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While certainly not the only member of the royal family to have found themselves embroiled in scandal, it’s fair to say that Princess Margaret (1930–2002) lived a more eventful life than most.
The youngest child of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), Margaret is best remembered today for her party-loving lifestyle, her sharp fashion sense, and her turbulent relationships.
Indeed, despite the close relationship that the siblings enjoyed as children, Margaret was often viewed by her family as the polar opposite to her sensible elder sister, Princess Elizabeth, who would go on to be crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
Here are 10 key facts about Princess Margaret’s life.
1. Princess Margaret’s birth made Scottish history
Princess Margaret was born on 21 August 1930 at Glamis Castle in Scotland, making her the first senior member of the royal family to be born north of the border since King Charles I in 1600.
Located in Angus, the sprawling country estate was the ancestral home of her mother, the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother).
At the time of her birth, Margaret was fourth in line to the throne, immediately behind her sister, Princess Elizabeth, who was four years her senior.
Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland – the birthplace of Princess Margaret (Image Credit: Spike / CC).
2. She unexpectedly moved up the line of succession
One of Margaret’s first major public appearances came in 1935 at the Silver Jubilee celebrations of her grandfather, King George V.
When the monarch died the following year, Margaret’s uncle briefly took the throne as King Edward VIII, until his famous abdication in December 1936.
With her father reluctantly proclaimed King George VI, the princess quickly moved up the line of succession and assumed a far greater role in the national spotlight than most people had initially imagined.
Anne Glenconner has been at the centre of the royal circle from childhood, when she met and befriended the future Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, the Princess Margaret. Anne spoke to me from the resplendent saloon at Holkham Hall to discuss her truly remarkable life - a story of drama, tragedy and royal secrets. A story she reflects on with a charming sense of humour and true British spirit.Listen Now
3. She was a lifelong lover of music
Before her father’s accession to the throne, Princess Margaret spent much of her early childhood at her parents’ townhouse at 145 Piccadilly in London (later destroyed during the Blitz), as well as at Windsor Castle.
Never shy about being the centre of attention, the princess demonstrated an early aptitude for music, learning to play the piano aged four.
She enjoyed singing and performing, and would later discuss her lifelong passion for music in a 1981 edition of the BBC’s long-running radio programme Desert Island Discs.
Interviewed by presenter Roy Plomley, Margaret chose a particularly diverse selection of tracks that included both traditional marching band tunes as well as the coal-mining song ‘Sixteen Tons’, performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
4. A book about her childhood caused a major scandal
Like her elder sister, Margaret was raised by a Scottish governess named Marion Crawford – affectionately known by the royal family as ‘Crawfie’.
Coming from humble origins, Crawford saw it as her duty to make sure the girls had as normal an upbringing as possible, taking them on regular shopping trips and visits to swimming baths.
After retiring from her duties in 1948, Crawford was showered with royal privileges, including being able to live rent-free at Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace.
However, her relationship with the royals was irreparably damaged in 1950 when she published a tell-all book about her time as a governess entitled The Little Princesses. Crawford described the girls’ behaviour in vivid detail, recalling the young Margaret as “often naughty” but with “a gay, bouncing way about her that made her hard to discipline.”
The book’s publication was viewed as a betrayal, and ‘Crawfie’ promptly moved out of Nottingham Cottage, never to speak with the royals again. She died in 1988, aged 78.
5. The princess celebrated among the crowds on VE Day
During the Second World War, Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth were both sent away from Buckingham Palace to stay at Windsor Castle, where they could escape the German bombs.
However, after years of living in relative seclusion, the young sisters famously went incognito among the British public on VE Day (8 May 1945).
After appearing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with their parents and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Margaret and Elizabeth then disappeared into the adoring crowds to chant: “We want the king!”
Having pleaded with their parents, the teenagers later ventured out into the capital and continued partying past midnight – a story dramatised in the 2015 film, A Royal Night Out.
Group Captain Peter Townsend pictured in 1940 (Image Credit: Daventry B J (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer / Public Domain).
But unfortunately for Margaret, Townsend was a divorcee, and thus expressly forbidden from being able to marry the princess under the rules of the Church of England.
Despite this, the couple’s clandestine relationship was revealed when Margaret was photographed removing some fluff off Townsend’s jacket at her sister’s 1953 coronation ceremony (apparently a sure sign of further intimacy between them).
