Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, was the younger daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and the only sibling of Queen Elizabeth II.
Margaret spent much of her childhood with her parents and sister. Her life changed dramatically at the age of six, when her paternal uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry divorcée Wallis Simpson. Margaret's father became king, and her sister became heir presumptive, with Margaret second in line to the throne. During the Second World War, the two sisters stayed at Windsor Castle despite suggestions to evacuate them to Canada. During the war years, Margaret was considered too young to perform any official duties and instead continued her education.
After the war, Margaret fell in love with Group Captain Peter Townsend. In 1952, her father died, her sister became queen, and Townsend divorced his wife, Rosemary. He proposed to Margaret early the following year. Many in the government believed that he would be an unsuitable husband for the Queen's 22-year-old sister, and the Church of England refused to countenance marriage to a divorced man. Margaret eventually abandoned her plans with Townsend and married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960; the Queen made him Earl of Snowdon. The couple had a son, David, and a daughter, Sarah.
Margaret was a controversial member of the British royal family. Her divorce in 1978 received much negative publicity, and she was romantically associated with several men. Her health gradually deteriorated in the final two decades of her life. She was a heavy smoker for most of her adult life and had a lung operation in 1985, a bout of pneumonia in 1993, and at least three strokes between 1998 and 2001. She died at King Edward VII's Hospital in London after suffering a final stroke on 9 February 2002.
Early lifeMargaret was born on 21 August 1930 at Glamis Castle in Scotland, her mother's ancestral home, and was affectionately known as Margot within the royal family. She was delivered by Sir Henry Simson, the royal obstetrician. The Home Secretary, J. R. Clynes, was present to verify the birth. The registration of her birth was delayed for several days to avoid her being numbered 13 in the parish register.
At the time of her birth, she was fourth in the line of succession to the British throne. Her father was the Duke of York, the second son of King George V and Queen Mary. Her mother was the Duchess of York, the youngest daughter of the 14th Earl and the Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The Duchess of York originally wanted to name her second daughter Ann Margaret, as she explained to Queen Mary in a letter: "I am very anxious to call her Ann Margaret, as I think Ann of York sounds pretty, & Elizabeth and Ann go so well together." King George V disliked the name Ann but approved of the alternative "Margaret Rose".
Margaret was baptised in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on 30 October 1930 by Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Margaret's early life was spent primarily at the Yorks' residences at 145 Piccadilly and Royal Lodge in Windsor. The Yorks were perceived by the public as an ideal family: father, mother and children, but unfounded rumours that Margaret was deaf and mute were not completely dispelled until Margaret's first main public appearance at her uncle Prince George's wedding in 1934.
She was educated alongside her sister, Princess Elizabeth, by their Scottish governess Marion Crawford. Margaret's education was mainly supervised by her mother, who in the words of Randolph Churchill "never aimed at bringing her daughters up to be more than nicely behaved young ladies". When Queen Mary insisted upon the importance of education, the Duchess of York commented, "I don't know what she meant. After all I and my sisters only had governesses and we all married well—one of us very well". Margaret was resentful about her limited education, especially in later years, and aimed criticism at her mother. However, Margaret's mother told a friend that she "regretted" that her daughters did not go to school like other children, and the employment of a governess rather than sending the girls to school may have been done only at the insistence of King George V. As children she and her sister were read stories by J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan.
Margaret's grandfather, George V, died when she was five, and her uncle acceded as King Edward VIII. Less than a year later, on 11 December 1936, Edward abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American, whom neither the Church of England nor the Dominion governments would accept as queen. The Church would not recognise the marriage of a divorced woman with a living ex-husband as valid. Edward's abdication left a reluctant Duke of York in his place as King George VI, and Margaret unexpectedly became second in line to the throne, with the title The Princess Margaret to indicate her status as a child of the sovereign. The family moved into Buckingham Palace; Margaret's room overlooked The Mall.
Margaret was a Brownie in the 1st Buckingham Palace Brownie Pack, formed in 1937. She was also a Girl Guide and later a Sea Ranger. She served as President of Girlguiding UK from 1965 until her death in 2002.
At the outbreak of World War II, Margaret and her sister were at Birkhall, on the Balmoral Castle estate, where they stayed until Christmas 1939, enduring nights so cold that drinking water in carafes by their bedside froze. They spent Christmas at Sandringham House before moving to Windsor Castle, just outside London, for much of the remainder of the war. Viscount Hailsham wrote to Prime Minister Winston Churchill to advise the evacuation of the princesses to the greater safety of Canada, to which their mother famously replied, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave."
