Royal Princess, Royal Scandal - the sad life of Princess Margaret

It'll be six years next month that HRH Princess Margaret passed away at the age of 71. Apparently her ex-husband, Lord Snowdon has decided to share intimate details of his marriage to the late Princess in a new biography.

According to Hello Magazine: "News of the book, which is set to hit UK stores in the summer, may come as a surprise to many royal watchers.

"There has always been an understanding that no biography would be published during his lifetime," says royal author Tim Heald - who wrote a biography of the Queen's late sister. "He has never spoken a word in public about Margaret," he continues, "He has remained very loyal to her and to her memory."

"However, the royal snapper, who married the beautiful, blue-eyed royal at Westminster Abbey in 1960, has given his "full agreement" to the new biography by well-known journalist Anne de Courcy. "I am now happy for people to know about my life and I want to put the record straight on some things," says the 77-year-old, whose famously turbulent union ended in divorce in 1978. Snowdon: The Biography will be published in June."

Before Princess Diana became the most written about and hunted royal in modern history, and pictures of Fergie getting her toes sucked were splashed around the world, Princess Margaret captured the imagination and the paparazzi's interest from the 1950's right up to her divorce from Lord Snowden in 1978. She was noted as one of the most glamorous, well-dressed women in the world. In the post war gloom of Britain, Princess Margaret could be seen out every night in glamorous night clubs with her society friends, cigarette in hand. A rather far cry from the rather forlorn figure in her last years who had a reputation for being rude and pompous.

Her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret Rose was born at Glamis Castle in Scotland on the night of a tremendous storm on August 21st 1930. In a sense it was an omen of what her life would become. At the time of her birth, her father, the Duke of York, was second in line to throne after his brother the future Duke of Windsor. Margaret was brought up with her older sister Elizabeth in a townhouse on Piccadilly. If things had been different, Margaret would have passed into history as a very minor member of the Royal Family, probably living her life out in the country as a member of the aristocracy, with their dogs, and hunting.

Instead, Margaret found herself thrust on the world stage when her Uncle David abdicated the throne in December of 1936. All of a sudden, her father was King and her sister was the heir apparent. They moved from their cozy little townhouse to the great behemoth that is Buckingham Palace. From childhood, Margaret was indulged. Although Elizabeth was the future Queen of England, Margaret was clearly her father’s favorite. She was naughty, with a wicked sense of humor and the ability to mimic anyone. When she was caught, she managed to diffuse the situation by making everyone laugh until they forgot why she was being punished. Margaret was also more affectionate and effusive than her older sister.

Although they fought like cats and dogs at times, the two sisters were almost like twins, until their father’s coronation when Elizabeth had a train on her gown but Margaret did not. From then on Margaret was aware of her status as the ‘spare.’ When her sister was being given lessons in history twice a week from the Provost at Eton, Margaret wanted lessons too. No one seems to have known what to do with Margaret. In the old days of Princesses, she would have been packed off as soon as possible to some foreign court to become the consort of a reigning Prince. But the First World War had taken care of most of the monarchies of Europe, and the ones that were left were holding on by a string.

Royal sons could go into the Navy or the Army, or be packed of to be Governor General of one of the colonies like Australia or New Zealand. There was no thought to the possibility of Margaret attending University the way Prince Charles and Prince Edward did, or even attending Art College the way her own children were able to. What ever talents she possessed were never developed beyond that of an amateur.

By the time she was 18, Princess Margaret was sexy, beautiful, and self-assured with a drop dead gorgeous figure that was turned out to perfection in the waspwaisted fashions of the post-War era. While Princess Diana had cultivated the image of ‘Shy Di,’ awkward and unsure of her role as the Princess of Wales, Margaret was the personification of the world’s idea of a Princess.

The press in the post war world was remarkably different from the diffidence shown the royal family previously. The culture of the paparazzi was in its infancy, and Princess Margaret was their first and most famous subject. When she wore a two piece bathing suit while on a royal tour of Italy, photographs appeared around the world. Nowadays when tons of photos appeared in the press of Princess Diana cavorting in a bikini while pregnant, nobody batted an eye but back then things were different. No royal had ever been photographed wearing a bathing suit before.

