Born in 1867, cousin of Queen Victoria, and known within royal circles as “May,” Princess Mary of Teck was one of the crop of young royals traditionally used as currency by their parents in their power games within the noble houses of Europe.
May was intelligent and better educated than her “silly” cousins. Attractive rather than pretty, and well-versed in royal protocol, May so impressed Queen Victoria that she encouraged a match between her and Albert (known as Eddie), then Prince of Wales. Happily, the young couple not only liked one another but, rarely for arranged marriages, fell in love. Sadly, Eddie suddenly died just before the wedding ceremony was to have been celebrated.
Worse was to follow. Still grieving for Eddie, May was faced with a second marriage, this time to Prince George, Eddie’s younger brother, now an unwilling future king. George’s failings as a man and, in consequence, as a husband have been well documented, and the author of this novel does no more than present them in the context of their effect on May.
So she stood, stolid and elegant, beside this cruel, indifferent man, bore him his heirs, her face expressing, as the years passed, a curious, clenched detachment. Her whole appearance a sort of fashionable carapace, concealing the pain, the disappointments, including much later, the worst one, when her son Edward, who should have been the VIIIth and briefly was, forsook his vows, to marry that American woman.
Alan Robert Clark raises many captivating issues in his novel. It is notoriously difficult to use historical fact to explore characters whose actual histories are well-known or assumed to be. If this book was less “good” I wouldn’t be left wanting more. But it is good. And I do want more.