The racy past of the first People’s Princess

Who is Princess Mary Adelaide? Known as Fat Mary, the first ‘People’s Princess’ spent so much on parties she had to flee Britain in disgrace. (Yet her great-granddaughter was dutiful Queen Elizabeth II…)

  • Mary Adelaide was the last Princess of Cambridge before Princess Charlotte
  • The German-speaking royal hid from creditors in Germany, Austria and Italy
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Today, the phrase People’s Princess has an unshakeable association with the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

So it might come as a surprise to learn of an earlier People’s Princess, a woman who was also known for her charity work and who, like Diana, was a favourite with the public.

But there the comparisons stop. Because Princess Mary Adelaide would eventually earn a very different reputation thanks to her love of parties, luxury living and general excess.

In due course, ‘Fat Mary’ as she was known, was forced to flee the country. 

Princess Mary was known as the 'People's Princess' because of her charity work. She also acquired the less fortunate nickname of 'Fat Mary'

Princess Mary Adelaide Wilhelmina Elizabeth of Cambridge was born in 1833. Mary and her sister Princess Augusta were the last people to carry the title Princess of Cambridge until Princess Charlotte was born in 2015

Princess Mary Adelaide, later known as the Duchess of Teck, with her husband Prince Franz of Teck, later known as the Duke of Teck. Circa 1885

Today, Princess Mary Adelaide has largely been forgotten, although as mother to Queen Mary – wife of George V – she was great grandmother to King Charles and holds a significant position in the royal family tree. 

Doubtless in time, William and Kate’s daughter Charlotte, Princess of Cambridge, will look her up as Mary Adelaide had been the last to hold the title Princess of Cambridge with her sister with her sister Augusta.

Born in 1933, Princess Mary Adelaide Wilhelmina Elizabeth was the daughter of Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge and Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel, a granddaughter of King George III and cousin of Queen Victoria.

The sisters also had a brother called George, who was Prince of Cambridge before he inherited his father’s dukedom.

The family grew up in Hanover, where their father served as the area’s viceroy – the King’s representative – on behalf George IV and then William IV. 

German was her native language.

As Mary Adelaide grew up, she became a favourite in the public eye – more so than her sister.

And thanks to her charitable work, she quickly became known as the ‘People’s Princess’, the same name later accorded Princess Diana.

At 33, Mary Adelaide married another German speaker, Austrian-born Prince Franz of Teck.

The couple were to be known as the Duke and Duchess of Teck and had four children:  Princess Mary, Prince Adolphus, Prince Francis and Prince Alexander.

Prince Mary and her husband lived at White Lodge in Richmond Park, London for a number of years. (Today, White Lodge is home to the Royal Ballet School).

The couple lived at White Lodge in Richmond Park - a Palladian villa commissioned by George II. Today it is home to the Royal Ballet School

The Duke and Duchess spent extravagantly and would eventually flee the country to escape their creditors

Princess Mary Adelaide and her husband had four children: Princess Mary, Prince Adolphus, Prince Francis and Prince Alexander

Queen Victoria was particularly fond of their eldest daughter Princess Mary, who was also known as Princess May