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The Scandalous, Rebellious And Dramatic Life of Princess Margaret


Infamous for forfeiting the royal rulebook, socializing with the world’s elite and being at the center of the public’s limelight, Princess Margaret Rose Windsor lived her days in a fiery spark and then faded away. Considered to be overshadowed by her sister, Queen Elizabeth II, the Princess though made her own mark as an unconventional royal and a fashion icon in her own right. Her eccentric, bold and freedom-loving personality gave rise to the question, what exactly is the role of a Princess?

 

Birth and Becoming a Princess 

Princess Margaret

The Princess was born as Margaret Rose on the 21st of August 1930 in Glamis Castle, Scotland, her mother’s ancestral home, amidst a raging storm. Her mother, the Duchess of York, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon wanted to name her Ann Margaret, however, her father, Albert, the Duke of York preferred Margaret Rose. The documentation of her birth was delayed by a few days so that the number 13 would not be assigned to her in the parish metric book. In her childhood, the Princess was described to be mature and adept. Margaret was fourth in line to the throne after uncle, King Edward VII, her father, and her sister. However, that changed with the blink of an eye, when her uncle abdicated the throne in his love for an American socialite named Wallis Simpson, who was a two-time divorcee. This pushed Margaret up in the line of succession, with her father becoming King George VI of England. The family then moved into the lavish and regal Buckingham Palace, the seat of the monarchs.

 

Longing for Education and the Spotlight

 

After moving into the royal palace, the newly titled princesses spent a majority of their time with nurses, and their Scottish governess, Marion Crawford, fondly known as Crawfie. Several insights into the Princesses’ childhood came from their beloved governess, who wrote an unauthorized book on them, titled “The Little Princesses”. Their Governess wrote that the Princess was a notorious child. She would frequently execute practical jokes on unsuspecting palace staff without being told off for it. Margaret and her sister never went to school. They only had governesses and their education was supervised by their mother.  In her later years, the Princess is quoted to have said that she regretted her lacking for formal education. The Princess was skilled at playing the piano and would also sing exquisitely. Her love for the spotlight was highlighted when her elder sister Elizabeth commented: “Oh, how much easier it is when Margaret is there – everyone laughs at what Margaret says.” 

 

Daddy’s Girl 

 

Princess Margaret was extremely close to her father, King George VI, who considered her as his joy and Elizabeth his pride. After his coronation, he feared that Margaret would be treated as a “spare”, hence, he would indulge in her whims and would often be criticized by the public for spoiling her. For example, one of the courtiers of the royal family claimed that Margaret was allowed to stay up for dinner before she was thirteen years of age. While her older sister was being groomed to become the future queen, Margaret was allowed all the freedoms in the world. King George was apparently so attached to both his daughters that he is said to have placed two rocking horses outside her office for them. The king’s overindulgence manifested as her arrogant and high-headed behavior in her teenage years. The Princess started smoking at the tender age of 15 and sustained this malpractice until her death. 

 

Lilibet and Margot

 

The sisters were fondly called so, with Elizabeth being four years older than Margaret. They were said to be extremely close throughout their lives. Their Governess gave valuable anecdotes on their contrasting characters while they grew up. Elizabeth was said to be temperamental, but mature and well behaved, while Margaret was a stark contrast. Elizabeth showed restraint and adherence to tradition, while Margaret was known to break rules according to her fancy, and was hence deemed a troublemaker. After their father ascended the throne, young Elizabeth had to be groomed on politics, mannerisms and her future duties as a queen while Margaret was left behind. She supposedly said, “Now that Papa is King, I am nothing.” Though there was friendly competition amongst the two and occasional fights, their love always came through stronger. 

Elizabeth was always encouraging of Margaret’s antics and ensured that she was never left behind. She preferred to have Margaret around her during parties and social gatherings. While the older one was more shy and reserved, she dotes on her notorious and outgoing younger sister. They would often perform mimicry together, Margaret being naturally gifted at it. Margaret accompanied her sister for honorary duties during the time of war in Britain. She would often find herself cropped in articles and would joke that she got censored. This never affected their relationship as their deep love and devotion to one another continued throughout their adulthood. 