Unlike other members of the royal family, Margaret was not expected to undertake any public or official duties during the war. She developed her skills at singing and playing the piano. Her contemporaries thought she was spoiled by her parents, especially her father, who allowed her to take liberties not usually permissible, such as being allowed to stay up to dinner at the age of 13.
Crawford despaired at the attention Margaret was getting, writing to friends: "Could you this year only ask Princess Elizabeth to your party? ... Princess Margaret does draw all the attention and Princess Elizabeth lets her do that." Elizabeth, however, did not mind this, and commented, "Oh, it's so much easier when Margaret's there—everybody laughs at what Margaret says". King George described Elizabeth as his pride and Margaret as his joy.
Post-war yearsAt the end of the war in 1945, Margaret appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with her family and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Afterwards, both Elizabeth and Margaret joined the crowds outside the palace, incognito, chanting, "We want the King, we want the Queen!"
On 15 April 1946, Margaret was confirmed into the Church of England. On 1 February 1947, she, Elizabeth and their parents embarked on a state tour of Southern Africa. The three-month-long visit was Margaret's first visit abroad, and she later claimed that she remembered "every minute of it". Margaret was chaperoned by Peter Townsend, the King's equerry. Later that year, Margaret was a bridesmaid at Elizabeth's wedding. In the next three years Elizabeth had two children, Charles and Anne, whose births moved Margaret further down the line of succession.
In 1950, the former royal governess, Marion Crawford, published an unauthorised biography of Elizabeth's and Margaret's childhood years, titled The Little Princesses, in which she described Margaret's "light-hearted fun and frolics" and her "amusing and outrageous ... antics".
As a beautiful young woman, with an 18-inch waist and "vivid blue eyes", Margaret enjoyed socialising with high society and the young, aristocratic set, including Sharman Douglas, the daughter of the American ambassador, Lewis Williams Douglas. A celebrated beauty known for her glamour and fashion sense, Margaret was often featured in the press at balls, parties, and nightclubs. The number of her official engagements increased, and she joined a growing number of charitable organisations as president or patron.
Her 21st birthday party was held at Balmoral in August 1951. The following month her father underwent surgery for lung cancer, and Margaret was appointed one of the Counsellors of State who undertook the King's official duties while he was incapacitated. Her father died five months later, in February 1952, and her sister became Queen.
Romance with Peter TownsendMargaret was grief-stricken by her father's death and was prescribed sedatives to help her sleep. Of her father she wrote, "He was such a wonderful person, the very heart and centre of our happy family." She was consoled by her deeply held Christian beliefs. With her widowed mother, Margaret moved out of Buckingham Palace and into Clarence House, while her sister and her family moved out of Clarence House and into Buckingham Palace.
Peter Townsend was appointed Comptroller of her mother's restructured household. By 1953, he was divorced from his first wife and proposed marriage to Margaret. He was 15 years her senior and had two children from his previous marriage. Margaret accepted and informed her sister, the Queen, of her desire to marry Townsend. The Queen's consent was required by the Royal Marriages Act 1772. As in 1936, the Church of England refused to countenance the remarriage of the divorced. Queen Mary had recently died, and Elizabeth was about to be crowned. After her coronation, she planned to tour the Commonwealth for six months. The Queen told Margaret, "Under the circumstances, it isn't unreasonable for me to ask you to wait a year." The Queen was counselled by her private secretary, Sir Alan Lascelles, to post Townsend abroad, but she refused and instead transferred him from the Queen Mother's household to her own. The British Cabinet refused to approve the marriage, and newspapers reported that the marriage was "unthinkable" and "would fly in the face of Royal and Christian tradition". Churchill informed the Queen that the Dominion prime ministers were unanimously against the marriage and that Parliament would not approve a marriage that would be unrecognised by the Church of England unless Margaret renounced her rights to the throne.
Churchill arranged for Townsend to be posted to Brussels. Polls run by popular newspapers appeared to show that the public supported Margaret's personal choice, regardless of Church teaching or the government's opinion. For two years, press speculation continued. Margaret was told by clerics that she would be unable to receive communion if she married a divorced man.
Papers released in 2004 to the National Archives show that in 1955 the Queen and the new Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden drew up a plan under which Princess Margaret would have been able to marry Townsend by removing Margaret and any children from the marriage out of the line of succession. Margaret would be allowed to keep her royal title and her civil list allowance, stay in the country and even continue with her public duties. Eden summed up the Queen's attitude in a letter on the subject to the Commonwealth prime ministers "Her Majesty would not wish to stand in the way of her sister's happiness." Eden himself was very sympathetic; "Exclusion from the Succession would not entail any other change in Princess Margaret's position as a member of the Royal Family," he wrote. The final draft of this proposal was produced on 28 October 1955.
