‘I’VE BEEN MISREPORTED AND MISREPRESENTED’ How Princess Margaret became the rebel royal
The Queen’s younger sister was known as a royal party-girl who fell for the wrong men
As the wild-child sister of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret was famous for her drinking, partying and smoking. Where Elizabeth was the sensible one, Margaret was viewed as glamorous and outrageous, mixing with A-list celebrities such as Jack Nicholson and Mick Jagger.
Born on August 21, 1930, at Glamis Castle in Scotland, Princess Margaret was born fourth-in-line to the throne. She and Elizabeth were close growing up, but according to the princesses’ governess, Marion Crawford, Elizabeth was often “uneasy and filled with foreboding” at her younger sister’s behaviour.
From an early age, Margaret garnered a reputation as being the
life of the party. She loved to sing and learned the piano in their classroom at Buckingham Palace. In a letter governess Crawford wrote to friends, she penned, “Princess Margaret does draw all the attention and Princess Elizabeth lets her do that.”
Following the war, Margaret became a regular on the social scene. Known for her fashion sense, she was regularly photographed at balls and clubs. But while the young princess was considered a catch, she only had eyes for one man: Peter Townsend, her father’s equerry. Not only was Peter 16 years older than Margaret, but he was also divorced with two children, making him an unsuitable match on paper.
The relationship became public when Margaret was captured picking a piece of lint from the lapel of Peter’s jacket during the Queen’s coronation in 1953. The intimate gesture sparked a royal scandal. At the time, it was unthinkable for a royal to marry a commoner or a divorcee, since the Church of England frowned upon divorce. After Peter proposed to Margaret, she was urged to wait until she was 25 and no longer needed the Queen’s permission to marry. Despite this, however, the couple still faced problems within the establishment. A new plan was proposed that would allow Margaret to marry Peter, but would remove her from the line of succession. In the end, Winston Churchill had Peter sent to Brussels and Margaret chose duty over love.
In 1955, she confirmed that she had broken off the relationship.
“I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend,” she announced in a statement. “I have been aware that, subject to my renouncing my rights of succession, it might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage.”
“She looked as if she was absolutely heartbroken, but I don’t think she was,” Margaret’s friend Lady Jane Rayne told documentary Princess Margaret: The Rebel Royal. “I think she thought, ‘Right, go back to my old bachelor days.’ She weighed up everything to realise what her life would have been like [ had they married]. She would never be a nobody, but she would have lost part of her glamour.
“I think if she had married him, she would have been rather an ordinary housewife and she didn’t want that at all.”
Margaret went on to marry photographer Antony Armstrong-jones, after the pair met at a supper party in 1958. She reportedly accepted his proposal a day after learning that Peter Townsend had become engaged to Marie-luce Jamagne. The princess’ engagement, announced on February 26, 1960, took the press by complete surprise.
They married in Westminster Abbey on May 6, 1960, and were the first royal couple to wed in front of a television audience of millions. They then honeymooned around the Caribbean on the royal yacht Britannia – as a wedding present, friend Colin Tennant gifted Margaret a plot of land on the Caribbean island of Mustique.
Despite having two children together, David, Viscount Linley on November 3, 1960 and Lady Sarah on May 1, 1964, the marriage soon soured.
“Tony loved the royal thing at the beginning, but then he got bored and off he went. He was a brilliant photographer and he wanted to go around the world and photograph interesting people. And suddenly there he was having to do what he considered to be the rather boring things of Princess Margaret.”
Margaret is rumoured to have had several affairs during the marriage, including liaisons with wine producer Anthony Barton, aristocrat Robin Douglas-home and actors David Niven and Warren Beatty. She was also linked to Mick Jagger, Peter Sellers and Australian cricketer Keith Miller, although the claims are unproven.
In 1973, she was introduced to Roddy Llewellyn, a landscape gardener 17 years her junior. Margaret described the relationship as a “loving friendship” but when photographs of the pair on the beach in Mustique were published in 1976 he was described as her “toy boy lover”. A month later, she and Lord Snowdon publicly announced that their marriage had broken down. Margaret was labelled a “royal parasite” and a “floosie”.
Margaret never remarried following her divorce. A heavy drinker and smoker, her later years were marred by ill health. In 1980 Margaret had surgery to remove a benign skin lesion. Five year later, she had part of her left lung removed. In 1993 she was hospitalised with pneumonia. Then in 1998 she suffered the first of several strokes while in Mustique. The following year, she severely scalded her feet in a bathroom accident that affected her mobility and saw her use a walking stick and eventually a wheelchair.
Princess Margaret died on February 9, 2002, at age 71, following another stroke.
“She looked ... heartbroken, but I don’t think she was” – Lady Jane Rayne
Her funeral took place at St George’s Chapel on February 15 – the 50th anniversary of her father’s funeral. A rule-breaker until the end, Margaret was the first royal to be cremated. Her ashes were placed in the tomb of her parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (who passed away seven weeks later, on March 30, aged 101).
“When my sister and I were growing up, she was made out to be the goody-goody one. That was boring, so the press tried to make out that I was wicked as hell,” Margaret once said of her wild child reputation. “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 … I’m no angel, but I’m no Bo-peep either”