Princess Mary
with the best man, Sir Victor Audley Mackenzie, and the eight bridesmaids

Viscount Lascelles and Princess Mary with the bride’s parents,
King George VI and Queen Mary

A precedence was set for future Royal weddings when the couple became the first to make an appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony as shown in the historical photograph below.  King George, Queen Mary and the Dowager Queen Alexandra, the bride’s grandmother, also joined the Royal couple on the balcony.  Sadly, a few years later the Dowager would become a recluse at her home in Sandringham as her health declined and she died in 1925.

from left to right –
King George, Princess Mary, Viscount Lascelles,
Dowager Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary

Following their appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony, there was a wedding breakfast for several hundred invited guests and the large four-tiered elaborately decorated wedding cake was reportedly cut with a sword.  After the wedding reception the couple left for their brief honeymoon in Paris, France and Florence, Italy.

The wedding cake of Viscount Lascelles and Princess Mary

When the couple returned to England they settled into Chesterfield House which was a grand townhouse that would be their London residence for the next nine years; it was bought by Lord Lascelles in 1919.  Later the couple moved to Goldsborough Hall located near Leeds in Yorkshire.

In the years following their marriage the couple had two sons, George born in 1923 and Gerald born in 1924.  Then in 1929 Lascalles’ father died and he became the 6th Earl of Harewood and Princess Mary became the Countess of Harewood and they would move permanently to Harewood House.  The large stately house has a lovely garden and grounds designed by the famous “Capability” Brown.  (Special Note: Today Harewood House, although still the home of the Lascelles family, is owned by the Harewood House Trust which offers tours of both the house and gardens.  For more information, regarding hours and fees, please click on the link to the website, www.harewood.org)

The Countess of Harewood with her two sons, George and Gerald

In addition to becoming the Countess of Harewood, Princess Mary became the Princess Royal in 1932, the title is customarily given to the eldest daughter of the British monarch.  Since there can be only one Princess Royal at a time, upon the death of her Aunt Princess Louise, the Duchess of Fife (the daughter of King Edward VII) the title was given to Princess Mary.  Special Note: Princess Louise in turn received the title in 1905 four years after the death of Princess Victoria, the Dowager German Empress and Queen of Prussia (the daughter of Queen Victoria).  The current Princess Royal is Princess Anne, who is the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, and she received the title in 1987 twenty-two years after the death of Princess Mary.

The year of 1936 would bring about drastic changes to the British Royal Family.  Upon the death of her father King George V, her favorite brother became King Edward VIII but before his coronation was held he abdicated and her other brother would become King George VI.  Shunned by the Royal Family, Edward went on to become the Duke of Windsor and in 1937 when he married Wallis Simpson in France and the Earl and Countess of Harewood would be the only members of the Royal Family to attend.  (Special Note: Still upset years later when the Duke of Windsor did not receive an invitation to the wedding of her niece Princess Elizabeth to Phillip Mountbatten in 1947, the Countess declined to attend in protest)

The Earl and Countess of Harewood

In May 1947 the Earl of Harewood died suddenly of a heart attack at Harewood House.  In the years that followed the Countess Harewood seemed to have reconciled with the other members of the Royal family and she did attended the coronation of her niece, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953.  In March 1965, the Princess Royal suffered a similar fate as that of her husband and she died suddenly of a heart attack at Harewood House.  After a private family funeral at the All Saints Church, which was attended by several members of the Royal Family including Queen Elizabeth II, she was buried alongside her husband.