For most people, Margaret was the princess who defied convention when it was not okay to do so. A “rebel” princess. The black sheep of royals. A wild reputation that did not trouble her one bit. Or so we hope. But underneath her carefree ways was pent-up anger and sadness at living in the shadow of her sister, the queen, who she loved dearly.
Margaret Is Born
Right from when she was born, on August 21, 1930, Margaret could never be what the royal family expected. The royal family and British people had fervently hoped for a male heir to the throne since there were none then. But here was Margaret instead, further dashing any hopes of a future Prince of England.
Although never explicitly stated, many people considered her birth a disappointment in that respect. Feelings of pervasive disillusionment would follow Margaret around for most of her life.
A Dramatic Turn of Events
Events took a dramatic turn when her uncle King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson – an American socialite who was twice divorced. The King gave up his titles to marry Simpson, a scandalous decision for the time that created a full-blown constitutional crisis.
After his abdication, his brother, Prince George VI, ascended the throne – decisively changing the future of England and his two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, who became princesses almost overnight.
She Remained Out of the Public Eye as a Child
According to a new biography, there were many rumors about Princess Margaret as a child. Her family kept her out of the public eye for a long time. With the spotlight on her sister, Elizabeth, Margaret was almost invisible. Despite being bright for her age, many people believed she was “deaf and dumb.”
The young princess had no trouble revealing her true self during her first public appearance at her uncle Prince George’s wedding in 1934. All rumors about her alleged “silence” were definitively laid to rest.
Life as Princess Margaret
Margaret was six when she became a princess, and her life effectively changed forever. But all eyes were on her older sister, Princess Elizabeth, the heir apparent to the throne. Princess Margaret, on the other hand? Her duty was to the crown and country, albeit in the shadows.
While Princess Elizabeth received grooming to become the future Queen of England, her younger sister needed to fulfill her duties in the background. ‘Quiet’ was not how Princess Margaret did things, as the world would soon discover.
Exclusion and Isolation
Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret did not receive a proper education before their father became King. They occasionally learned writing, reading, and mathematics. Anything beyond the basics was deemed unnecessary for women at the time – even in aristocratic families. After Elizabeth became heir apparent, she received a well-rounded education to prepare for her eventual ascension to the throne.
Her sister did not enjoy the same privileges. It seemed her title was not deserving of similar education. The feeling of exclusion would trouble Princess Margaret for the rest of her life.
Her Father Indulged Her
Even though she did not enjoy many of her sister's privileges, Margaret was still second in line to the throne. She was a princess, and she knew it. Her father, King George, often referred to Elizabeth as his “pride.” But Margaret? She was his “joy.”
Margaret could do no wrong in her father’s eyes. However, people in the British court called her a spoiled brat and worried she was growing up into a very willful woman.
Margaret Was More Like Her Mother
Although she resented her mother for not educating her, Margaret shared more traits with her than she realized. Some say she may have inherited her mother’s stubbornness. When World War II broke out, there was grave concern about the royal family’s safety.
Many groups pressured the family to relocate to Canada, but the Queen was adamant. She retorted that she, the King, or their children would never leave.
The New It Girl
Princess Margaret grew into a stunning young woman. More people began noticing her beauty as she approached her 20s. Margaret had the quintessential slender waist that every woman desired, and those eyes – vivid blue and sparkling.
Her enviable pedigree and unbelievably good looks got her into some of the most exclusive circles in London. Everyone wanted to be friends (or more) with Margaret. Soon, the press began calling her and her swanky friends “The Margaret Set.”
Her Sister Becomes Queen
Playing second fiddle to her sister made Princess Margaret increasingly frustrated and resentful. The tension between the two sisters intensified over the years. It didn’t help that the two were so different — Princess Elizabeth was the picture of poise and restraint, while Princess Margaret was more willful and headstrong.
In 1952, their father, King George VI, died after failing to recover from a lung operation, and Elizabeth became Queen on February 6, 1952. She was 25 years old. Her sister’s ascension cast an even bigger shadow on Princess Margaret’s life.
Struggling to Cope After Her Father’s Passing
When her father passed, Princess Margaret could not cope with the loss. She and her father had always been incredibly close. The princess considered him the heart and anchor of the family. Without him, she suddenly felt adrift and fell very sick.
His death completely crushed her will to live. Reports say that Margaret had trouble sleeping, and doctors prescribed sedatives to ease her pain and anxiety.
