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Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon

The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (Margaret Rose; 21 August 1930 – 9 February 2002) was the younger daughter of George VI of the United Kingdom and Queen Elizabeth, and the younger sister of the current monarch of each of the Commonwealth Realms, Elizabeth II. She held the title Countess of Snowdon by marriage.

Princess Margaret was always a controversial member of the British Royal Family. As a young woman, she was a figure of glamour in post-war Britain and the Commonwealth. However, her private life was plagued by romantic disappointments, including her politically thwarted love for a divorced older man in her youth; a subsequent, often unhappy marriage to a commoner; an acrimonious divorce beset with accusations of adultery; and, in her later years, a public affair with a much younger man.

Early life

Margaret was born Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret Rose of York on 21 August 1930 at Glamis Castle in Scotland, her mother's ancestral home. She was born fourth in the line of succession to the British throne, and the first royal baby so close to the succession to be born in Scotland since Charles I in 1600. She was given only one middle name, which is rare among royalty. Her father was Prince Albert, The Duke of York (later George VI), the second son of George V and Queen Mary. Her mother was Elizabeth, Duchess of York (formerly Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother), the youngest daughter of the 14th Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. As a grandchild of the Sovereign in the male line, Margaret Rose was styled Her Royal Highness from birth. She was baptised in the Private Chapel of Buckingham Palace on 30 October 1930 by Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and her godparents were her uncle the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), her father's cousin Princess Ingrid of Sweden, her great-aunt Princess Victoria, her maternal aunt Lady Rose Leveson-Gower, and her maternal uncle The Hon David Bowes-Lyon.

Princess Margaret Rose of York was educated alongside her sister, Princess Elizabeth, by their governess, Marion Crawford. In 1936, her uncle Edward VIII abdicated the throne, and her father ascended as George VI. Margaret was then styled HRH The Princess Margaret. She attended her parents' Coronation in 1937. Margaret was, from that point, second in the line of succession until the birth of her nephew, Prince Charles, in 1948.

During the Second World War, Margaret stayed at Windsor Castle, just outside London. In 1952, her father died, and her older sister became Elizabeth II.

Romance with Peter Townsend

Two years after her sister's coronation, Margaret became embroiled in a public scandal over her wish to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, a Royal Air Force pilot and Battle of Britain hero who had been a trusted member of the Royal Household as an equerry to her father and sister. Not only was he sixteen years the Princess's senior, Townsend was also a divorcee, which, in the eyes of the government and the Church of England, made him an unsuitable husband for a Royal Princess, despite the fact that he had been the innocent party in his divorce from Rosemary Pawle, who had committed adultery.

Although Margaret could have married Townsend with Parliamentary approval once she turned 25, she was informed that doing so would force her to give up her title, her Civil List allowance, and her place in the line of succession. It was also suggested, entirely incorrectly, that she would be forced to leave the country . Under great pressure, not least because her role as a royal princess was virtually the only identity she had, and taking advice from the Archbishop of Canterbury and senior politicians, she decided not to marry Townsend. She made a public announcement, reportedly partly crafted by Townsend himself, in which she stated that her decision had been made out of loyalty to the Crown and out of consciousness of the Church's teaching on the "indissolubility of Christian marriage".

In reality, however, papers released in 2004 indicate that, had she married Townsend, she could not have been legally deprived of her title or her Civil List allowance. Had she decided to marry Townsend, the only conditions were that she would be removed from the line of succession and that any wedding would have to be civil rather than religious. Margaret and her sister had been misled by courtiers and politicians who were either still deeply fearful of potential marital scandal 20 years after the abdication of Edward VIII or simply determined to maintain the status quo, regardless of the personal and emotional effects.


After some more romantic interests, including future Canadian Prime Minister John Turner, on 6 May 1960, Margaret married the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, son of Ronald Armstrong-Jones and his first wife, Anne Messel, later Countess of Rosse, at Westminster Abbey. She reportedly accepted his proposal a day after learning from Peter Townsend that he intended to marry a young Belgian woman, Marie Luce-Germagne, who was said to bear a striking resemblance to the Princess.

The ceremony could be considered the first "modern" Royal wedding thanks to the wider availability of television in the UK. In 1961, the Princess's husband was created Earl of Snowdon, whereupon she became formally styled HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. The couple had two children: David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones

The marriage widened Princess Margaret's social circle beyond the Court and aristocracy to include show business and Bohemia, and was seen at the time as reflecting the breakdown of class barriers.

Royal duties

Princess Margaret began her royal duties at a very early age. She attended the silver jubilee of her grandparents, George V and Queen Mary, aged 5 in 1935. She later attended her parents' coronation in 1937. Her first major royal tour occurred when she joined her parents and sister for a tour of South Africa in 1947. Her first solo tour was to the British colonies in the Caribbean in 1955. So great was her popularity at the time that the tour created a sensation throughout the West Indies, and calypsos were dedicated to her.

As colonies of the British Commonwealth sought nationhood, Princess Margaret went on to repeatedly represent the British Crown at their independence ceremonies.

The Princess's 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 (also called 'I CAN'). Formerly Commandant-in-Chief of the Ambulance and Nursing Cadets of the St. John Ambulance Brigade, she later became 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 sports and wildlife conservation organisations, such as the British Olympic Association, the Royal Yachting Association and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Private life

Princess Margaret's private life was for many years the subject of intense speculation by media and royal-watchers. She owned a house on the Caribbean island of Mustique, a private resort that was her favorite holiday destination and where many of its houses were designed by her husband's uncle, the stage designer Oliver Messel. Allegations of wild parties and drug taking were made in a documentary broadcast after the Princess’s death.