When it later became known that Townsend had proposed to the 22-year-old princess, it sparked a constitutional crisis, made all the more complicated by the fact her sister – the Queen – was now head of the Church.
Although the couple had the opportunity to proceed with a civil marriage when Margaret turned 25 (which would have involved forfeiting her royal privileges), the princess issued a statement announcing that they had gone their separate ways.
7. Her wedding was watched by 300 million people
Despite the protracted crisis surrounding her relationship with Peter Townsend, Margaret seemed to have put the events behind her by 1959, when she became engaged to the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones.
An old Etonian who had dropped out of Cambridge after failing his exams, Armstrong-Jones apparently met Margaret at a dinner party hosted by one of her ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Cavendish.
When the couple married at Westminster Abbey on 6 May 1960, it became the first royal wedding to be broadcast live on television, watched by an astonishing 300 million people across the globe.
Princess Margaret and her new husband, Antony Armstrong Jones, acknowledge the cheers of the crowd on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, 5 May 1960 (Image Credit: Alamy Image ID: E0RRAF / Keystone Pictures USA/ZUMAPRESS).
The marriage was initially a happy one, producing two children: David (born 1961) and Sarah (born 1964). Shortly after the couple’s marriage, Armstrong-Jones received the title of Earl of Snowdon, and Princess Margaret became Countess of Snowdon.
As a wedding gift, Margaret was also given a patch of land on the Caribbean island of Mustique, where she built a villa named Les Jolies Eaux (‘Beautiful Waters’). She would take holidays there for the rest of her life.
8. She was the first royal to be divorced since Henry VIII
During the ‘swinging’ 1960s, the Earl and Countess of Snowdon moved in glittering social circles that included some of the most famous actors, musicians and other celebrities of the era.
Margaret, for instance, forged associations with the likes of fashion designer Mary Quant, although her relationship with the London gangster-turned-actor John Bindon was rumoured to have been more intimate.
Indeed, both Margaret and her husband engaged in extra-marital affairs during the course of their marriage.
As well as a liaison with the jazz pianist Robin Douglas-Home (the nephew of former prime minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home), Margaret would embark on a much-publicised affair with landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn during the 1970s.
Seventeen years her junior, Margaret’s relationship with Llewellyn was made public when photographs of the bathing-suited pair – taken at Margaret’s home in Mustique – were printed in the News of the World in February 1976.
The Snowdons issued a statement a few weeks later formally announcing their separation, followed by a formal divorce in July 1978. As a result, they became the first royal couple to undergo a divorce since Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves in 1540 (although this had technically been an annulment).
Dr Suzannah Lipscomb is a broadcaster and Head of Faculty and Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at New College of the Humanities.Listen Now
9. The IRA allegedly plotted to assassinate her
While on a royal tour of the United States in 1979, Princess Margaret allegedly described the Irish as “pigs” during a dinner conversation with Jane Byrne, the mayor of Chicago. Just a few weeks earlier, Margaret’s cousin – Lord Mountbatten – had been killed by an IRA bomb while on a fishing trip in County Sligo, causing outcry around the world.
Although Margaret’s press spokesman denied that she had made the remark, the story deeply upset members of the Irish-American community, who staged protests for the remainder of her tour.
According to a book by Christopher Warwick, the FBI also uncovered details of an IRA plot to assassinate the princess in Los Angeles, but the attack never materialised.
10. Her later years were blighted by ill health
Like her late father King George VI, Princess Margaret was a heavy smoker – a habit that eventually began to take a significant toll on her health.
In 1985, following a suspected case of lung cancer (the same disease that had led to her father’s death), Margaret underwent surgery to have a small part of her lung removed, although it turned out to be benign.
Margaret did eventually give up smoking, but she continued to suffer from numerous ailments – and her mobility was greatly affected after accidentally scalding her feet with bathwater in 1999.
Having suffered a series of strokes, as well as cardiac problems, she passed away in hospital on 9 February 2002, aged 71. The Queen Mother died just a few weeks later on 30 March, aged 101.
Unlike most royals, Margaret was cremated, and her ashes were interred in the King George VI Memorial Chapel at Windsor.
The Crown: 10 Saddest Things About Princess Margaret
From not being able to marry the man she loves to living in her sister's shadow, The Crown's Princess Margaret is one of the most tragic characters.
