Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon

Orfeas Katsoulis | Jul 19, 2023

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Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (Glamis, August 21, 1930 - London, February 9, 2002), was a British princess, the second daughter of King George VI of the United Kingdom and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, as well as the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II and aunt of King Charles III. In 1952, the year of her sister's accession to the throne, she became a potential regent to the throne of the United Kingdom until her nephew Charles came of age in 1969, should the queen die during the heir's minority.

Princess Margaret was born in Glamis Castle in Scotland on August 21, 1930. This castle was the residence of her mother's family. She was affectionately called Margot in the family. Home Secretary John Robert Clynes was present to verify the birth. The registration of her birth was delayed for several days to avoid being number thirteen in the parish registers.

At the time of her birth she was fourth in the line of succession to the British throne. Her father was Prince Albert, Duke of York, the second son of King George V and Queen Mary. Her mother Elizabeth, Duchess of York, was the youngest daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The Duchess of York initially wanted to name her second daughter Ann Margaret, as she explained to her mother-in-law in a letter, "I am very anxious to name her Ann Margaret, I think Ann of York sounds enough and Elizabeth and Ann look so well together." King George V did not like the name Ann, but approved the alternative of Margaret Rose.

The princess was baptized in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on October 30, 1930 by Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were the Prince of Wales, Princess Ingrid of Sweden, Princess Victoria of Wales (her paternal great-aunt), Lady Rose Leveson-Gower (her maternal aunt) and the Hon. David Bowes-Lyon (her maternal uncle).

Margaret spent her early years in the residences of the Dukes of York at 145 Piccadilly (their London residence) and the Royal Lodge at Windsor. The Dukes of York were seen by the public as an ideal family: father, mother and daughters, but unfounded rumors that Margaret was deaf-mute were not completely dispelled until her first public appearance, at the wedding of her uncle, Prince George in 1934.

She was educated with her sister, Princess Elizabeth, by their Scottish governess, Marion Crawford. Margaret's education was supervised primarily by her mother. In the words of Randolph Churchill, "the Duchess does not aim to bring her daughters to be more than well-behaved young ladies." When Queen Mary insisted on the importance of education, the duchess commented, "I don't know what she meant. After all, my sisters and I had only governesses and we all married very well." Margaret resented her limited education, especially in later years, and criticized her mother. However, Margaret's mother told a friend that she "regretted" that her daughters did not go to school like the other children and hired a governess. This could only be done at the insistence of King George V.

Margaret's grandfather, George V, died when she was five years old, and her uncle ascended the throne as Edward VIII. Less than a year later, on December 11, 1936, the ruler 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 have recognized a divorced woman's marriage to a living ex-husband as valid. Edward VIII's abdication left a reluctant Duke of York on the throne. Margaret unexpectedly became second in the line of succession to the throne. The family moved to Buckingham Palace; Margaret's room overlooked the Mall.

In 1937 she joined the newly formed Buckingham Palace Scout Group 1st as a ladybug. Later she was a guide and then a sea ranger. From 1965 until his death he was president of the Association of Guides of the United Kingdom.

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 the glasses of water in the bedside table sometimes froze. They spent Christmas at Sandringham House before moving to Windsor Castle, just outside London, for much of the rest of the war. Viscount Hailsham wrote to Prime Minister Winston Churchill to advise evacuation of the princesses to safer Canada. Their mother famously replied, "The girls will not go without me. I will not leave the king. And the king can never leave."

Unlike other members of the royal family, Margaret was not required to attend public or official functions during the war. She therefore developed her skills at singing and playing the piano.

Postwar years

After the war ended in 1945, Margaret appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with her family and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Afterwards, both Elizabeth and Margaret joined the crowd outside the palace, incognito, chanting, "We want the King, we want the Queen!"