The Perks of Being Princess Margaret
The princess soon learned the perks of being relatively invisible. She could take plenty of liberties compared to her high-profile sister. Nowhere was this more evident than in Princess Margaret’s romantic liaisons. Queen Elizabeth needed to be exact in her choice of husband. Her younger sister refused to play by those rules.
She was attractive and a royal. Safe to say the princess's dating life was adventurous. Princess Margaret was the life of multiple parties – a string of beaus to her name. But the young princess was particularly taken in by one man – Group Captain Peter Townsend.
Her First Epic Romance
Who was Peter Townsend? He was a dashing British RAF officer and legendary flying ace. Townsend served as an equerry to King George VI from 1944 to 1952. Princess Margaret was but a teen when she first met the captain who was interviewing for the equerry position. She was immediately infatuated, her feelings for Townsend growing stronger with time.
As she grew older, the infatuation grew into a relationship that scandalized the family. Townsend was divorced and 16 years older. He was also the father of two children. Hoping that Margaret would grow out of the relationship, the royal family turned a blind eye.
Not All Roses
Princess Margaret was head over heels in love. She was also determined to seduce Townsend. But as for the Captain? Many sources report that he wasn’t keen on the idea at first. Like other royal courtiers, he thought of her as an indulged child.
Given how much older he was, Townsend firmly kept her at a distance. Their story was somewhat love-hate initially, but we know how that turned out.
The Princess Is Determined to Marry Townsend
Despite the cutting disapproval from her family, Princess Margaret remained unaffected. She and Townsend were deeply in love. What were the ranks and conventions to true love, after all? She was determined to marry Townsend, even if it meant going against her family, the Church of England, and the Parliament.
The 1722 Royal Marriages Act required Queen Elizabeth’s approval of the marriage, and only when Princess Margaret turned 25. The Queen asked Margaret to wait a year so she could decide on the best course of action. This photo shows a document pertaining to Princess Margaret and her intention to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend.
How the Media Found Out About the Relationship
The British public was none the wiser about Princess Margaret and Captain Townsend’s relationship. But the media quickly caught on, thanks to a seemingly innocuous gesture by Princess Margaret. At Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, the princess gently flicked some dust off of Townsend’s shoulder, suggesting an intimate relationship between the two.
Every newspaper picked up the story about their relationship. Most of the British public approved of the relationship. The Church and Parliament? Their views were decidedly the opposite.
Will They? Won't They?
The relationship put Queen Elizabeth in a tricky situation. As the head of the Church of England, it was her duty to disallow the marriage. But she was also the elder sister who wanted to keep Princess Margaret happy. Elizabeth attempted to work around conventions to make the marriage possible.
Tension around the relationship created a rift between the public (largely pro-Margaret) and the royal family. During this period, Townsend served several assignments overseas where he waited until Princess Margaret turned 25 and they could marry.
They Could Marry, but on Certain Conditions
In 1955, Princess Margaret turned 25, finally free to marry Townsend without needing the Queen’s approval. The two reunited in England, hoping to put the drama to rest, but this was not to be.
Purists and sticklers for tradition in Parliament wanted Princess Margaret to give up her royal title and allowance. That was not all. In exchange for her unconventional marriage, she would also need to leave England for at least five years.
The Queen’s Role
The Queen did not sabotage Princess Margaret’s relationship, contrary to myth. In reality, she worked with then-PM Anthony Eden to try and make the marriage possible without her sister giving up her title or allowance. But there was still a caveat.
Margaret would have to forgo her place and her future children’s place in the royal line of succession. Ultimately, Princess Margaret decided not to marry the love of her life.
Princess Margaret’s Real Reasons for Refusing to Marry
In a statement, Princess Margaret stated that she had decided against the marriage since she was “mindful” of Church doctrines and her duty to the Commonwealth. Parliament seemed happy, but the public was disappointed by the tragic end of a royal love story — one for the ages.
The blame fell squarely on archaic laws, the Queen, the Church, and Parliament for allegedly coercing the princess. But those in the inner circle had a different story. They knew Princess Margaret chose not to marry Townsend since she did not want to live the life of a commoner.
Princess Margaret and Billy Wallace
The relationship falling apart deeply affected Princess Margaret. Combined with the pressure to find a worthy husband, she threw herself into new romances with a vengeance. As with everything Margaret did, things moved quickly. She decided to get engaged to a family friend, Billy Wallace, who everyone believed was a good match for the princess.
