I longed for insights into Mary’s feelings, but these were hard to come by, and you can’t blame Basford for this. Everything was swept under the carpet. There were no written outpourings of emotion about anything, be it John’s death aged 13, or the Abdication. The only way the family expressed emotions was by not turning up at each other’s weddings. When Mary’s son George mentioned to his mother on a walk that he intended to marry a concert pianist of Jewish extraction, Marion Stein, Mary just said “Good God!” and walked on in silence. All that hacking down of foliage — Queen Mary famously did it too — was a way of avoiding having to talk about things.
This is not a sparkling biography. The writing can be workaday – Mary is “incredibly prudent”, “incredibly diplomatic”, “incredibly touched”, and all of her schedules are “hectic” – and Basford is frequently discursive, at times all but losing sight of Mary in details of her family’s lives or the history of her husband’s forebears. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable, worthwhile story, not least in its celebration of an exemplary royal record undertaken with modesty, kindliness and sincerity. As Baroness Swanborough acclaimed Mary after her death, “She had only one standard – the highest.” Unlike her eldest brother, she even won the admiration of her parents.