On April 15, 1946 she was confirmed in the Church of England. On February 1, 1947 she, Elizabeth and their parents embarked on a visit to South Africa. The trip lasted three months and was Margaret's first foreign visit. Speaking of it she claimed to remember "every minute of it." Margaret was guarded by Peter Townsend, squire to the king. In the same year she was maid of honor at her sister's wedding. Over 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 a biography of Elizabeth and Margaret's childhood years, titled The Little Princesses, in which she described Margaret's "fun and frolics" and her "amusing and scandalous antics." The royal family was appalled by what they saw as Crawford's invasion of their privacy and an abuse of trust as a result of which the former governess was ostracized from royal circles.

Margaret enjoyed socializing with high society and youth. She was friends with Sharman Douglas, the daughter of the American ambassador, Lewis Williams Douglas. Margaret was often described in the press as attending balls, parties, and in nightclubs. The number of her official engagements increased to include a visit to Italy, Switzerland and France and membership in a growing number of charitable organizations as president or patroness.

His 21st birthday party was held at Balmoral Castle in August 1951. The following month her father underwent surgery to remove a lung due to cancer. Margaret was part of the group of advisers of state who undertook the king's official duties while he was convalescing. Her father died of a heart attack five months later, in February 1952, and her sister became queen.

Love affair with Peter Townsend

Margaret was greatly grieved by her father's death and was prescribed sedatives to help her sleep. Of her parent she wrote, "He was a wonderful person, the heart and center of our happy family." She found consolation in her deeply rooted Christian faith. With her mother, Margaret left Buckingham Palace and moved to Clarence House. Her sister and her family moved instead from Clarence House to Buckingham Palace.

After the king's death, Peter Townsend became auditor to the queen mother. In 1953 he divorced his first wife and proposed marriage to Margaret. Townsend was sixteen years older than her and had two children from his previous marriage. Margaret agreed and informed her sister, the queen, of her desire to marry. The queen's consent was required under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. In 1936, however, the Church of England had refused to allow remarriage for divorcees. Queen Mary had recently died and Elizabeth II was about to be crowned. After her coronation, she planned to visit the Commonwealth for six months. The queen replied to Margaret that "Under the circumstances, it is not unreasonable for me to ask her to wait a year." The queen was advised by her private secretary to send Townsend abroad, but she refused and transferred him from the queen mother's family to her own.

The British Cabinet refused to approve the marriage between Townsend and Margaret and newspapers described it as "unthinkable" and "contrary to royal and Christian traditions." Churchill informed the queen that the Dominion prime ministers were unanimously opposed to the marriage and that Parliament would not approve a union that was not recognized by the Church of England unless Margaret renounced her rights to the throne. This, however, would not be possible until after the princess's 25th birthday.

Churchill arranged for Townsend to be transferred abroad as embassy aviation attaché in Brussels. Polls organized by popular newspapers seemed to show that the public supported Margaret's personal choice regardless of Church doctrine or government opinion. For two years, speculation continued. Churchmen claimed, however, that Margaret could receive communion even if she was married to a divorced man.

Documents published in 2004 belonging to the National Archives show that the queen and the new prime minister Sir Anthony Eden - himself a divorced man - had worked out a plan in 1955 under which Princess Margaret would be allowed to marry Townsend by removing the princess and her descendants from the line of succession. Margaret would have been allowed to keep her royal title, her allowance from the civil list, to remain in the country and also to keep her public duties. Eden summed up the queen's attitude in a letter to the Commonwealth prime ministers, "Her Majesty would not wish to be an obstacle to her sister's happiness." Eden himself was very optimistic: "Exclusion from the succession would involve no other change in Princess Margaret's position as a member of the royal family," he wrote. The final draft of this proposal was submitted on October 28, 1955. On the 31st of the same month Margaret issued a statement:

Other alleged suitors of the princess were Hon. Dominic Elliot, Billy Wallace, Colin Tennant


On May 6, 1960 at Westminster Abbey she married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. He reported that he accepted her proposal a day after learning from Peter Townsend that he was planning to marry a young Belgian woman, Marie-Luce Jamagne, who was half his age and bore a striking resemblance to Princess Margaret. The announcement of Margaret's engagement on February 26, 1960, took the press by surprise. In fact, the princess had taken care to conceal her romance from journalists.