Netflix's The Crown offers us a glimpse into the lives of the members of the British Royal Family. Splendor and luxurious costumes aside, the semi-fictional characters don't seem to be living their best lives. Being a representative of the Royal Family means following a rigid set of rules and putting the interests of the Crown above any personal interests.
One of the most tragic characters on the show is Princess Margaret. The fashionable younger sister always lived in her sister's shadow, despite the fact that she had a lot to offer: she was a smart social chameleon who was unfortunately never allowed to live up to her potential.
Marriage and Scandal
Princess Margaret eventually struck up a relationship with photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who was appointed 1st Earl of Snowdon following their marriage in May 1960. Their son, David Albert Charles, was born in November 1961, and daughter, Lady Sarah Frances Elizabeth, followed in May 1964.
By the late 1960s, Margaret and Lord Snowdon&aposs high-profile union was rumored to be on the rocks. Although they remained married, Margaret developed a relationship with a younger landscape gardener named Roddy Llewellyn, which became known to the public when the two were photographed together on vacation in early 1976.
The press, which was already grumbling about the princess&aposs diminishing public appearances, pounced on the affair. Margaret and Lord Snowdon separated shortly after the scandal reached headlines, and in May 1978 they completed their divorce, the first by a British royal couple in 400 years.
Both Diana and Charles expressed doubts about their relationship ahead of the wedding.
According to Junor’s account, Charles only proposed to Diana after receiving a memo from his father, Prince Philip. In the missive, Philip instructed his wayward son to either marry Diana or move on. “To have withdrawn, as you can no doubt imagine, would have been cataclysmic,” Charles reportedly said to a friend. “Hence I was permanently between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
Signs of trouble appeared as early as the couple’s televised engagement announcement. When the interviewer asked if the two were in love, Diana replied, “Of course.” Charles simply said, “Whatever love means.” According to Diana’s official biographer, Andrew Morton, this wasn’t the first time Charles expressed such lackluster sentiments to his bride: Speaking with Fox News in 2017, Morton revealed that when Charles asked if Diana would marry him, he responded to her confession of love with the same underwhelming words.
“Prince Charles, even in the privacy of that moment, said, ‘Whatever love means,’” Morton added. “So you have to ask yourself, did he really have any kind of genuine feeling for Diana or was she, as she felt herself, a sacrificial lamb … producing an heir and a spare and then being discarded?”
The week of the wedding, Diana learned that her husband-to-be had given a gift to Camilla. Uncertain of the extent of the pair’s unresolved dynamic, Diana reportedly told her sisters that she wanted to call off the wedding. They, in turn, said it was too late to back out.
Charles was similarly conflicted, royal expert Ingrid Seward noted in a 2019 documentary. Hours before the wedding, the prince told friends he was in a “confused and anxious state of mind.” According to Seward, “Prince Charles kept saying ‘I want to do the right thing by my country. I want to do the right thing by my family.’ [But] in his heart, I think he knew that they just had nothing in common.”
Share All sharing options for: 13 amazing facts about Princess Margaret from Craig Brown’s new biography
Princess Margaret, the younger sister Queen Elizabeth II, is in certain ways the ideal British royal to be be the subject of a biography. If you watch The Crown, where Margaret’s wild-child persona makes her the easy-to-love alternative to the more staid Elizabeth, you already know that. She was glamorous and beautiful and hard-living, with an interesting hint of tragedy to her story (that doomed romance with Group Captain Peter Townsend!) and a strong tendency toward camp in her self-presentation. Margaret was self-important in ways both absurd and pathetic: She was, in a perfect and very 20th-century way, pure royalty.
In the new book Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, journalist Craig Brown examines Princess Margaret in fragments. One chapter tracks her life through her birth, marriage, divorce, and death announcements another catalogs the words that were added to the dictionary in the year of her birth and the year of her death. Throughout, Brown leafs through the diaries of the most famous people of the midcentury for the inevitable moment where Margaret swans through to say something casually outrageous, cocktail and cigarette firmly in hand — and for the moments of quiet pathos, where something monstrous is happening to Margaret and she is stiff-upper-lipping her way through it.
