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HOW WOULD ONE explain that one’s grandmother had a way of, shall we say, acquiring the treasures of others? Not kleptomania, mind, in the sense of compulsively, surreptitiously making off with the goods. Rather, it involved a more devious ploy: “Oh, isn’t that lovely,” she’d say to the owner of the object. And what’s the object’s owner to do?
The scam was helped by this particular grandmother being Mary of Teck, aka Queen Mary of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Empress of India, the wife of King George V, the paternal grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy was reviewed by Rosemary Hill in the London Review of Books, December 6, 2018. Her review, “Hm, Hm, and That Was All,” discussed a great deal more than Queen Mary’s penchant for acquiring other people’s possessions, but the subject did come up.
What’s more (and great fun to read) are the Letters concerning this article in the January 24, 2019, London Review of Books. Here’s a collection of tidbits, sort of a list of Queen Mary’s modi operandi.
Guess Who’s Visiting? Hide the Treasures! Margaret Devitt, Bosham, West Sussex, writes, “My mother worked for some years at a well-known country house and remembered vividly helping to transfer smaller objets d’art and delicate items of furniture from the yellow drawing room to a place of safety for the duration of the queen’s visit for the annual race meeting.”
Stiffing the Jeweller. Ms. Devitt also recounts that a Chichester jeweller was known to place his most precious items out-of-sight before royal visits. “… and even then,” she writes, “when Queen Mary selected smaller items to give the staff at Goodwood, he remained unpaid until the Duchess of Richmond heard what had happened and recompensed him.”
Holy Mother the Church Resists. Another recollection from Ms. Devitt concerns Queen Mary’s visit to Stonyhurst, historically significant in its being “the first visit to a Roman Catholic school by a reigning monarch since the Reformation.”
Ms. Devitt relates that, on completion of the visit, a lady-in-waiting hinted to the rector that Her Majesty would be pleased to accept “the charming little embroidery-covered book of devotions as a memento.… With great care, the rector attempted to explain the concept of mortmain.”
Mortmain is the status of lands or tenements held inalienably by an ecclesiastical or other corporation.
The book remained at Sandyhurst, and Ms. Devitt writes that “The parting was glacial.”
A Tisket, a Basket. Ann Lawson Lucas, of Beverley, East Yorkshire, writes, “In the Second World War when the nation was urged to Dig for Victory and to Make Do and Mend, my grandmother Elizabeth Lawson turned herself into an expert and innovative basket-weaver…. As a member of the Women’s Institute, she began to give lectures on her techniques and to exhibit examples.”
“The grandest occasion,” Ms. Lucas relates, “was a collective show of craftwork at which Queen Mary was the guest of honour. She scrutinised everything, then pointed to a charming basket of my grandmother’s, and said, ‘I like that one.’ ”
“It was code, of course,” Ms. Lucas says. “More than honoured, Grandma was annoyed.”
The Best Defense is…. Roger Morsely-Smith, London W4, writes of a royal visit: “As the queen entered, she drew attention to an unusual deep-blue ‘Persian’ vase on a high shelf. Mrs. Stirling did not rise to the bait. There followed a tour of the house, then the queen made her departure. ‘I like them all, but I like that blue one best,’ she said.”
“ ‘So do I,’ replied Mrs. Stirling.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019