During this time, Wallace, confident about his position, was involved with someone else while holidaying in the Bahamas. He was audacious enough to tell Princess Margaret about it without any remorse. She immediately broke off the engagement, much to his surprise.
Princess Margaret, the Party Girl
After Wallace, Margaret indulged in numerous excesses to seemingly numb her heartache. She drank and smoked frequently. She partied into the wee hours with many suitors, all in the eye of the public. Her reputation as a wild child grew, ceaselessly irking the royal family.
Princess Margaret was also famous for being extravagant. She was always a “spoiled child,” people said. And her habits only grew worse – from luxurious baths to vodka breakfasts.
She Meets Antony Armstrong-Jones
The rebel in Princess Margaret soon discovered a kindred soul in Antony “Tony” Armstrong-Jones — a handsome celebrity photographer and motorcycle enthusiast. The princess and Armstrong-Jones were cut from the same cloth — bohemian and imperious. Rules did not apply to them. It remains unclear when or how they met, but some believe it was at a dinner party.
Princess Margaret was particularly drawn to him since he treated her like he would any other person. Armstrong-Jones was everything she needed while representing everything that irked her family. The two kept their relationship a secret until they announced their engagement.
What’s in an Engagement Date?
The couple announced their engagement on February 26, 1960. A year before, news about her former lover’s engagement had made the rounds. Peter Townsend was engaged to be married to a young, 19 years old Belgian girl.
Royal observers believe the princess was equally determined to prove that she had moved on and found love again. As much as she had fallen for Armstrong Jones – the need to make a statement was one of the primary reasons the couple went public.
The Royal Wedding
On May 6, 1960, Princess Margaret and Antony officially tied the knot at Westminster Abbey. The royal wedding was a big deal, and this one was the first one to be televised. It was the biggest royal event since Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. At least 300 million people in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and the U.S. tuned in to watch the ceremony.
The coverage was comprehensive and would set the norm for future royal events. As royal weddings go, this one was extravagant and cost the British public over $113,000.
Her Wedding Dress and Wedding Ceremony
Only the most exclusive wedding dress would do for the likes of Princess Margaret. She turned to the royal family favorite, Norman Hartnell, who designed an exquisite wedding dress. It still goes down in history as one of the most stylish royal wedding gowns ever made. Margaret's wedding was expectedly a lavish affair, but there was one problem.
No other royal families attended except Queen Ingrid of Denmark. The other royals boycotted the wedding since they deemed her marriage to a commoner inappropriate.
The Best Wedding Present
Princess Margaret’s wedding and honeymoon were lavish enough, and things would only become better. To start, she was a princess who had defied all odds to marry the love of her life. She also received the best wedding present from a possible ex-lover, Colin Tennant.
Tennant gifted the new couple a plot of land on a private Caribbean Island called Mustique! The island would become one of Princess Margaret’s favorite getaways.
Happily Ever After?
The couple had expensive tastes and liked living large, evidenced by their luxurious honeymoon. The princess and her husband spent six weeks on the royal yacht “Britannia” exploring the Caribbean. London’s high society circles adored the two, and they quickly became the “It” couple at every event.
Despite Antony’s insistence against receiving a title, he became the Earl of Snowdon in 1961. The couple moved into Kensington Palace and welcomed their first child, David, not long after. A daughter, Sarah, joined the family in 1964.
Her Royal Duties
As the Countess of Snowdon, Princess Margaret continually represented the Crown at home and abroad. She traveled on royal duties to several countries: including Denmark, the United States, Australia, Jamaica, Canada, Dominica, China, Tuvalu, Swaziland, China, and Japan.
She was also a great patron of the performing arts – one of the most gifted pianists among the royals. Her patronage reflected her passion for music. Additionally, she was deeply invested in welfare and health charities.
Princess Margaret’s Extravagant Morning Routine
Princess Margaret was as much an enigma as she was tabloid fodder. The papers loved writing about her colorful life. Besides her exciting romantic life, rumors about her indulgent (almost ridiculous) habits at home intrigued the press and the public.
How did Princess Margaret start her mornings? She allegedly took breakfast in bed at 9 am, followed by hours of reading the papers or listening to the radio. 12:30 pm was time for a vodka pick-me-up while chain-smoking from the moment she woke.
Most people bored Princess Margaret and her husband, Antony. The couple reportedly invented a fun game to entertain themselves during dull dinner parties. Whenever a guest uttered a cliché or said something stupid, the princess or her husband would rip off some bread to put in the middle of the table.