The biography condemns Margaret for her constant and callous rudeness, but Brown spares more than a hint of outrage for the bohemian wits she spent her time with, who used Margaret for her campy glamour, wrote scathing things about her in their diaries, and then published them. Moreover, he suggests that Margaret, who was reportedly intelligent and funny, was trapped by her birth in an empty life: As the younger sister to the queen, she had little to do with her time except fulfill second-tier royal responsibilities like opening suburban schools and filling stations, all the while knowing that she was losing status with the birth of every royal baby.
Brown’s portrait of Margaret is by turns funny and moving, and every page contains at least one telling detail about what makes Margaret such a compelling avatar of royalty. Here are the 13 most amazing facts we learned from Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret.
1) Princess Margaret had strong feelings about which words were acceptable and which were not
“Material” is common “stuff” is preferred. Princess Margaret never ate “scrambled eggs,” only “buttered eggs.” When creating a seating plan, she would never say “placement” — “Placement is what maids have when they are engaged in a household!” Margaret insisted on the French place à table instead.
2) Let’s not sugarcoat: Princess Margaret was a mean person
By which I mean, she once went up to the husband of an old friend, a man who’d had a disability since childhood, and said, “Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and seen the way you walk?”
“I think she was trying to be cheeky,” suggested one friend in Margaret’s defense, but Brown makes a convincing case that such a comment was par for the Margaret course.
3) Margaret herself never sugarcoated things either
When she made a cameo as herself on a scripted radio program, the producer asked her if she could perhaps try to sound as though she were enjoying herself more at the fictional fashion show she was supposed to be attending.
“Well, I wouldn’t be, would I?” said Margaret.
4) Teen Margaret was the subject of lots of leering descriptions from dirty old men adult Margaret was the subject of lots of disgusted descriptions from dirty old men
When Margaret was 19, the Picture Post declared her “the most sought-after girl in England.” Ralph Ellison described her as a “hot-looking pretty girl.” Picasso wanted to marry her. The novelist John Fowles wrote in his diary about a fantasy of imprisoning her underground.
Margaret’s footman David John Payne wrote an extensive memoir of his time with her, which included long, panting descriptions of her body, like the time he saw her in a bikini: “Her supple figure was shown off to its best advantage in … a brief yellow bikini two-piece affair with a halter strap around the neck. … Her body glistened and little droplets of water trickled down from her arms and legs. … I was too astonished to speak. I simply stood and looked, my eyes taking her in from head to toe.”
Within 20 years, the tide had turned. Fashion designer Cecil Beaton crossed paths with Margaret when she was 43 and wrote in condescending horror, “Gosh the shock! She has become a little pocket monster. … Poor brute, I do feel sorry for her. … Her appearance has gone to pot. Her eyes seem to have lost their vigour, her complexion is now a dirty negligee pink satin. The sort of thing one sees in a disbanded dyer’s shop window.”
“You look like a Jewish manicurist,” her husband told her.
5) Margaret’s daily schedule is truly aspirational
Brown provides a detailed account of how Margaret spent her days in the mid-’50s, and truly, it is ideal.
She would wake up at 9 am to have breakfast in bed, and then lie in bed for two hours reading the newspaper and chain-smoking before her maid drew her a bath. She would have her hair and makeup done, dress, and then drink a quick vodka pick-me-up before joining her mother for an elaborate four-course lunch with half a bottle of wine each.
In the afternoon, she would write in her diary and prepare for any royal duties. Tea was at 4:30 pm, and at 5:30 pm she would begin to dress for the evening. Then her friends would come by, and they would drink and go to the theater and listen to music until 2 in the morning.
Princess Margaret knew how to live, is what we’re saying.
6) Margaret demanded very specific water with her whiskey
But it seems like she cared more because she wanted to make trouble than because of the taste. Margaret traveled with crates of Malvern water and would accept nothing else once, when her host offered her a whiskey and water made with water from the faucet, Margaret declared, “That is not water. It is only tap water.” She required that her footman present her with a sealed bottle of Malvern water before he fixed her drink, so she would know she was getting only the best.
But, the footman confessed in his memoir — this is that leering David John Payne again — sometimes he did run out. In that case, he would fill an empty Malvern water bottle with tap water, seal it shut, and present it to Margaret before mixing her drink. She never knew the difference, he says.