His was the first royal wedding to be televised and was watched by 300 million viewers worldwide. Despite the public's enthusiasm, most foreign royal families in Europe disapproved of a king's daughter marrying a photographer. Queen Ingrid of Denmark, her godmother, was the only foreign sovereign to attend the wedding.

The princess wore a wedding dress designed by Norman Hartnell and the Poltimore tiara. Margaret had eight young bridesmaids, led by her niece, Princess Anne. The other bridesmaids were her goddaughter Marilyn Wills, daughter of her cousin Jean Elphinstone and Major John Lycett Wills; Annabel Rhodes, daughter of her cousin Margaret Elphinstone and Denys Rhodes; Lady Virginia Fitzroy, daughter of Hugh Fitzroy, Earl of Euston; Sarah Lowther, daughter of Sir John Lowther; Catherine Vesey, daughter of Viscount de Vesci; and Lady Rose Nevill, daughter of the Marquis of Abergavenny. The Duke of Edinburgh accompanied his sister-in-law to the altar, and best man to the groom was Dr. Roger Gilliatt.

The newlyweds spent their honeymoon on a six-week Caribbean cruise aboard the royal yacht Britannia. As a wedding gift Colin Tennant granted her a plot of land on his private Caribbean island, Mustique. The couple took up residence at Kensington Palace.

In 1961, Margaret's husband was created Earl of Snowdon. The couple had two children, both born by Caesarean section at Margaret's request: David, born Nov. 3, 1961, and Lady Sarah, born May 1, 1964.

Her marriage expanded Margaret's social circle beyond the Court and aristocracy to include show business celebrities and bohemians. At the time this was seen as reflecting the breaking down of class barriers among Britons. The couple experimented with the styles and fashions of the 1960s.

The marriage ended in divorce in 1978.

Sickness and death

The last years of the princess's life were marked by illness and disability, complicit in her attitude as an avid drinker and smoker since the age of 15. On January 5, 1985, part of her left lung was removed, an operation similar to that undergone by her father George VI more than 30 years earlier. In 1991 she stopped smoking but continued to drink heavily. In January 1993 she was hospitalized with pneumonia. In 1998, when she was at her vacation home in Mustique, she suffered a mild stroke. Early the following year she suffered severe burns to her feet from a bathroom accident; this made her permanently claudicant, thus forcing her to use a walking support, or a wheelchair.

In January and March 2001 she suffered further strokes that left her partially blind and semi-paralytic on the left side of her body. Margaret's last public appearances were at her mother's 100th and 101st birthday celebrations in August 2000 and 2001, and on the 100th birthday of her aunt, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, in December.

On the afternoon of February 8, 2002, yet another stroke precipitated her medical condition. At 2:30 a.m. the next day, the princess was admitted to King Edward VII's Hospital in London, where she passed away about four hours later at the age of 71.

His funeral was held on February 15, 2002, fifty years after his father's. Fulfilling her wishes, the ceremony was held privately for family and close friends. Unlike many other members of the royal family, the princess's body was burned at Slough Crematorium. Two months later, on April 9, the day of her mother's funeral, her ashes were placed in her parents' grave in the King George VI Memorial Chapel in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. A memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey on April 19, 2002.

Margaret traveled extensively. Her first major visit was the one she made with her parents and sister to South Africa in 1947. Her visit to the British colonies in the Caribbean aboard the Britannia in 1955 created a stir throughout the West Indies. Calypso compositions were dedicated to her for the occasion. Princess Margaret represented the crown in the independence ceremonies of Jamaica in 1962 and Tuvalu and Dominica in 1978. Her visit to Tuvalu was cut short because of an illness, viral pneumonia, which forced her to be treated in Australia. She also visited the United States in 1963, Japan in 1969 and 1979, the United States and Canada in 1974, the Philippines in 1980,,, China in 1987, and Tonga in 1990. During an official visit to Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1964, she was allegedly spied on by the KGB.

