How Queen Mary stayed at Badminton House during WWII
20th June 2023

In clover! How Queen Mary and 60 royal servants descended on the Cotswold countryside for the whole of the Second World War… Her Majesty even joined the local pig club

  • Queen Mary stayed with her niece the Duchess of Beaufort for entirety of the war
  • Servants turned up their noses at accommodation in Badminton stately home 
  • For all the latest Royal news, pictures and video click here 

It was shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939 that the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort became guests in their own home – thanks to Queen Mary. 

Amid the threat of bombs and invasion, the redoubtable mother of King George VI had reluctantly agreed to her son’s request that she abandon Marlborough House in Westminster and decant to Gloucestershire. 

Her destination, Badminton House, was the plush Cotswold seat of Henry Somerset and his wife Mary, who was Queen Mary’s niece.

But, familiar as she was with all the trappings of royalty, Queen Mary, then 72, arrived with more than 60 servants and around 75 pieces of luggage. 

She proceeded to take over nearly all of the house – although she did, at least, permit her hosts to dine with her. 

Queen Mary spent the whole of the Second World War staying with her niece in Gloucestershire – and even  joined the local pig club

Queen Mary had been urged to leave London amid the threats of wartime bombs and invasion

In the nearly six years that she was there, Mary, who died in March 1953 aged 85, threw herself vigorously into everything that the village of Badminton had to offer.

She reared her own pig at the local pig club, attended meetings in the village hall, and collected ‘scrap’ metal for the war effort which turned out to be farming equipment that had to be returned to its rightful owners. 

Mary also carried out a ‘feud’ against the ivy at Badminton House, tearing it down wherever she saw it, and vigorously cleared woodland with willing helpers who received cigarettes for their efforts.

Her niece told the writer Sir Osbert Sitwell, a friend of both hers and Queen Mary’s, of the ‘pandemonium’ that ensued on her arrival at Badminton.

‘The servants revolted and scorned our humble home. They refused to use the excellent rooms assigned to them,’ she wrote in a letter. 

‘Fearful rows and battle royals [were] fought over my body – and I won in the end and reduced them to tears and to pulp… I can laugh now, but I have never been so angry!’

She commandeered Badminton House with more than 60 servants and 75 pieces of luggage and is said to have caused ‘pandemonium’ on her arrival

Queen Mary on a royal engagement with protection officer Inspector George Gardner (right)

She added: ‘The Queen, quite unconscious of the stir, has settled in well, and is busy cutting down trees and tearing down ivy. Tremendous activity.’ 

Sitwell told how Mary took over the whole house, except for the bedrooms and sitting-room used by the Beauforts. 

Mary, filled as she was with a fierce work ethic, even turned her efforts to improving the interior Badminton House, which dates back to the 17th-century.

In one formal room, she had electric light and heating installed, and also put in a new floor. 

As well as her campaign against ivy at Badminton, Sitwell described how fallen branches and twigs were also her ‘enemies’.

‘Every day she spent two or three hours in the Verge – the wooded strip, some ten miles in length, that runs around the edge of the park at Badminton – tidying and arranging,’ he said in his 1975 memoir Queen Mary and Others.  

Mary would still try to visit London once a week to dine with her son at Buckingham Palace.

Queen Mary, with her customary cane in hand, is observes the pigs in Gloucestershire during her time at Badminton House

Mary adopted a pig after joining the local pig club in Badminton, where she also attended meetings at the village hall

George VI had unexpectedly become King after the decision of his older brother Edward VIII to abdicate so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

The man who had been the shy Duke of York was now having to shoulder the burden of leading Britain in wartime.

But with Queen Mary feeling cut off from London and news of what was happening in the war, her biographer James Pope-Hennessey recounted how George ordered the Foreign Office to send her news summaries in an official red leather despatch box.   

In a mark of how busy she kept herself, Mary would carry out local engagements that included, for example, inspecting the local Salvation Army canteen, or viewing jam making efforts.