7) Margaret preferred to be called “Ma’am” on casual evenings with friends
“Just like a Christian name,” she would explain. Allegedly, this preference led to an uncomfortable encounter with the actress Rachel Roberts, who drunkenly wandered up to Margaret with her husband Rex Harrison and repeated again and again, “I don’t know what I call you!”
“You call her Ma’am!” Harrison explained, but Roberts appeared not to hear, repeating again and again, “I don’t know what I call you! I don’t know what I call you!” while Harrison and Margaret chanted together, “You call her Ma’am! You call her Ma’am!”
8) Margaret had nightmares about disappointing her older sister
A novelist once asked Margaret if she ever dreamed about the queen, and she responded that yes, she had a recurring dream about her. “She dreamed that she was disapproved of,” the novelist wrote, “she knew she had done something truly awful, something that transgressed everything she had been taught to believe, something that had made the Queen angry.”
Whenever she woke up from one of those dreams, Margaret said, she would have to call her big sister, and it wasn’t until she heard the queen say “hello” over the telephone that she would know that everything was all right.
9) Margaret used to glue matchbooks to the side of tumblers so that she could light a cigarette without putting down her drink
She wanted to turn this practice into a fad so that she’d have more to do with her days, Brown reports, but it never quite caught on. No one else was on Margaret’s level, we can only assume.
10) Her husband was reportedly a monster
According to Brown, Margaret’s husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones, was casually vicious to his wife throughout the later years of their marriage. He would leave notes for her scattered around the house that said things like, “24 reasons why I hate you,” or simply, “I hate you.”
11) Margaret required a companion when she went swimming
She would do the breaststroke, and her companion would swim next to her doing the sidestroke so that Margaret could see their face. Brown does not provide a reason for this practice the implication is that that’s just how Margaret lived her life.
12) She hated Princess Michael
Remember that princess who wore a racist “blackamoor” brooch to meet Meghan Markle? Margaret allegedly hated her, or, perhaps more cuttingly, didn’t care to get to know the princess well enough to hate her. She used to brag that she’d never met Princess Michael of Kent and didn’t intend to.
13) Margaret brought her characteristic eye for fabulous detail to her funeral arrangements
She planned and re-planned her funeral multiple times, once telling a friend that she rather thought she should like to be buried at sea.
“With a Union flag wrapped around your coffin?” asked the friend.
“Certainly not,” returned Margaret. “I have my own Standard.”
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8 Little-Known Facts About Princess Margaret From Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty
Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty, a 2020 documentary about the real relationship the Queen had with her late sister, has been getting a lot of love on Netflix this week, landing in the streaming service’s top 10 trending movies. Whether you’re a fan of The Crown or are simply looking to learn more about what goes on behind closed doors within the royal family, here are eight little-known facts that the documentary reveals about Margaret and Elizabeth.
Their father becoming king was a shock to them as children
“George the VI was very stressed by the job as king,” professor Kate Williams, royal historian, said in the documentary. “He found it hard. So their available, devoted father was now changed into someone who was more short-tempered who wasn’t around more. It was really difficult for them.”
The sisters were confined for five years at Windsor Castle during WWII
“Margaret and Elizabeth spent five years incarcerated at Windsor Castle,” said royal biographer and editor-in-chief of Majesty Magazine Ingrid Seward. “They had to leave the nursery and go down to the dungeons if there was an air raid… the castle was such a landmark, it was open to attack.”
Princess Margaret and then-Princess Elizabeth pictured in Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty on Netflix
The sisters had separate and very different educations
As it became more clear that Elizabeth had a duty as heir to the throne, she and her sister began to be schooled separately. While Elizabeth was studying constitutional and European history, Margaret focused on lighter subjects like piano and French.
“The fact was the Margaret didn’t have much of an education, and she had less and less of one as time went on because all the resources were concentrated on Elizabeth,” Williams said.
“I was talking to her [Margaret] about it on one occasion, and she said, ‘I don’t mind telling you it was a bone of contention,” Christopher Warwick, Princess Margaret’s authorized biographer, said inthe doc.
Margaret showed a love of the spotlight from an early age, and Elizabeth let her shine
“Margaret was always the star because she had such personality, and Elizabeth was a little stiffer,” Seward said.
“You really see Elizabeth generally taking the backup role, and that really reflects who was the better actress,” Williams said. “Let’s face it, it was Margaret.”