The one with the most bread by night's end was the winner! Would you want to be a guest at Princess Margaret’s dinner parties? We think not.
The Time She Met Twiggy
Princess Margaret was devastatingly witty, and she could often be cruel. Strangers and guests feared what she might say to them in passing or over dinner. One of the most outrageous stories is when she allegedly met Dame Lesley Lawson, AKA “Twiggy,” at a dinner party.
“Who are you?” asked Princess Margaret, to which the model replied, “I’m Lesley Hornby, ma’am, but people call me Twiggy.” “How unfortunate,” Princess Margaret responded.
Her Wit Was Legendary
Her sarcasm and wit truly spared no one. Even those closest to her were often at the receiving end of a fun barb. When her marriage to Antony fell apart, the poor Lord Nigel Napier (her private secretary) had to deliver bad news over the phone.
On hearing about Antony wanting a divorce, the princess allegedly replied, “Thank you, Nigel. I think that's the best news you've ever given me.”
She Made Her Guests Wait for Hours
Princess Margaret loved making an entrance — all well and good, except she was always unreasonably late. For example, royal protocol dictated that dinner could not start without Princess Margaret — which became a problem since she often took hours to get ready. The late Nancy Mitford described one of these infamous dinners in her collection of letters.
She wrote about how dinner was at 8:30, but the princess's hairdresser had only arrived. The guests waited hours while Princess Margaret got her hair done, finally emerging with a “ghastly coiffure.”
The Extravagant Life of Princess Margaret
We know she spent six weeks honeymooning on the royal yacht Britannica. But did you know the honeymoon cost $115,000? Unbelievably extravagant for 1960! But it did not stop there. She reportedly packed clothes worth £7,200 for a seven-day trip to the United States.
In 1995, the whimsical Princess Margaret was in top form when she demanded a motorcycle escort from Kensington Palace to Waterloo Station — a distance of approximately 3.2 miles!
In a marriage between two equally fiery individuals, it was only a matter of time before conflicts would arise. Soon enough, whispers about a troubled marriage started doing the rounds. Armstrong-Jones continued living up to his rakish reputation, having extra-marital relations with numerous women.
With plenty of indiscretions herself, Princess Margaret was hardly blameless. She was allegedly getting involved with Mick Jagger, Peter Sellers, and even her daughter’s godfather, Antony Barton.
A Toxic Marriage and Dangerous Addictions
The marriage was doomed to fail because the couple had completely different goals. Antony was a workaholic who constantly traveled, leaving Princess Margaret at home. She often spoke of feeling lonely since he was never around.
The princess resorted to numbing her loneliness with heavy drinking and excessive partying. Alcohol was her lethal poison of choice, and it would prove to be her undoing later in life.
She Had Terrible Nightmares
Despite her outwardly-rebellious ways, Princess Margaret desperately wanted to belong and feel needed. Yet, all she found was rejection from both her husband and family. The tension around her marriage affected her psyche to such an extent that she soon reached a breaking point.
Margaret began suffering from recurring nightmares. The nightmares were always about the same thing – disappointing her sister, Queen Elizabeth II, over and over. She desperately needed her older sibling.
Was Princess Margaret Involved in a Robbery?
In 1971, the Baker Street robbery shook the country. A gang had tunneled into the Lloyd Banks building and emptied hundreds of safety deposit boxes. It was a perfect crime, but many conspiracy theorists believe there may have been more to the story.
Some theories say the burglary was an elaborate cover-up to retrieve “compromising” pictures of Princess Margaret. The most fantastical theory posits that MI5 engineered the robbery to protect the princess’s reputation.
She Had a Direct Line to Her Sister
The press and TV shows like “The Crown” have played up the alleged bad blood between Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. But in reality, the two sisters were incredibly close, despite the enormous history and baggage that comes with being royals.
Sources say Princess Margaret installed a direct line from her quarters in Kensington Palace to Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace. They wanted to stay in touch. When Princess Margaret died, the public saw a normally taciturn Queen Elizabeth overwhelmed with emotion — for possibly the first time.
Townsend’s Views on All of It
In his 1978 autobiography titled, “Time and Chance,” Townsend wrote about how he knew he was not enough for Margaret. The captain wrote about a painful awareness — they could have married only if she could give up her position, reputation, and royal allowance.
A life with him did not balance out everything she would have lost, neither did it carry the same weight. The public blamed the outdated laws of the British monarchy but the couple understood it was much more fundamental than that.