His main interests were charity, music and dance. He was president of the National Society and the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Invalid Children's Aid Nationwide (also called "I CAN"). 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 president or patron of numerous organizations, such as the West Indian Olympic Association, the Association of Guides, the Northern Ballet and London Lighthouse (an AIDS charity that later merged with the Terrence Higgins Trust).

The princess's private life was often the focus of media attention. According to reports by Heald and Warwick, Margaret had her first extramarital affair in 1966 with Anthony Barton, godfather of her daughter and a Bordeaux wine producer. A year later she had a month-long affair with Robin Douglas-Home, grandson of former British Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home. Margaret claimed that her relationship with Douglas-Home was merely platonic despite the fact that the letters she sent to him (which were later sold) were very intimate. Douglas-Home, who suffered from depression, committed suicide eighteen months after his breakup with Margaret. Alleged affairs with musician Mick Jagger, actor Peter Sellers and Australian cricketer Keith Miller were never proven. According to biographer Charlotte Breese, entertainer Leslie Hutchinson had a brief affair with Margaret in 1955. A 2009 biography of actor David Niven includes the assertion, based on information from Niven's widow and a good friend, that the actor had an affair with the princess, who was 20 years his junior. In 1975 Margaret was listed among the women with whom actor Warren Beatty had had romantic relationships. John Bindon, a London actor who had spent time in prison, sold his story to the Daily Mirror and in it boasted a close relationship with Margaret.

In the early 1970s Margaret and her husband became estranged. In September 1973, Colin Tennant (later Baron Glenconner) introduced Margaret to Roddy Llewellyn. Llewellyn was seventeen years younger than she was. In 1974 the princess invited him to her vacation home she had built in Mustique. It was the first of several visits. Margaret described their relationship as "a loving friendship." Once, when Llewellyn left for a sudden trip to Turkey, Margaret became emotionally distraught and took an overdose of sleeping pills. "I was so exhausted from everything," she later said, "that all I wanted to do was sleep." When she recovered, her ladies-in-waiting kept her husband away from her for fear that seeing him would distress the princess further.

In February 1976 a photo of Margaret and Llewellyn in bathing suits in Mustique was published in the News of the World magazine. The press portrayed Margaret as an old predator and Llewellyn as her toyboy lover. The following month Margaret and her husband publicly acknowledged that their marriage was irretrievably broken. Some politicians suggested Margaret's removal from the civil list. Some Labor MPs called her "a royal parasite" On July 11, 1978, the Earls of Snowdon formalized their divorce. Theirs was the first divorce of a member of the royal family since that of Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1901.

In August 1979, Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and several members of his family were killed by a bomb planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The following October, during 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. The princess told them that the royal family had been touched by the many letters of condolence that had arrived from Ireland. The following day, Anderson's rival Irv Kupcinet published a statement that Margaret had referred to the Irish as "pigs." The princess, Anderson and Jane Byrne immediately denied Kupcinet but the damage was already done. The rest of the trip was punctuated by demonstrations and Margaret's security was doubled in the face of the physical threats she received.

In 1981 Roddy Llewellyn married Tatiana Soskin whom he had known for ten years. Margaret and Llewellyn remained close friends, however. In January 1981 the princess was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs program.

Observers often described Margaret as a spoiled snob. It was even said that she looked down on her grandmother, Mary of Teck, because she was born with the appellation "Serene Highness," while Margaret was born a princess with the appellation "Royal Highness." Their letters, however, give no indication of friction between them.