On 31 October Margaret issued a statement:
Randolph Churchill was concerned about rumours involving Archbishop Fisher with Princess Margaret's plans with Townsend. In his view, rumours "that Fisher had intervened to prevent the Princess from marrying Townsend has done incalculable harm to the Church of England". There was subsequent criticism in the UK about the Church's inflexibility as it related to divorce.
Other rumoured suitors included the Hon. Dominic Elliot, Billy Wallace, Colin Tennant, and the future Prime Minister of Canada John Turner.
MarriagePrincess Margaret first met the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones at a supper party in 1958. They became engaged in October 1959. Armstrong-Jones proposed to Margaret with a ruby engagement ring surrounded by diamonds in the shape of a rosebud. She reportedly accepted his proposal a day after learning from Peter Townsend that he intended to marry a young Belgian woman, Marie-Luce Jamagne, who was half his age and bore a striking resemblance to Princess Margaret. Margaret's announcement of her engagement, on 26 February 1960, took the press by surprise; she had taken care to conceal the romance from reporters.
Margaret married Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey on 6 May 1960. The ceremony was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on television, and it attracted viewing figures of 300 million worldwide. 2,000 guests were invited for the wedding ceremony.
Margaret's wedding dress was designed by Norman Hartnell and worn with the Poltimore tiara. She had eight young bridesmaids, led by her niece, Princess Anne. The Duke of Edinburgh escorted the bride, and the best man was Dr Roger Gilliatt. The Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher conducted the marriage service. Following the ceremony, the couple made the traditional appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
The honeymoon was a six-week Caribbean cruise aboard the royal yacht Britannia. As a wedding present, Colin Tennant gave her a plot of land on his private Caribbean island, Mustique. The newlyweds moved into rooms in Kensington Palace.
In 1961, Margaret's husband was created Earl of Snowdon. The couple had two children : David, born 3 November 1961, and Sarah, born 1 May 1964.
The marriage widened Margaret's social circle beyond the Court and aristocracy to include show business celebrities and bohemians. At the time, it was thought to reflect the breaking down of British class barriers. The Snowdons experimented with the styles and fashions of the 1960s.
Public life and charity workAmong Margaret's first official engagements was launching the ocean liner Edinburgh Castle in Belfast in 1947. Subsequently, Margaret went on multiple tours of various places; in her first major tour she joined her parents and sister for a tour of South Africa in 1947. Her tour aboard Britannia to the British colonies in the Caribbean in 1955 created a sensation throughout the West Indies, and calypsos were dedicated to her. As colonies of the British Commonwealth of Nations sought nationhood, Princess Margaret represented the Crown at independence ceremonies in Jamaica in 1962 and Tuvalu and Dominica in 1978. Her visit to Tuvalu was cut short by an illness, which may have been viral pneumonia, and she was flown to Australia to recuperate. Other overseas tours included the United States in 1965, Japan in 1969 and 1979, the United States and Canada in 1974, Australia in 1975, the Philippines in 1980, Swaziland in 1981, and China in 1987.
Her main interests were welfare charities, music and ballet. She was president of the National Society and of the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Invalid Children's Aid Nationwide. She was Grand President of the St John Ambulance Brigade and Colonel-in-Chief of Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps. She was also the president or patron of numerous organisations, such as the West Indies Olympic Association, the Girl Guides, Northern Ballet Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Children 1st, Tenovus Cancer Care, the Royal College of Nursing, and the London Lighthouse. At some points Margaret was criticised for not being as active as other members of the royal family.
Private lifeReportedly, Margaret had her first extramarital affair in 1966, with her daughter's godfather Anthony Barton, a Bordeaux wine producer. A year later she had a one-month liaison with Robin Douglas-Home, a nephew of former British Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home. Margaret claimed that her relationship with Douglas-Home was platonic, but her letters to him were intimate. Douglas-Home, who suffered from depression, died by suicide 18 months after the split with Margaret. Claims that she was romantically involved with musician Mick Jagger, actor Peter Sellers, and Australian cricketer Keith Miller are unproven. According to biographer Charlotte Breese, entertainer Leslie Hutchinson had a "brief liaison" with Margaret in 1955. A 2009 biography of actor David Niven included assertions, based on information from Niven's widow and a good friend of Niven's, that he had had an affair with the princess, who was 20 years his junior. In 1975, the Princess was listed among women with whom actor Warren Beatty had had romantic relationships. John Bindon, a Cockney actor who had spent time in prison, sold his story to the Daily Mirror, boasting of a close relationship with Margaret.