Princess Elizabeth had married Prince Philip in November of 1947, and by the next November she’d had her first child. She was a settled matron, living the life as a naval officer’s wife. Margaret took up her role as the royal with a vengeance. She had no job and not many friends her own age, apart from a few selected children who had been brought into the royal nursery when she and her sister were growing up. With no real role, Margaret threw herself into becoming the life of every party that was going on.

Her name was regularly in the gossip columns as she partied with the so-called Princess Margaret Set - Old Etonian Billy Wallace, Dominic Elliot (son of the Earl of Minto), the Earl of Dalkeith, Mark Bonham Carter, the Marquess of Blandford and many now-forgotten Guardsmen. And she loved to sing at the piano in nightclubs, surrounded by laughing friends.
She still had her duties to fulfill, which she apparently did well. Margaret’s generation took the idea of ‘duty’ seriously, even though what she was often called on to do wasn’t exciting or glamorous. Opening hospitals, petrol stations, christening ships, visiting schools were all a part of the daily round of royal duties that Margaret was expected to fulfill. She had more fun in her role as patron of the Royal Ballet.

Margaret’s world changed abruptly when her father, George VI died in February of 1952 at the age of 56. He’d not been well, worn down by the war years and the burden of being King. Margaret, being the quintessential Daddy’s girl, was devastated. She told a biographer that “there was an awful sense of being in a black hole. I remember being tunnel-visioned and didn’t really notice things.”

While everyone was catering to her sister in her new role as Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret was pushed aside, with no thought by anyone of what she might be going through having lost her father. From living at Buckingham Palace, she was now relegated to Clarence House, the Queen Mother’s new home. She was now marginalized for the new royal family consisting of the Queen, Prince Philip and Charles and Anne. Her role was now to be on the sidelines.

But Margaret wouldn’t stay there. The first and most famous incident in Princess Margaret’s life was her love affair with Group Captain Peter Townsend. Townsend had been her father’s equerry for years; he was a war hero, sixteen years her senior and married, although he was soon to be divorced. In her grief over her father’s death, Margaret turned more and more to Townsend for consolation. He too had suffered a loss when the King died.

The relationship had apparently started long before the King’s death and would probably have stayed under the radar, if Princess Margaret hadn’t been caught out brushing a piece of fluff off Townsend’s lapel during the coronation.

Princess Margaret desperately wanted to marry Townsend, but there were several obstacles, the most pressing being that he was divorced. Despite the fact that he was the injured part, divorce in aristocratic and royal circles was still a big taboo in the fifties. As the Queen was the Defender of the Faith and the Head of the Church of England, having her sister marry a divorced man was unthinkable.

When Prince Michael of Kent married the former Marie Christine Reibnitz in 1978, he still had to renounce his right to the throne because she was not only divorced but Catholic. 40 years after Princess Margaret gave up the man she loved, Princess Anne became the first divorced royal to remarry and that wedding had to take place in Scotland as Mark Philips is still alive.

Margaret was told, erroneously it turns out, that not only would she have to renounce her place in the succession, but that she would be stripped of her royal title, her civil list allowance and forced to live abroad in exile for the rest of her life like her Uncle. In 2004, it was revealed that Margaret and the Queen were deliberately given misinformation by the government. While Margaret would undoubtedly have had to renounce her place in the succession, she could have kept her royal title and the money. The reason for the subterfuge was that even though the abdication was almost twenty years prior, the wounds were still open. As the Queen had just ascended the throne, it wouldn’t do for her younger sister to be seen marrying a divorcé, no matter how well-connected.

After a two year separation, Townsend had been posted abroad to Belgium as an air attaché and only sporadic meetings, Princess Margaret agreed to give up any thought of marrying him. Despite their love for each other, Margaret had no concept of what it would be like to be anything but a member of the Royal family. The idea of living in exile, on his salary, was too much to be borne. Margaret simply wasn’t the type to have to do her own washing up, and cooking. It was one thing to play at it, knowing that you could also call the servants if something went wrong, another to have that be your way of life.

Margaret plunged back into the world of café society, partying harder than ever. As the years went by, more of her social circle married, leaving her in danger of becoming an old maid. She was also smoking and drinking a great deal. Her reputation also began to suffer as she began to appear aloof and difficult in public while performing her royal duties.