Reportedly, her first extramarital affair took place in 1966, with her daughter's godfather, Bordeaux wine producer Anthony Barton, and a year later she had a one-month liaison with Robin Douglas-Home, a nephew of a former British Prime Minister. Douglas-Home committed suicide 18 months after the split with Margaret. Unproven allegations have also claimed she had been romantically involved with musician Mick Jagger, actor Peter Sellers, and the Australian cricketer, Keith Miller. Tough-guy actor John Bindon is supposed to have been so close to her that he was warned-off by MI5 - the only time he was seriously scared-off by a physical threat. According to Margaret: The Secret Princess, an ITV programme broadcast in Britain in February 2003, Princess Margaret also reportedly had a two-year affair with Sharman Douglas, the daughter of an American ambassador to the Court of St. James's.

In the late 1970s, revelations of an affair with Roddy Llewellyn, an aspiring young garden designer, led to her divorce from Lord Snowdon, on 11 July 1978, although the marriage was generally regarded as over long before the affair became public. This was the first divorce of a senior Royal since Princess Victoria of Edinburgh in 1901.

As her friend Gore Vidal once wrote, "She was far too intelligent for her station in life". Vidal, in his memoirs Point to Point Navigation, recalled a conversation with Princess Margaret, in which she discussed her public notoriety, saying, "It was inevitable: when there are two sisters and one is the Queen, who must be the source of honour and all that is good, while the other must be the focus of the most creative malice, the evil sister".

Later life

The Princess's later life was marred by illness and disability. She experienced a mild stroke in 1998 at her holiday home in Mustique. Later in the same year, the Princess severely scalded her feet in a bathroom accident, which affected her mobility to the extent she required support when walking and was sometimes restricted to a wheelchair. In 2000 and 2001, further strokes were diagnosed. Margaret’s last public appearance was at the 100th birthday celebration of her aunt, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester in December 2001.

Death and remembrance

Princess Margaret died in the King Edward VII Hospital on 9 February 2002 at the age of 71, after suffering a massive stroke. Her funeral was held on 15 February 2002 - the 50th anniversary of her father's funeral - and occurred during the Golden Jubilee year of the Queen. The ceremony was a private family event; it was also the last time the Queen Mother was seen in public before her own death only six weeks later: she was advised by many not to attend but she insisted on attending her daughter's funeral — though a full state memorial service was not held for Princess Margaret until several weeks later. Unlike most other deceased members of the Royal Family, Princess Margaret was cremated, at Slough Crematorium. Her ashes have been 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 at Windsor Castle. She was the third grandchild and first granddaughter of George V and Queen Mary to die.

Princess Margaret was eleventh in the line of succession to the British Throne at the time of her death.

Princess Margaret's nephew, Charles, Prince of Wales, talked about her after her death:

"My aunt was one of those remarkable people who, apart from being incredibly vital and attractive, and of course when she was young so many people remember her for that vitality and attractiveness and indeed her incredible beauty, but she also, and I think many people do not realise this, but she had such incredible talent."

In popular culture

In Episode 30 of Monty Python's Flying Circus, a pantomime Princess Margaret appears in a nature film sequence harpooning a breakfast tray.

Princess Margaret was portrayed by Lucy Cohu in the Channel 4 TV drama The Queen's Sister (2005), by Trulie MacLeod in the TV drama The Women of Windsor (1992), and by Hannah Wiltshire in the TV drama Bertie and Elizabeth

In April 2007, an exhibition entitled Princess Line - The Fashion Legacy of Princess Margaret opened at Kensington Palace, showcasing contemporary fashion from British designers such as Burberry and Vivienne Westwood inspired by Princess Margaret's 'legacy' of style. Vivienne Westwood's clothing in her Harris Tweed collection of 1987 was inspired by the clothes worn by the Queen and Princess Margaret as children, while Christopher Bailey's Spring 2006 collection for Burberry was inspired by 'archive images of HRH Princess Margaret'. Alongside the contemporary fashion pieces, the exhibition displayed a number of Princess Margaret's original accessories, all inside her former wardrobe room at Kensington Palace. Other contemporary designers showcased included Hardy Amies, Topshop, Marks & Spencer and Central Saint Martins graduate Gemma Ainsworth, while Margaret's accessories include turbans, classic hats worn to Ascot and a replica of the Poltimore Tiara worn for her wedding to Lord Snowdon in 1960.

The exhibition is the result of a unique collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

In the notorious puppet parody of British public life in the 1980s, Spitting Image, Princess Margaret was portrayed as a drunk and a typical "stupid aristocrat", proposing to call her great-nephew Prince Harry "Johnnie Walker" after the whisky.

She is mentioned several times in the 2006 film The Queen.

The 2008 movie The Bank Job is based on an actual 1971 bank robbery where many details remain shrouded in mystery. The film surmises that British intelligence set up the robbery to gain possession of a safety deposit box containing potentially scandalous sex photos of Princess Margaret.

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 May 1960: Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret
  • 6 May 1960 – 6 October 1961: Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Mrs Antony Armstrong-Jones
  • 6 October 1961 – 9 February 2002: Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon


Honorary military appointments



United Kingdom


In 1944, Princess Margaret was awarded a coat of arms, being the royal arms, differenced with a label argent of three points, the outer points bearing Tudor roses, and the central bearing a thistle proper.



See also

External links


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