on 14 May 1965
By the early 1970s, the Snowdons had drifted apart. In September 1973, Colin Tennant introduced Margaret to Roddy Llewellyn. Llewellyn was 17 years her junior. In 1974, she invited him as a guest to the holiday home she had built on Mustique. It was the first of several visits. Margaret described their relationship as "a loving friendship". Once, when Llewellyn left on an impulsive trip to Turkey, Margaret became emotionally distraught and took an overdose of sleeping tablets. "I was so exhausted because of everything", she later said, "that all I wanted to do was sleep." As she recovered, her ladies-in-waiting kept Lord Snowdon away from her, afraid that seeing him would distress her further.
In February 1976, a picture of Margaret and Llewellyn in swimsuits on Mustique was published on the front page of a tabloid, the News of the World. The press portrayed Margaret as a predatory older woman and Llewellyn as her toyboy lover. On 19 March 1976, the Snowdons publicly acknowledged that their marriage had irretrievably broken down. Some politicians suggested removing Margaret from the civil list. Labour MPs denounced her as "a royal parasite" and a "floosie". In May 1978, she was taken ill, and diagnosed as suffering from gastroenteritis and alcoholic hepatitis. On 11 July 1978, the Snowdons' divorce was finalised. It was the first divorce of a senior member of the British royal family since Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh's in 1901. On 15 December 1978, Snowdon married Lucy Lindsay-Hogg.
In August 1979, Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and members of his family were killed by a bomb planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. That October, while on a fundraising tour of the United States on behalf of the Royal Opera House, Margaret was seated at a dinner reception in Chicago with columnist Abra Anderson and Mayor Jane Byrne. Margaret told them that the royal family had been moved by the many letters of condolence from Ireland. The following day, Anderson's rival Irv Kupcinet published a claim that Margaret had referred to the Irish as "pigs". Margaret, Anderson and Byrne all issued immediate denials, but the damage was already done. The rest of the tour drew demonstrations, and Margaret's security was doubled in the face of physical threats.
In 1981, Llewellyn married Tatiana Soskin, whom he had known for 10 years. Margaret remained close friends with them both. In January 1981, Margaret was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. The appearance is described by The Guardian: "She is fantastically posh, chooses Rule Britannia as one of her discs, and asks for Scotland the Brave played by the pipes and drums of 'my regiment', the Royal Highland Fusiliers."
Illness and deathThe Princess's later life was marred by illness and disability. She had smoked cigarettes since the age of 15 or earlier, and had continued to smoke heavily for many years. On 5 January 1985, she had part of her left lung removed; the operation drew parallels with that of her father over 30 years earlier. In 1991, she gave up smoking, though she continued to drink heavily. In January 1993, she was admitted to hospital for pneumonia. She experienced a mild stroke on 23 February 1998 at her holiday home in Mustique. Early the following year the Princess suffered severe scalds to her feet in a bathroom accident, which affected her mobility to the extent that she required support when walking and sometimes used a wheelchair. She was hospitalised on 10 January 2001 due to loss of appetite and swallowing problems, after a further stroke. By March 2001, strokes had left her with partial vision and paralysis on the left side. Margaret's last public appearances were at the 101st birthday celebrations of her mother in August 2001 and the 100th birthday celebration of her aunt, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, that December.
Princess Margaret died in the King Edward VII's Hospital, London, at 06:30 on 9 February 2002 at the age of 71, one day after having suffered another stroke that resulted in cardiac problems and three days after the 50th anniversary of her father's death. The Prince of Wales paid tribute to his aunt in a television broadcast.
Margaret's coffin, draped in her personal standard, was taken from Kensington Palace to St James's Palace before her funeral. The funeral was held on 15 February 2002, the 50th anniversary of her father's funeral. In line with her wishes, the ceremony was a private service at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, for family and friends. Unlike most other members of the royal family, Princess Margaret was cremated, at Slough Crematorium. Her ashes were placed in the tomb of her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, in the King George VI Memorial Chapel in St George's Chapel two months later. A state memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey on 19 April 2002.