The public at large rejoiced, when the Palace announced her engagement at the age of 29, to the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. The princess had found happiness after all. But the truth was that the announcement came shortly after Margaret learned that Peter Townsend had married a Belgian woman, Marie-Luce Jamagne. Princess Margaret was distraught, apparently the two of them had made a promise that neither of them would marry.

Whatever the reasons, Princess Margaret became a royal bride when she married Antony Armstrong-Jones at Westminister Abbey on May 6, 1960. At first it appeared that the newly married couple had a great deal in common, both sharing a love of the arts and a strong streak of irreverence. But the problem however was that while Princess Margaret may have been cheeky, she never forgot that she was the daughter and granddaughter of a King, and the sister of the Queen of England.

That wasn’t the only problem. Her staff treated him like an interloper, not like the husband of the Princess. Even the courtiers surrounding the Royal Family considered him not one of their “kind” despite the fact that his father was a wealthy QC and his mother came from a well known artistic family, her brother was the noted theatrical set designer Oliver Messel, and she herself had remarried the Earl of Rosse. Because he wasn’t born with a title, he was regarded with suspicion, treated like Princess Margaret was marrying down. Another problem was what to do with him. Previous husbands of royal Princesses had been princes or Dukes in their own right. For a proud man like Armstrong-Jones it was must have come as a shock that he was expected to walk several paces behind his wife.

The marriage floundered as the Swinging Sixties took hold of Britain. They were moments of joy in the birth of their two children, Viscount Linley in 1961 and his sister Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones in 1964, but also periodic bouts of infidelity on both sides, massive fights, and rampant drunkenness. According to biographer Sarah Bradford, Snowdon once left a note for Princess Margaret that read, "You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you". Armstrong-Jones began to spend more time abroad on working assignments, while Princess Margaret retreated to the Caribbean, most often to Mustique, where she had her own villa on land given to her by her good friend Lord Glenconner.

In 1973, Princess Margaret was introduced to Roddy Llewellyn, who at 26 was 17 years younger. They frequently spent time together on Mustique, where they became quite close. Her marriage to Snowdon came to an end when pictures of her and Roddy were splashed in the tabloids. A formal separation wasn’t announced until 1976, and the couple were divorced in 1978. Snowdon remarried immediately to Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, the television producer he was having an affair with. Her relationship with Roddy ended soon after when he informed that he was getting married.

In her later years, she was plagued by constant ill-health. In 1984, she’d an operation on her lungs, and in 1998, she suffered a mild stroke. Later that year, the Princess severely scalded her feet in a bathroom accident. The accident severely restricted her mobility, forcing her to use a wheelchair on occasion. Although she eventually quit smoking, the damage to her health was already done. In 2000, and 2001 she suffered another series of strokes.

Princess Margaret passed away on February 9, 2002 at the age of 71, after suffering a massive stroke. Ironically her funeral was held on the 50th anniversary of her father’s funeral. Unlike most royals, Princess Margaret requested that she be cremated; her ashes placed in the tomb of her parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who only survived a few months after the death of her daughter.

Her good friend Gore Vidal wrote of her, "She was far too intelligent for her station in life." He recalled a conversation he had with the Princess, in which she discussed her public notoriety, saying, "It was inevitable: when there are two sisters and one is the Queen, who must be the source of honor and all that is good, while the other must be the focus of the most creative malice, the evil sister.”


Anonymous said…
I remember the scandalous stories of the Princess well. I was in high school at the time. Wonderful story. I really enjoy your stories and writing style. Btw, thank you for including me in your Blogroll. I'm honored.
Thanks so much Sharon. I had the opportunity to see Princess Margaret up close at the theater in London. She was sitting two rows ahead of me at a production of Lady in the Dark. Totally lovely in person, just like her photos.