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They went everywhere together during their youth but were forced to follow separate paths in adulthood
Margaret accompanied Elizabeth during her early courtship with Prince Philip, but as the future Queen’s relationship grew more serious, Margaret began to get left behind.
“On the day of her wedding, Margaret actually went to her elder sister’s room and opened the door and had a look and it was all empty. She felt sad — she felt happy for her sister, but they didn’t have very many other friends. They only really had each other. Suddenly her friend had gone, and I think she obviously felt lonely and rather dreaded the future,” Seward said in the doc.
“The bond remained, but of course there was that division now,” Warwick added.
Princess Margaret, left, pictured in Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty on Netflix
Margaret’s affair with Group Captain Peter Townsend nearly overshadowed Elizabeth’s coronation
Margaret’s affair with Group Captain Peter Townsend, a divorcee, hit the headlines the day after Elizabeth’s coronation.
Margaret famously brushed a gloved hand over his lapel at a royal outing — an act of intimacy so shocking that it set off the press on the secret couple’s tail. The relationship was quite scandalous, considering that the Queen was the head of the Church of England, which at the time forbade divorcees to remarry.
It put the sisters in an awkward position of Queen and subject, wherein Margaret needed Elizabeth’s permission to marry while she was still under the age of 25.
“For Elizabeth, the relationship of the sisterhood had been superseded by the Crown. But for Margaret, the relationship with the sisterhood was still paramount, so she was still thinking, ‘But Elizabeth, you’re my sister. I’ve done everything for you, I’ve always been supporting you. Where are you now?'” said Williams.
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If Margaret had decided to go against her family’s wishes and marry Townsend anyway, their only option was civil marriage. She also would have lost her income, status as a royal family member, and place in the line of succession.
It was Margaret and Townsend’s decision to break up, not the Queen’s
In the end, Margaret chose to honor her duty to the Crown — and her sister — over her relationship with Townsend.
“She’s got the doubts that the feeling isn’t as strong as it was and that was undoubtedly on both sides,” Warwick said of Margaret and Townsend. “You can picture the scene where they both say, look, love you very much, but it’s not strong enough anymore.”
Ultimately, the Townsend affair didn’t cause a rift between the sisters
“Elizabeth is saying very clearly to everyone, despite the Townsend affair, Margaret and my relationship is exactly the same,” Williams said.
“There’s always an idea that the Townsend relationship caused some kind of rift,” Warwick said. “But it did not cause a rift, so far as I’m aware, between the two sisters.”
Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty is now streaming on Netflix. Main Image: Princess Margaret pictured in the Netflix doc.
The late Prince Philip supposedly used the swimming pool for his daily exercise when at the London residence with the Queen.
Princess Diana and Prince Charles' sons learnt to swim at Buckingham Palace
Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana also loved to have fun in the water with their kids. Both Prince William and Harry learnt to swim there, while Charles also revealed how he got William to love the water.
"I threw him in the swimming pool on occasions. Instead of putting him off, it enthused him," he admitted during an event at the British Sub-Aqua Club.
34. Walk Like a Princess
Princess Alexandra of Wales was born in Denmark with a slight limp. In 1867, a serious fever caused her royal knee to stiffen even further As a result, what became known as the “Alexandra Limp” became all the rage among high society, as high-fashion, highborn wannabes were inspired imitate her royally distinct gait.
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Margaret ended up marrying Antony Armstrong-Jones – and an estimated 300 million people watched…
In February 1960, Margaret announced her engagement to photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. The revelation surprised the media, who speculated that Margaret accepted the proposal shortly after learning that her former flame Peter Townsend intended to marry a 19-year-old Belgian woman named Marie-Luce Jamagne.
Three months later, on 6 May 1960, Margaret and Armstrong-Jones exchanged vows in a spectacular ceremony at Westminster Abbey. It was the first British royal wedding to be broadcast on television, and an estimated 300 million people tuned in to watch the occasion. Some 2,000 guests were invited, including the former prime minister Winston Churchill, Queen Ingrid of Denmark, and the king and queen of Sweden.