She also visited evacuee children, factories, workshops, canteens and hospitals, and bought shirts and socks for soldiers who had been rescued from Dunkirk. 

At Badminton she would entertain guests, who, as well as Sitwell, included Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the American President.

Her Majesty Queen Mary, accompanied by the Duchess of Beaufort, is seen visiting the YMCA at Swindon during the war

Queen Mary is seen during her visit to the YMCA at Swindon, as the Duchess of Beaufort walks behind her

Her Majesty Queen Mary visits troops in one of her many engagements during her time at Badminton House

Her fourth son Prince George, the Duke of Kent, also came to visit, before he was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1942.

Pope-Hennessy told of her ‘stoicism’ in the face of the loss of her son. 

‘All her thoughts were concentrated upon her son’s widow and his children’, he told in his 1959 account of her life. 

On the way back from his funeral, Queen Mary even stopped to give a lift to men she described in her diary as a ‘charming young American parachutist’ and a ‘nice Sergeant Observer… who had taken part in the raid on Dieppe last week’.   

Even though her son’s death had only come in late August, by early September Mary was back to her wooding activities, and noted in her diary that ‘Georgie’ would have wanted her to.   

And, despite her love of the high life, Mary insisted on strictly observing rationing, which left some of her dinner guests disappointed. 

It also meant that, rather than using precious petrol to get to working sites in a car, she would use a horse-drawn cart instead.

The Duchess of Beaufort was the daughter of Queen Mary’s brother, Prince Adolphus of Teck

When she did opt for her Daimler, driven haphazardly by her elderly chauffer, she would set off with the day’s equipment tied to the back. 

There was, of course, always the threat of air raids and even invasion of Britain by Adolf Hitler’s forces.

When the air raid the alarm did sound, Mary was given refuge in a reinforced room at Badminton – before she decided to take her chances by remaining upstairs. 

According to Sitwell, she was however terrified of being kidnapped by the Nazis and so had made arrangements for a plane to whisk her to safety if a German landing did occur.

She was well protected – there were 120 soldiers from the Gloucestershire Regiment on hand, and her personal guard, Inspector George Gardner, was always with her.   

But in case she did need to flee, she was said to have always had three suitcases packed ready.

One she kept for herself, while others were given to dressers to guard. And in the event of an air raid, they would have to pack another suitcase with tiaras and jewels.

Queen Mary talks to the Mayor of Gloucester at a youth rally in Gloucester, July 1943

Queen Mary has a smiling word for the child bridesmaids of her niece, Lady Mary Cambridge at her wedding to Henry Somerset, 10th Duke of Beaufort

Queen Mary visiting Gloucester. The lady in black is the Dowager Duchess of Badminton, who was said to have been upset at being ‘outshone’ by the Queen

Queen Mary sits next to the Mayor of Gloucester at a youth rally in July 1943

Inspector Gardner wrote to his superiors in June 1945 to tell them that Mary had presented him with the Royal Victorian Medal in recognition of his service at Badminton

Whilst she was popular among locals and those who helped her with her wood clearing, she did allegedly upset the Dowager Duchess of Badminton, who lived at the edge of the estate and ‘found herself outshone by a much bigger setting sun,’ according to Sitwell.

When she finally left Badminton in June 1945, after the war had ended, she said she had ‘gained much’ from her time there.

She handed out gifts and is said to have had tears streaming down her face when she told the head gardener: ‘Oh, I have been happy here! Here I’ve been anybody to everybody, and back in London I shall have to be begin being Queen Mary all over again.’ 

Mary also awarded Inspector Gardner with the Royal Victorian Medal, in recognition of his service to her in four of the nearly six years she spent at Badminton House.  

When her return to Marlborough House was confirmed, the Daily Mail reported how she had ‘endeared herself’ to Badminton’s locals, who felt that her return to London ‘will be a great loss.’ 

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