LegacyObservers often characterised Margaret as a spoiled snob capable of cutting remarks and hauteur. Critics claimed that she even looked down on her grandmother Queen Mary because Mary was born a princess with the lower "Serene Highness" style, whereas Margaret was a "Royal Highness" by birth. Their letters, however, provide no indication of friction between them.
Margaret could also be charming and informal. People who came into contact with her could be perplexed by her swings between frivolity and formality. Former governess Marion Crawford wrote in her memoir: "Impulsive and bright remarks she made became headlines and, taken out of their context, began to produce in the public eye an oddly distorted personality that bore little resemblance to the Margaret we knew."
Margaret's acquaintance Gore Vidal, the American writer, wrote: "She was far too intelligent for her station in life." He recalled a conversation with Margaret in which, discussing her public notoriety, she said: "It was inevitable, when there are two sisters and one is the Queen, who must be the source of honour and all that is good, while the other must be the focus of the most creative malice, the evil sister."
Following Margaret's death, her lady-in-waiting, Lady Glenconner, said that " was devoted to the Queen and tremendously supportive of her." Margaret was described by her cousin Lady Elizabeth Shakerley as "somebody who had a wonderful capacity for giving a lot of people pleasure and she was making a very, very, very good and loyal friend." Another cousin, Lord Lichfield, said that " was pretty sad towards the end of her life because it was a life unfulfilled."
In her lifetime, Margaret's fortune was estimated to be around £20 million, with most of it being inherited from her father. She also inherited pieces of art and antiques from Queen Mary, and Dame Margaret Greville left her £20,000 in 1943. In 1999, her son, Lord Linley, sold his mother's Caribbean residence Les Jolies Eaux for a reported £2.4 million. At the time of her death Margaret received £219,000 from the Civil List. Following her death, she left a £7.6 million estate to her two children, which was cut down to £4.5 million after inheritance tax. In June 2006, much of Margaret's estate was auctioned by Christie's to meet the tax and, in her son's words, "normal family requirements such as educating her grandchildren", though some of the items were sold in aid of charities such as the Stroke Association. Reportedly, the Queen had made it clear that the proceeds from any item that was given to her sister in an official capacity must be donated to charities. A world record price of £1.24 million was set by a Fabergé clock. The Poltimore Tiara, which she wore for her wedding in 1960, sold for £926,400. The sale of her effects totalled £13,658,000. In April 2007, an exhibition titled Princess Line – The Fashion Legacy of Princess Margaret opened at Kensington Palace, showcasing contemporary fashion from British designers such as Vivienne Westwood inspired by Princess Margaret's legacy of style. Christopher Bailey's Spring 2006 collection for Burberry was inspired by Margaret's look from the 1960s.
Princess Margaret's private life was for many years the subject of intense speculation by media and royal-watchers. Her house on Mustique, designed by her husband's uncle Oliver Messel, a stage designer, was her favourite holiday destination. Allegations of wild parties and drug taking were made in a documentary broadcast after the Princess's death.
Biographer Warwick suggests that Margaret's most enduring legacy is an accidental one. Perhaps unwittingly, Margaret paved the way for public acceptance of royal divorce. Her life, if not her actions, made the decisions and choices of her sister's children, three of whom divorced, easier than they otherwise would have been.
In the drama-series The Crown she is portrayed by Vanessa Kirby and Helena Bonham Carter.
Titles, styles, honours and arms
Titles and styles
- 21 August 1930 – 11 December 1936: Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret of York
- 11 December 1936 – 6 October 1961: Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret
- 6 October 1961 – 9 February 2002: Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
- CI: Companion of the Order of the Crown of India, 12 June 1947
- DJStJ: Dame of Justice of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, 23 June 1948
- GCVO: Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, 1 June 1953
- GCStJ: Dame Grand Cross of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, 20 June 1956
- Royal Victorian Chain, 21 August 1990
- Royal Family Order of King George V
- Royal Family Order of King George VI
- Royal Family Order of Queen Elizabeth II
- CD Canadian Forces Decoration
- : Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion, 1948
- : Member of the Order of the Brilliant Star of Zanzibar, First Class, 1956
- : Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown, 1960
- : Recipient of the Order of the Lion, Crown and Shield of Toro Kingdom, 1965
- : Grand Cordon of the Order of the Precious Crown, 1971
Honorary military appointments
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Bermuda Regiment
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Princess Louise Fusiliers
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment
- Colonel-in-Chief of the 15th/19th The King's Royal Hussars
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Light Dragoons
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Highland Fusiliers
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps
- Deputy Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Anglian Regiment
- Honorary Air Commodore, Royal Air Force Coningsby