… and their wedding cost a staggering £86,000
In comparison to the nuptials of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, which took place during the post-war austerity of 1947, Margaret’s wedding was a lavish affair. Featuring 20 wedding cakes, a 60-foot floral arch and a dress made from more than 30-metres of fabric, the event reportedly cost £26,000 in total, with the honeymoon – a six-week jaunt on the royal yacht Britannia – adding an additional £60,000 to the bill. Following the honeymoon, the newlyweds moved into apartments at Apartment 1A, Kensington Palace. They went on to have two children: David, born on 3 November 1961, and Sarah, born on 1 May 1964.
Margaret paved the way for acceptance of royal divorce
Margaret’s and Antony Armstrong-Jones separated in 1976, around the same time that her affair with another man, Roddy Llewellyn, was made public (and Armstrong-Jones was engaging in affairs of his own). Biographer Christopher Warwick has since suggested that Margaret’s most enduring legacy was establishing public acceptance of royal divorce. Her relationship history was a sad one, he wrote, but it did help make the choices of her sister’s children – three of whom divorced (Prince Charles, who married Lady Diana Frances Spencer in 1981 and divorced her in 1996 Princess Anne, who married Captain Mark Phillips in 1973 and divorced him in 1992 and Prince Andrew, Duke of York, who married Sarah Ferguson in 1986 and divorced her in 1996) – easier than they otherwise might have been.
Although she paved the way for royal divorces to come, the breakdown of Margaret’s marriage was received rather poorly in the British press at the time. Although divorce rates were increasing around the country in the 1970s, the royal family was held to a different standard in the eyes of the people. This is according to Dominic Sandbook, who writes that “much of the monarchy’s popularity during Margaret’s lifetime had been based on its image as a happy, united churchgoing family, with the Queen and Prince Philip held up as exemplary parents.” Margaret’s divorce disrupted this ideal, and by April 1978, seven out of 10 people agreed that Margaret’s behaviour had damaged her standing as a member of the royal family.
Princess Margaret was aged 47 when her divorce to Armstrong-Jones was finalised in July 1978.
The real history behind The Crown
Want to know even more about the real events from history that inspired the Netflix drama? Read more from the experts…
Margaret is rumoured to have been romantically involved with gangster, John Bindon
Princess Margaret did not remarry following her divorce, but she had a number of well-publicised relationships and affairs. “Some of her subsequent lovers were almost beyond parody,” says historian Dominic Sandbrook – perhaps referring to rumours regarding her friendship with notorious gangster John Bindon.
Margaret suffered a number of health problems in her later years
She may well be known as a party girl, but Princess Margaret could not afford to be carefree with her lifestyle as she approached old age. In January 1985, doctors removed part of Margaret’s lung – no doubt prompting fears that she was susceptible to the same cancer that her father, George VI, had suffered from. While Margaret’s section proved non-malignant, the health scare did prompt the princess to give up smoking. She was ultimately unsuccessful in this endeavour, but did succeed in cutting back her intake from 60 to 30 a day, according to one BBC report.
Another notable health incident took place in 1999 when Margaret was holidaying at her villa the Caribbean Island of Mustique, a venue known for her famously boozy parties. The now 68-year-old princess, who had suffered a stroke the previous year, was badly burned after climbing into a bathtub filled with extremely hot water. She was transported back to the UK and spent some time recuperating at Windsor. A palace spokesman later explained what happened: “Princess Margaret scalded her feet a few weeks ago […] She was seen by a local doctor in Mustique, and came back to London a week after the accident.”
Princess Margaret died on 9 February 2002 at the age of 71 at The King Edward VII Hospital after suffering a stroke and developing heart problems.
Love quizzes? Fascinated by the royal family and The Crown?
We rounded up 24 history questions about the royal family so you can create your own home pub quiz during lockdown
Rachel Dinning is digital section editor at HistoryExtra
This article was first published on HistoryExtra in September 2018
Why Princess Margaret Sacrificed Love for the Crown
At Elizabeth II’s coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953, all eyes should have been on the new monarch. But someone else stole the show that afternoon: Princess Margaret. At the televised event, the queen’s sister picked a piece of lint from the lapel of Peter Townsend, a war hero who now served the royal family𠅊nd the intimate gesture sparked a royal scandal.
It wouldn’t be her last. From her dramatic almost-marriage to her very public divorce, Margaret’s tempestuous love life dominated the royal spotlight for years. The princess’s star-crossed romantic entanglements were the stuff of rumor, tabloid speculation and scandal—yet they played a critical role in modernizing royal love along the way.