World War II And After

 

The War sent the family to Birkhall, on the Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland for their safety, where they lived in harsh weather conditions. They then moved to Windsor Castle despite the bombings in London in spite of the bombings. The Princess reminisced that there were always extra defenses around the castle and that they were not allowed to wander very far outside the castle due to air raids. After the war in 1945, both the Princesses joined in the celebrations and resumed their duties. 

After the war, the Princess turned 18 and was turning heads as well.  She caught the attention of infamous labels and fashion brands, highlighted when Christian Dior himself put on shows in her honor. She was envied and admired for her 18-inch waist, her deep blue eyes and her prominent wit and humor. She socialized with the creamy layer of society and was the guest of honor for several balls, parties, and fetes. She had cemented her position as the King’s daughter and a fashion icon already. She rang in her 21st birthday in style at Balmoral castle, a few months after which, tragedy stuck.

 

Townsend And The Princess

Margaret

Margaret had barely turned 22 when her father passed away unexpectedly at the age of 56. She had lost a confidant and a friend. She was prescribed with sedatives to help her sleep and even turned to her religious beliefs to cope. She also commented that she had lost her father and her sister, Elizabeth, who was to be Queen. Her dear sister drowned in her new duties and in addition was a mother to two young children. Her mother put on mourning and separated herself from society. Margaret moved with her mother to Clarence House, away from the Buckingham Palace, where she found comfort in Group Captain Peter Townsend, the Chief Stableman of the late King.

 It is contemplated the romance between the two developed at an early age. When Margaret was 17, her family and she had embarked on a visit to South Africa, where she was chaperoned by Captain Peter Townsend, the equerry of the King. It is then that Margaret is said to have fallen in love with the man, who she knew since she was 14. They accidentally gave themselves away at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on 2nd June 1953, when Margaret unassumingly brushed off a speck of dust from his coat.

This caused quite an uproar as it was not expected of the Queen’s sister, who was young and unmarried. The same year, Townsend divorced his wife and was free to marry. He proposed to Margaret immediately, to which she said yes. As the Princess was under 25 years, she required the Queen’s consent for the marriage. Having her sister’s interests in mind, Elizabeth was for the approval of their marriage. However, she had increased pressure on her from her secretary, Sir Tommy Lascelles, the parliament and the Church of England to oppose it as Townsend was a divorcee and had two children already. The situation seemed all too familiar to that of their uncle, Edward. Prime Minister Winston Churchill promptly shipped Townsend off to Brussels, away from all the scandal for two long years.

After two years of speculation, backlash and confusion, Margaret, on 31st October 1955, came to the public with an astonishing statement. She had decided to abandon all intentions of marrying Peter Townsend in order to sustain her duties to the Commonwealth. Many speculate the true intentions of this decision. Townsend, in a tell all book said that it would have been too much of him to expect her to give up her prestige, position and name to become a housewife overnight. Princess Margaret was evidently heartbroken and said little about the affair for the rest of her life. Captain Townsend and the Princess remained on good terms with each other. The Princess is said to have visited Townsend and spent time with him when he was on his deathbed in 1995.

After this scandal, the Princess made it a point to live her life. She took part in royal engagements, attended events, and would automatically end her nights in nightclubs. She apparently took excessive drinking and smoking too. She was deemed amongst the top 10 best-dressed women in international magazines. 

 

Countess Snowdon 

 

In 1960, the news came to light that Townsend was to marry a young Belgian woman who bore a resemblance to the Princess. Margaret, within a few days, announced her surprise engagement to Anthony Armstrong-Jones, a photographer whom she met in 1958. She has secretly started a romance with him, even allowing him to take her pictures in celebration of her 29th birthday. They married on 6th May 1960, in the presence of 2000 guests, including royalty from all over the world. Their wedding was the first to be televised and around 300 million people watched them tie the knot. The wedding was a lavish affair that cost 86,000 pounds and included 20 wedding cakes, elaborate floral arches, followed by an extravagant honeymoon. The Princess wore an exquisite Norman Hartnell gown in and wore the diamond Poltimore Tiara from the Queen Victoria collection. The newly styled Count and Countess Snowdon moved into apartments in the Kensington Palace after the wedding. 