If you know of any Scandalous Chicago women let me know!
Unknown said…
The Daily Mail ran a story a few months ago about the photographer who took the great portrait of Princess Margaret at the top of your blog. He said she was hung over after a night of partying when she sat for the picture. I enjoy reading the stories of her scandals but she is also a very sad figure. She never really found true happiness or a calling and in the end it took its toll.
I agree Georgie. If only she had been allowed to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, or maybe to go to University, perhaps she might have found some useful role in life, but she always seems to have been torn between being royal and having a normal life.
70steen said…
Poor Margaret she always got a bad press. It must have been a terrible place she found herself in after her father took the throne. She had no role but had all the trimmings of royalty. I agree that she should have been free to follow her heart and marry who she liked. It was all about protocol that unfortunately haunted our Royal family in the past, which has now been wavered with our next in line who has been allowed to marry a divorcee with whom he was unfaithful with whilst married to Diana. I don't condone what he did but am happy protocol has at last been broken
And Princess Anne was also allowed to marry again after her divorce quite happily. I've always found it sad that Princess Margaret just never found that love she had early on in her life with Peter Townsend. He was older and seemed to have a good influence on her.
cherly said…
cherly said…
sorry may i known more story princess margaret story or life i like her ever never meet her but i m feel so sad when known princess margaret pass away . i m from east malaysia my name CHERRY M FONG CHING YIN THANK YOU
Greeneyezz said…
I found your site and this post by doing a Google search on Princess Margaret. I had wanted to find out more info after seeing the movie "The Bank Job'.

This was nicely written.

PeterR said…
Marvelous Lady She will be sadly missed forever The tobacco industry has lost one of it's true daughters and nobel supporters
Dan said…
A thoughtful piece. I saw some years ago claims that the British government were on the brink of allowing her marriage to take place - but that she had been persuaded by courtiers and members of the Royal family to announce her separation from Townsend hours before the Prime Minister had made his mind up on the matter. Very sad. More recently it has been claimed Armstrong Jones treated her quite cruelly as your piece implies. Still, she was no angel - she could be very haughty and selfish.

another Royal 'scandalous' woman you should profile is Princess Michael of Kent. She has led a fascinating life and has caused a fair few scandals over the years!
Unknown said…
I had the pleasure of spending a casual evening with Princess Margaret & Roddy L. on Mustique, at The Beach Bar, in the mid-1970's. The Hon. Colin Tennant and his son were also there. An amazing night for this 20-something American girl!

At that time, I lived on St. John, U.S.V.I. and was the gift shops mgr. at Caneel Bay Resort. I was on a buying trip on St. Vincent, at the time, and was staying at the Cobblestone Inn. The owners of the Inn also had a wonderful batik cloth business, from whom I bought for my resort shop.
Their son was the pilot for the private airline that flew people from St. Vincent to Mustique. The son & his girlfriend invited me to Mustique for a few days. They told me that the Princess was currently on Mustique and it was possible that we may have the opportunity to meet her.

The first evening there, we drove out to The Beach Bar, and they coached this clumsy American girl about how to behave if we happened to meet the Princess, as she liked to visit The Beach Bar. (always allow the Princess to speak to you FIRST!)

Well, the three of us were enjoying ourselves at the Bar, drinking, enjoying the music...and in a short while, a very muscular "local" came up to our table and said that the Princess and her party asked if they could join us at our picnic table (!!!)

Of course we welcomed them!

In a moment, over walked the Princess, Roddy, The Hon. Colin Tennant & son.......can you imagine that moment for me?! The pilot began to introduce me to the Princess but in one awkward moment he seemed to forget my name, so I offered my hand to the Princess and gave her my name. Oh dear, I thought that I had broken all the rules!

Princess Margaret never flinched, and just received my introduction with consumate grace!

Well, we all chatted, drank much too much (what we all did back then) and often got up to dance to old Elvis songs! The Princess even told me about her recurring snake dreams!

She and Roddy were absolutely charming to this unimportant American girl. That night I realized that Royalty could enjoy a simple evening with someone of no importance. Human being to human being. I know that she appreciated that evening as much as I did.

Perhaps noone cares about my little story, but it was an incredible night for me. One that I will never, ever forget.

San Francisco Bay Area, Californa

..and to make a long story short,
70steen said…
Stephanie what a great story ... it gives that human view of those we think are untouchable ..I have always had the view that however high people are they are still human and want to touch base with everyday folk... thank you for sharing your adventure :-)
Unknown said…
Princess Margaret was a spoiled, vain, racist, promiscuous waster who never worked a day in her life, called the Irish people "Pigs, all pigs", was an adulteress, who also, most insidiously, sponged tens of MILLIONS from the people of Great Britain through the civil list at a time when most British "subjects" were near starving due to rationing.

Her Uncle was an unrepentant Nazi sympathizer and friend of Oswald mosley who would have (if given the chance) allowed the perptrators of the holocaust a foothold in Britain.