Margaret’s relationship with Townsend began in the early 1950s. Worldly, beautiful and charming, she was intensely attracted to the handsome veteran. But Townsend was not considered an appropriate royal match. Though their affair was conducted in secret, the world soon learned that Group Captain Townsend had divorced his wife and proposed to Margaret𠅊nd that she had accepted.
At the time, divorce was considered a major scandal, and it was unthinkable for a royal to marry both a commoner and a divorced man. Since the Church of England looked down on the dissolution of marriage, Margaret—whose sister, the Queen Elizabeth, was the head of the church as part of her duties as head of state a considerable obstacle. If she married Townsend, it might give the appearance that the queen approved of divorce.
There was another problem: the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. The law—which had its roots in George III’s distaste for both of his brothers’ marriages to commoners—gave the monarch ultimate say over who married whom. Under the law, all descendants of George II needed royal permission to marry. If they did not receive it, they could marry after one year of waiting as long as both houses of Parliament approved.
Margaret needed her sister’s permission to marry Townsend. If she couldn’t get it, she could beg Parliament for the right to marry, but that would have caused a scandal even more dramatic than her affair with a divorced man.
Societal mores made the potential match distasteful. Family wounds𠅎lizabeth only ascended to the throne after her uncle abdicated to marry a divorced commoner—made the request seem outrageous. And these facts seemed to make it impossible for Margaret to marry Townsend. Elizabeth, about to tour the Commonwealth after her own coronation, asked her sister to wait. Meanwhile, Parliament and the public made it clear that they didn’t support the match.
But contrary to The Crown, which portrays Elizabeth as ultimately blocking the marriage for the sake of the monarchy, the real-life Elizabeth did come around to the idea. She even drew up a plan that would allow Margaret to marry Townsend and stay part of the family. As the BBCxplains, the compromise would have amended the Royal Marriages Act and essentially made it unnecessary for the queen to give her permission at all.
There was a catch, though: To marry Townsend under this plan, Margaret would have had to give up her right of ever succeeding to the throne and those of her children, too. It’s not clear if this is why Margaret eventually broke off her relationship with Townsend, but the scandalous near-marriage never occurred.
Princess Margaret, shortly before announcing that she would not marry Peter Townsend.
𠇏rom the romantic point of view, the episode is a sad disappointment,” wrote the New York Daily News of the incident. But Margaret’s next relationship—her 1960 marriage to the respected photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones—was just as romantic and, eventually, just as scandalous. The romance, kept secret until the engagement was announced, took the world by surprise. (According to friends, Margaret only decided to go through with the marriage when she learned that Townsend planned to remarry.)
On paper, Armstrong-Jones (named Lord Snowdon after the marriage) was a much more suitable match than Townsend. Though he was a commoner, he came from a family of respected artists and had never been divorced. But after their lavish wedding, the relationship turned disastrous. Though the princess and the commoner were seen as helping break down Britain’s strict class barriers, their private life soon became distant and troubled.
On the outside, the couple led a Swinging Sixties life filled with parties, glamorous friends and art. Inside, their relationship was crumbling. Adultery, arguments and overindulgence in alcohol and drugs strained their marriage. They were subject to overwhelming scrutiny from the public and the British press, which followed their every move.
Finally, things came to a head when photos of Margaret and Roddy Llewellyn, a man 17 years her junior, on vacation were published in a tabloid. Finally, Margaret admitted that her marriage had failed. It was what Snowdon’s biographer, Anne de Courcy,ꃊlled “the most serious marital drama in the royal family since the Abdication.”
Margaret couldn’t marry a divorced man, but she could become a divorced woman herself. In 1978 she became theਏirst senior member of the royal family to divorce in 77 years. But though she was mocked in the press and viciously tracked by reporters, Margaret’s divorce represented a more realistic take on love and marriage for the royal family. Since her marriage ended, other royals—most notably Charles and Diana—went their separate ways, too. As national divorce rates rose, Margaret showed the world that royal life is far from perfect.
Today, the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 is no more, and only the first six people in line to the throne need to ask the reigning monarch for permission to marry. Though it’s not certain to what extent Margaret’s own famous love life affected Parliament’s adoption of the new Succession to the Crown Act, it is clear that Margaret’s life reflected changing times𠅊nd that her turbulent romances helped change British minds about both marriage and divorce.