Their first child, David, styled Viscount Linley was born on 3rd November 1961 and on 1st May 1964, their second child, Sarah was born. The marriage broadened Margaret’s social circle. She continued to engage with aristocrats, actors, politicians, bohemians and other royals as well. It became evident that Armstrong-Jones did not fit into the royal life. He is quoted to have said that he was treated like he had been picked from the gutter. The social inequality between the couple grew wider and wider and became a gaping abyss after they took their last holiday together in 1965.

 

The Princess and her many Affairs

 

Their marriage was not free of altercations. Both Margaret and Anthony engaged in extramarital affairs. Margaret had a fling with Jones’ old friend Anthony Barton, who was her daughter’s godfather, and with pianist Robin Douglas-Home. Jones too started seeing Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, whom he would later go on to marry. The Princess described her husband as an alcoholic who was basically a stranger to her. They would rarely see or talk to one another despite living in the same house. In 1973, the Princess was introduced to Roddy Llewellyn, a landscape gardener and began a 7 year-long affair, which caused the downfall of her image in the eyes of the public. Llewellyn was 17 years younger to Margaret and the press would emphasize repeatedly on this point, as it was scandalous for a royal lady to engage in such activities. The couple would often spend time on her island getaway in the Caribbean, called Mustique. 

Jones handed in his divorce papers in 1976, and after two years of separation, the couple officially divorced in May 1978, immediately after which Jones married his mistress. The Princess was only the second royal to have gotten a divorce. She continued to socialize with the elite while the speculative list of her apparent lovers kept growing. These included musician Mick Jagger, actor Warren Beatty, and cricketer Keith Miller and Canadian Prime Minister John Turner, amongst others. 

 

Princess Margaret Death

 

The Princess continued to indulge in smoking and drinking during her later years, after her divorce. The press became increasingly critical of her fashion, her weight gain, and her public appearance. It is believed that she had a drink with every meal of the day. She had apparently also assigned a servant to follow her with an ashtray wherever she went. She had a serious lung operation in 1985, after which she tried to give up smoking. Margaret then lost her privilege to act as Counsellor of State when the Queen was away, as her youngest son had come of age to take her place. This upset her as enjoyed her royal duties. During the 1990s, the press forgot about Margaret, focusing the limelight onto her nephews, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Andrew and Lady Sarah. The Princess commented that the press had acquired other fish to fry. 

The Princess’ health declined rapidly, after a stroke in 1998. In 1999, she severely scalded her feet by accident in the shower, after which she took to using a wheelchair. It is said the Margaret would race her mother as they were both wheelchair-bound. She underwent a series of stroked in 2001 that left her blind in the left eye. She refused to see men after this as she did not want to be remembered that way. 

On 9th February 2002, Buckingham Palace announced the death of Princess Margaret. Queen Elizabeth, who was famously reserved, was deeply saddened by her demise. Her nephews and niece sent their tributes to their darling aunt in their official statements. In 2006, close to 896 items from her personal collection went to auction in Christie’s Auction house in London. The Princess has been depicted on television as hell. Her life was made into a film in The Queen’s Sister(2005), and she was portrayed by actress Vanessa Kirby in the popular television series The Crown. 

Princess Margaret was an icon. Her every move was documented by the public. Despite being under the constant and critical eye of the world, she chose to live her life according to her terms. She was quite a contradiction, as, she would ensure that she was called “Her Royal Highness” at all times, but she adhered to a few of the regulations that followed the title. She paved way for an extent of leniency for following royals, by bending and breaking the archaic rules that bound the royal family. She lives in her legacy as a rebel in her own right. 

 

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