MAID OF HONOUR
Born Mary Baillie-Hamilton in Scotland, her father was George, the 12th Earl of Haddington and her mother was Countess Sarah.
Her father was a really close friend of King George 6th and his wife Queen Elizabeth (aka the Queen Mother). He had an official role at the1937 coronation, handing the ‘Sceptre of the Dove’ to the new monarch, one of two trinkets he receives during the ceremony. Mary kept a scrapbook of her father’s contribution.
Living in Scotland, the two families met up when the royals were at Balmoral. Therefore, she grew up a friend of Princess Elizabeth.
For the new Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, Mary was chosen as one of the six Maids of Honour. She was the youngest, aged just 19.
They were a tradition started by Queen Victoria. The Maids of Honour had to be the daughters of a Duke, Marquess or Earl, had to be between 18 and 23 and had to be unmarried.
Their job was to hold the train to the new Queen’s dress in Westminster Abbey during the ceremony.
The Queen’s dress was designed by Sir Norman Hartnell, who had designed her wedding dress in 1947. The coronation dress was silver- white, embroidered with gold. It also had flowers on it to represent the Commonwealth. The maids wore similar dresses, each with a tiara and long white gloves and with less jewellery than the Queen.
They had to carry the 21-foot-long train (“six feet each”). Without them, the Queen could not move. The dress weighed 11 pounds.
Only two of the six Maids of Honour were allowed to travel to Westminster Abbey in the royal procession. The other four, including Mary, stayed in a specially built annexe within the Abbey. They drank cups of coffee and listened to the radio commentary before joining the royal party on the steps of the Abbey.
Mary remembered having to stand for three hours, but “it just passed like clockwork because it was so deeply interesting.”
She was extremely moved by the ceremony, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher. She was also struck by the dignity of the new queen. “It was overwhelming and moving, especially during the anointing.”
After the ceremony it was back to Buckingham Palace where official photographs were taken by Cecil Beaton.
The Queen, as a thank you, then gave each of her Maids of Honour a brooch, with her initials in her own handwriting, written out in diamonds.
After the reception Mary escaped from the palace and joined her friends in front of the gates. “I cheered and cheered so many times. I felt pretty flat afterwards.”
The following year, Mary became Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Alexandra, which she did until 1964.
Then she became Lady-in-Waiting for the Queen herself between 1964 and 1966.
She then left to marry John Bailey – but the marriage didn’t last.
She then married Lord David Russell. They had 5 children (and12 grandchildren) and lived in Combe in Berkshire.
The Queen kept regular contact with all her Maids of Honour and they remained close friends.
They had a reunion in 2013 to celebrate the Queen’s 60th jubilee.
Mary was the second one to die (the first being Lady Moyra Campbell in 2020), so four survive. One of them, Anne Glenconner said, “We were the Spice Girls of our time.”
Mary died suddenly on the 18th of September 2022, the very night before the Queen’s own funeral – in the same abbey she was crowned 70 years earlier.
Mary is also survived by her brother John, who is the 13th Earl of Haddington.
In an interview, she was once asked about the famous occasion. ” It was an incredible moment but all I could think about was how heavy the embroidery felt. Of all the girls our age in the country,we six girls were chosen to carry the Queen’s train – and that meant a great deal.”
RIP – Regally Inspired Pageantry