This entire family are parasites, working against the common good of the society that sustains them.

Britain MUST abolish the Monarchy.
superfec said…
well thatz one view point, isn't it? as an american, living in a democracy, i'd never given much thought to the royals. as a child i recall seeing photos of margaret, and even at that tender age thought she was beautiful. i am not really sure why the uk still preserves the royals, and no doubt their accumulation of wealth and privilige is irksome, especially when, like now, there is a global financial fallout. last night i watched THE QUEEN'S SISTER and was riveted by this first class drama and the outright fabulous acting of lucy cohu (the princess) and toby stephens (her ex-husband and father of their two children). it was a great flick by any measure and i highly recommend it!
SAF said…
Both princesses' gowns had trains at the Coronation, according to biographer William Shawcross (The Queen Mother: The Official Biography) and other sources; Margaret was dismayed because her train was shorter than Elizabeth's.
Queen Elizabeth II was never Heir Apparent. Being a woman, she was Heir Presumptive since the reigning sovereign could still produce a son. Something historical to do with only the Prince of Wales being the Heir Apparent, the title Princess of Wales only belonging to that of the wife of the Prince of Wales. Minor error.
Anonymous said…
Truly ahead of her times.

No one can fault the sins of others, only themselves.

Though she may have had many regrets during her time, her life was lived and loved.
Ozgirl2012 said…
Such a tragic's so crazy to think it was that recent!! Your heart just goes out to her
dave1989 said…
Being a brit I feel I can pass comment on the life and times of our royal family. I am what is commonly known to be a royalist which for me isn't always a smooth ride. Princess margaret was extremely relevant for her time. She was born in a time in this country were you had to ensure looking royal was the first thing you need to portray. I have been told she was incredibly creative and very talented in the arts. The sad reality of her life or indeed her legacy was to make divorce acceptable in the royal family and the uk. She was the first royal to have a divorce since henry the eight. She wasn't always portrayed in the fairest of lights but on occasion she didn't help her self. Even on some occasions she even was filmed drunk and staggering when stepping out to see her sister and mother. Her public work who she chaired over a hundred charities and institutions I am sure were not happy with the news of her death.
To conclude she is missed as the queen was left without a sister and pretty much killed off her mother with margaret's death. She spoke to both queens everyday towards her latter years which must be difficult to adapt after that has gone. Dying from strokes and being a massive alcoholic is not a nice way to dye. A truly interesting character which we will never see a princess like that again, which for this brit is a shame.
ilove2shop said…
Her Uncle Edward abdicated. You may want to correct that.
ilove2shop, Edward VIII was David to his family, just as Edward VII and George VI were called Bertie.
Here we see an enraged pantomime Princess Margaret. She in lying in wait for her breakfast ...
kale28 said…
"In the post war gloom of Britain, Princess Margaret could be seen out every night in glamorous night clubs with her society friends, cigarette in hand" . Why would a princess care about post war Britain? THERE IS NO RESILIENCE IN CHARACTER FOR PRINCESS MARGARET FOR THE FACT THAT SHE PARTIED REGARDLESS OF POST WAR BRITAIN. THE ROYAL FAMILY ENDORSED SAID WAR, THE DEATH OF HER COUNTRYMEN IS OF PROFIT TO HER. WHY YOU WOULD USE THIS AS A AN EXAMPLE OF A RESILIENT WOMAN, IS INSANE..
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Unknown said…
She certainly went through her fair share of pain. Quite good that she enjoyed her life whenever possible.
D. League said…
It is truly sad a beautiful and intelligent sister was pushed aside. In my new book "Sunrise at Haverbridge" (fiction), the story interacted with the Monarchy from Queen Mary through Queen Elizabeth II, but I chose to not write about Princess Margaret as a character because her life story broke my heart.
Unknown said…
Stephanie, you said "That night I realized that Royalty could enjoy a simple evening with someone of no importance" and that you were staying at the Cobblestone Inn.

What a load of old cobblers.

I think princess Margaret was a wonderful woman, but I'm sure you are too.

Richard Mullins
Sunshine said…
I completely agree that maybe if she was aloud to fly free maybe life would have been a bit more wonderful for her. My only wish is for the newest member of the Royal family is that may all their dreams come true Whatever they may be
Thank you sincerely sunny

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