Her Bohemian Friends and Many Flings
Princess Margaret was everything a textbook princess should not be – carefree, loud, and unabashedly herself. During the Swinging Sixties in London, she hung out with a motley and colorful crowd comprising the world’s top filmmakers, artists, and musicians. The stunning princess had endless suitors.
Andy Warhol reportedly had a thing for her. The legendary Picasso was borderline obsessed with Margaret. And, of course, there were numerous rumors about a wild relationship with Mick Jagger. Were any of these crazy stories true? We may never know.
Princess Margaret’s (In)Famous Dinner Parties
Safe to say that Princess Margaret’s inner circle was as exclusive as it gets. Her dinner parties were phenomenal. But it took hearts and livers of steel to survive them. Some say she had servers stand every 50 feet with bottles of expensive Scotch.
The princess did not take too kindly to guests leaving before she turned in for the night – which could be a while since she loved singing until daybreak!
A Tumultuous Marriage Finally Unravels
The couple did not address the rumors concerning their marriage, each preferring to turn a blind eye. However, one of Princess Margaret’s romances would soon change all of that. The man in question was Roddy Llewellyn, a baronet and designer 17 years her senior, who she first met in 1973.
The two reportedly dated in secret for eight years. In 1976, British tabloids published a photograph of the two in a compromising position while on vacation on Princess Margaret’s private tropical island, Mustique. All hell broke loose in the media, and Buckingham Palace braced itself.
Princess Margaret and Armstrong-Jones Finalize Divorce
Only after the scandal with the photograph did Princess Margaret and Antony publicly acknowledge that their marriage was not working and announce their separation. Official statements about an impending divorce followed soon after. On July 11, 1978, Princess Margaret officially signed her divorce papers — a discomfiting repetition of history.
Hers was the second time a British royal had divorced their spouse. The first and only precedent was the infamous King Henry VIII during the 16th century.
Life After Divorce
Princess Margaret never remarried, and she somewhat mellowed with age. Still, her golden years were far from easy. All the drinking and smoking in her youth finally caught up with her, leading to numerous health complications.
In 1985, the princess underwent lung surgery. She quit smoking as a result, but alcohol remained a vice. The princess then suffered a mild stroke that left her immobilized.
A “Heartless” Princess
Princess Margaret’s acerbic wit was legendary. While some people saw a cruel woman, others might argue that she was projecting – her bitter jibes, a reflection of her overwhelming personal struggles. Once while at a party in New York, a guest reportedly asked the princess how the Queen was doing.
Margaret sniped back by asking, “Which one?” Her sister, her mother, or her husband? Ouch. Princess Margaret’s sarcasm would only grow sharper over the years.
She Felt Betrayed by Her Family
It takes two to break a marriage. While Princess Margaret was most certainly at fault, her husband seemingly had it easy. Most people focused on the princess’s transgressions despite his evident ill-treatment of her. Sadly, her family felt the same way.
When Margaret came to them with her problems, they often dismissed it as typical Margaret drama. It had to be her fault. The princess did not have a support system, which further fuelled her stress and anxiety.
She Gets Caught in a Lie
Margaret had a brief affair with Robin Douglas-Home, the nephew of a former British PM. When people questioned her about it, she insisted their relationship was platonic — a lie that came back to bite her.
Somehow, her love letters to him became public, revealing her lies. The couple broke up eventually. But Douglas-Home took it hard. 18 months after they broke up, the deeply-depressed man died, presumably by his own hand.
Princess Margaret’s Health Deteriorates
In 1993, Princess Margaret was hospitalized with pneumonia and suffered a stroke while on an escape in Mustique in 1998. The following year, she scalded her feet in a bathtub, which restricted her mobility. The British public had always known a vibrant Princess Margaret. But she was now in a wheelchair and needed walking support to get around.
In 2001, she suffered another stroke that affected her vision and paralyzed the left side of her body. She was last seen in public at the Duchess of Gloucester’s 100th birthday celebrations in December 2001.
Princess Margaret Dies
On February 9, 2002, Princess Margaret's life ended. She had lived an exciting, full life — more than many royals combined. Still, it was also a life fraught with loneliness and never feeling worthy enough.
Princess Margaret's legacy endures, nonetheless – the ultimate royal rebel who followed her heart with no qualms or fear. Margaret set the stage for what the monarchy in the modern world ought to be.