Royal Connections Can Be Deceiving

Royal families always seem quite remote and completely above board. Royal connections, though, can come in funny places. Titles can be deceiving, too, and are not always as high flying as they sound. Previous history might prove to be not so Royal after all. This is the story of the parents of Queen Mary of the United Kingdom.

It is a widely known secret that Queen Elizabeth II had to bailout her mother Elizabeth the Queen Mother on several occasions. It is also firmly established in the minds of many, at least of the older generation, that Queen Mary was a most Royal Queen and strict to boot. Apart from other minor hiccups, there was a bankruptcy on her family’s way to present her as Her Serene Highness, Princess Mary of Teck, and fiancee of the future King of England.

Queen Mary’s father Francis was born in 1837 as the son of Duke Alexander of Württemberg and his wife Countess Claudine Rhédey of Kis-Rhéde. As Hungarian-born Claudine was not descended from a ruling family, the marriage of the two was considered morganatic. This meant that Claudine did not become a Duchess with her marriage and that their children were excluded from their father’s titles as well as from their rights of succession to the throne in the Kingdom of Württemberg.

Under these circumstances, the children would have been born untitled commoners as their mother's title could not be handed on. Emperor Ferdinand of Austria (and King of Hungary) came to the rescue and accorded Claudine the title of Countess of Hohenstein (in her own right). Francis was therefore born a Count of Hohenstein. Claudine died in a freak accident in 1841. Alexander descended into depression and eventually madness as a reaction to the tragedy. In a late move at redress, King William of Württemberg accorded the titles of Prince and Princess of Teck to Francis and his two sisters in 1863. The title was an invention inspired by Castle Teck above the town of Kirchheim Under Teck. The Württemberg Royal family had a residence there.

In 1866, Queen Victoria was faced with the dilemma of finding a husband for her cousin Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge (known as Fat Mary). She found the perfect bridegroom in Francis, now Prince of Teck, with the necessary if barely adequate Royal pedigree and penniless due to his morganatic descent. Fat Mary at 33 was not in a position to be choosy and accepted the marriage proposal. Her request to accord her husband the title of Royal Highness was not granted by the Queen, though.

This new Royal connection impressed Francis' cousin King Charles of Württemberg enough to rifle his desk for a more appropriate title than the trumped up Prince of Teck. He found it at the bottom of his drawers covered in dust, probably. He created Francis Duke of Teck in 1871. The title of Duke of Teck had been given to the Counts of Württemberg in 1495 by Emperor Maximilian of the Holy Roman Empire at the same time he elevated them to Dukes of Württemberg. The Teck title is actually older and historically more important than the Württemberg title, being first used in 1197 by a junior branch of the Dukes of Zähringen.

Prince and Princess of Teck had to live of £5,000 Parliamentary annuity granted to Mary. Francis was not entitled to any annuity from Württemberg as he was legally not part of the Royal family there. The pair was accorded an apartment in Kensington Palace and White Lodge in Richmond Park by Queen Victoria as well. They still amassed huge debts living the high life and had to flee England for the Continent to escape their creditors in 1883. The recipe for living off your relatives on the Continent with an added time on low profile in Florence worked wonders for their finances and they returned from their self imposed exile in 1885. In 1887, Francis was accorded the title Highness by Victoria in preparation for her Jubilee. Mary Adelaide changed her ways in later life from profligate spender to become one of the first members of the Royal family to extensively support a bevy of charities.

But Francis and Mary Adelaide are probably better remembered as the parents of Queen Mary, consort to King George V, as well as Adolphus Marquess of Cambridge and Alexander Earl of Athlone. All members of the Teck family adopted the family name Cambridge after the Letters Patent by George V in 1917.

This story was instigated by a curious question posed by a reader in the Daily Mail about an inscription found on Roaches Rock in Staffordshire, which reads: ‘Visited by the Prince and Princess of Teck, August 23, 1872.’ Looking at the dates above, you’ll see that the inscription is wrong; it should refer to the Duke and Duchess of Teck. I was intrigued enough to dig the archives and send the answer to the Daily Mail for publication.

As to the titles, they are always given wrong in English, Wikipedia is awash with mistakes concerning that family. Correctly, Francis was His Illustrious Highness Count Francis of Hohenstein from 1837 to 1863 (no prince at all). From 1863 to 1871, he was His Serene Highness Francis Prince of Teck (this prince is not a Royal prince like William or Harry, but a prince of the peerage like Albert of Monaco and in rank equal to a Baron in England). From 1871 to 1887, he was His Most Serene Highness Francis Duke of Teck (the prince as a lesser title of the peerage disappears). After 1887, he was His Highness Francis Duke of Teck. This is where English speakers always go wrong, they title him Prince Francis Duke of Teck which is just plain wrong. The Royal family in London, though, was quite happy for this misrepresentation and promoted the wrong assumptions as best they could.