Margaret was informal. People who came in contact with her were often puzzled by her oscillations between frivolity and formality. Former housekeeper Marion Crawford wrote in her memoir that the "bright, impulsive remarks she made became headlines and, taken out of context, began to produce in the eyes of the public a strangely distorted personality that bore little resemblance to the Margaret we knew."

American writer Gore Vidal, an acquaintance of Margaret, wrote that "She was too smart for her position in life." He also recalled a conversation with Margaret in which she, discussing her public notoriety, said, "It was inevitable: when there are two sisters and one is the queen who must be the source of honor, the other must be at the center of the most creative nastiness."

In June 2006, most of Margaret's items were auctioned off at Christie's to pay the estate tax, although the proceeds from the sale of some items were later given to various charities, Stroke Association among others. A Fabergé watch was sold for a world record price of 1.24 million pounds. The Poltimore tiara, which she wore at her wedding in 1960, was sold for 926,400 pounds. Proceeds from the sale of her personal effects totaled 13 658 000 pounds. In April 2007 an exhibition dedicated to her entitled Princess Line - The Fashion Legacy of Princess Margaret opened at Kensington Palace. Concurrently there was a fashion exhibition of contemporary British designers, such as Vivienne Westwood, inspired by Princess Margaret's style legacy. Christopher Bailey's spring 2006 collection for Burberry was inspired by the princess's look in 1960.

For many years, Princess Margaret's private life was the subject of intense speculation by the media and observers. Her home in Mustique, designed by famous stage designer Oliver Messel, her husband's uncle, was her favorite vacation destination. In a documentary broadcast after her death, she was accused of throwing wild parties and using drugs.

Her biographer Warwick suggests that Margaret's most enduring legacy is actually accidental. Perhaps unintentionally, Margaret paved the way for the public acceptance of divorces in the royal family. Her life, if not her actions, made the divorces of her sister's children easier than they otherwise would have been.

In the TV series The Crown, Margaret appears in several episodes, played by Vanessa Kirby (seasons 1-2), Helena Bonham Carter (seasons 3-4) and Lesley Manville (season 5-ongoing).


  1. Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
  2. Margaret, contessa di Snowdon
  3. ^ In 2002, the Church of England changed its policy on marriages of divorced persons. Under certain circumstances, it now permits a person with a former spouse still living to remarry in church.[1][2]
  4. ^ Heald, p. 1; Warwick, pp. 27–28
  5. ^ Davies, Caroline (11 February 2002). "A tale of two sisters' enduring affection". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 10 January 2022.
  6. ^ "Ma'am darling: The princess driven by loyalty and duty". The Independent. 25 February 1998. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  7. ^ Heald, p. 6; Warwick, p. 33
  8. ^ Essendo parte della famiglia reale Margaret non aveva cognomi ma quando era necessario usava quello di Windsor.
  9. ^ Heald, p. 1; Warwick, pp. 27–28.
  10. ^ Caroline Davies, A tale of two sisters' enduring affection, su The Daily Telegraph, 11 febbraio 2002.
  11. ^ Ma'am darling:The princess driven by loyalty and duty, su The Independent, 25 febbraio 1998. URL consultato il 10 aprile 2013.
  12. ^ Warwick, p. 31.
  13. Gearini, Victória. «Traições, escândalos e vícios: a esquecida Margaret, irmã da rainha Elizabeth II». Aventuras na História. Consultado em 23 de agosto de 2022
  14. «BBC - Religions - Christianity: Divorce in Christianity». (en inglés británico). Consultado el 31 de enero de 2020.
  15. Bates, Stephen (15 de noviembre de 2002). «Synod approves church remarriage for divorcees». The Guardian (en inglés británico). ISSN 0261-3077. Consultado el 31 de enero de 2020.
  16. «Did the Queen stop Princess Margaret marrying Peter Townsend?». BBC News (en inglés británico). 19 de noviembre de 2016. Consultado el 1 de febrero de 2020.

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