Here, we bring you eight facts about Princess Margaret…
Long before the rebellious Prince Harry came on to the scene, Princess Margaret – the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II – established herself as the royal family’s ‘wild child’. Known in the press for her vivacious personality and antics, Margaret was an enthusiastic ‘party princess’ – drinking, smoking and cultivating friendships with a variety of celebrities, actors and musicians.
It is arguably these elements of Margaret’s personality and lifestyle that made her such a fan-favourite on the Netflix TV series The Crown. Played by Vanessa Kirby, the first season charts Princess Margaret’s doomed relationship with Peter Townsend, while the second season explores her romance with Antony Armstrong-Jones (who Margaret ended up marrying in 1960).
In the third and fourth seasons of The Crown, Princess Margaret is played by Helena Bonham Carter. “If Bonham Carter can capture even a fraction of her extraordinary, world-class rudeness, then audiences are surely in for a treat,” wrote Dominic Sandbrook for HistoryExtra ahead of Bonham Carters portrayal of Margaret in season three.
But did you know…
Fascinated by the royal family and The Crown?
We rounded up 24 history questions about the royal family for your home pub quiz during lockdown
Princess Margaret was the first member of the British royal family to be born in Scotland for more than 300 years
Princess Margaret was born on 21 August 1930 in Glamis Castle, Scotland, the family seat on her mother’s side. At the time of her birth, she was fourth in line to the throne through her father, Bertie (later King George VI). Although her parents hoped to call her Ann, the name was vetoed by her grandfather King George V, so they instead opted for the name Margaret Rose – which was later affectionately shortened to “Margot” by those close to her. According to the Independent, the registration of Margaret’s birth was delayed for several days to “avoid her being number 13 in the parish register”.
Margaret has a number of other ‘royal firsts’ linked to her name: her wedding to photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960 was the first British royal wedding to be broadcast on national television, while her divorce, 18 years later in 1978, was the first for a senior royal since Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Princess Victoria Melita ended her marriage to Ernest of Hesse in 1901.
The real history behind The Crown
Want to know even more about the real events from history that inspired the drama? Read more from the experts…
- Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II: what was their relationship like?
- Prince Charles and Camilla: a history of their romance
- Why did Charles and Diana’s marriage fail?
- Historian Sarah Gristwood reviews The Crown season 4: “We’ve reached the issue of how fiction influences opinion in the real world”
- Buckingham Palace intruder Michael Fagan: what happened and why did he break in?
- Was the Queen opposed to the Falklands War?
- The Crown: the real history behind series 1–3
- Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s wedding: everything you need to know
- Why was Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles’s great-uncle, assassinated?
- Everything you need to know about Prince Charles
- Who is Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall?
- Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon: why did their marriage break down?
- Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip: 8 milestones in their marriage
- Who is Princess Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II?
Margaret had a close relationship with her sister, Queen Elizabeth II – but fought with her as a child
Margaret and Elizabeth enjoyed a relatively ordinary upbringing for children of their wealth and social position, and like many sisters with a close age gap they weren’t averse to a bit of sibling rivalry. Marion Crawford, who worked for 17 years as a governess for the family, wrote in an unauthorised biography titled The Little Princesses that they were “two entirely normal and healthy” little girls. “Neither was above taking a whack at her adversary if roused,” she disclosed. “Lilibet [Elizabeth] was quick with her left hook. Margaret was more of a close-in fighter, known to bite on occasions.”
Biting aside, the pair maintained a close relationship into adulthood. Margaret served as a bridesmaid during Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, while Elizabeth gifted Margaret a 20-room apartment at Kensington Palace following the latter’s wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960. According to Vanity Fair, Margaret installed a direct line to Buckingham Palace from her desk at Kensington Palace, thereby allowing the two sisters to frequently call one another.
Margaret had nightmares of disappointing the Queen
Being the sister of a reigning monarch may have taken its toll on Margaret. According to the journalist Craig Brown, author of Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, the princess had recurring nightmares about disappointing Elizabeth. When a novelist asked Margaret if she ever dreamt about the Queen, Margaret replied that she had nightmares of being “disapproved of”.
- 12 surprising facts about Queen Elizabeth II
- The young Elizabeth II: life before she was Queen
- The fall and rise of the Windsors
Margaret enjoyed a decadent lifestyle
As might be expected for a member of the royal family, Margaret lived a life of luxury. According to Brown, an average morning for the princess in her mid-20s began with breakfast in bed and finished with a “vodka pick-me-up” and four-course lunch:
Margaret fell in love with an older man who may or may not have been married at the start of their relationship
Unlike her sister Elizabeth, Margaret was under no immediate pressure to marry. In her early twenties, she began a relationship with her father’s equerry, Group Captain Peter Townsend – a man 16 years her senior. Townsend had two children with his wife, Rosemary Pawle, and was considered – at least by royal standards – a commoner on a modest income. For the young princess, their relationship was her first experience of romantic love.
Although Margaret’s relationship with Peter Townsend is frequently referred to as an ‘affair’, it is not clear when they started their romance. Townsend divorced in 1952, and some sources suggest that he didn’t become close to Margaret until after the death of her father, King George VI, on 6 February 1952.
Margaret chose her “duty to the Commonwealth” over marrying for love
Margaret’s relationship with Townsend was revealed to the public when an eagle-eyed journalist spotted the princess affectionately plucking a piece of lint from Townsend’s jacket during the Queen’s coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953.
Later that year, in April 1953, Townsend proposed to the 22-year-old princess. Because Margaret was under the age of 25 at the time – and because she was so closely linked to the line of succession – the Queen’s consent to the marriage was required by the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. Faced with an impossibly difficult decision – and with varying pressures weighing down on her – Elizabeth asked Margaret to wait for a few years.
- The best historical TV shows and films to stream right now
- ‘Royal Highness’: which royals in history have ditched their titles?
The princess and Townsend agreed to the request, planning to marry when Margaret turned 25. But just two years later, on 31 October 1955, Margaret released the following statement:
“I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend. 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.
“But mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others.”
Had the Queen decided to stop Margaret from marrying Townsend? Not necessarily. (Although if the Netflix series The Crown is to be believed, Elizabeth had told her sister that she would no longer be a member of the family if she went ahead with the marriage.)
Papers released at the National Archives in 2004 show that the Queen and the then-prime minister Anthony Eden had drawn up a plan that would have permitted Margaret and Townsend to wed. There was, however, a ‘small’ catch: Margaret, and any children produced through the marriage, would be removed from the line of succession. The final draft of the proposal was produced on 28 October 1955, just three days before Margaret announced that she would not be marrying Townsend.
As Townsend himself put it, in his 1978 autobiography Time and Chance: “She could have married me only if she had been prepared to give up everything – her position, her prestige, her privy purse. I simply hadn’t the weight, I knew it, to counterbalance all she would have lost.”
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.
- Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret: Why did their marriage break down?
- Princess Margaret: from glamorous royal to a slide into tragedy
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’s marriage ended in 1976 when her affair with another man, Roddy Llewellyn, was made public. The 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.
Princess Margaret was aged 47 when she divorced Armstrong-Jones. Their divorce was finalised in July 1978, the month before her 48th birthday. Margaret did not remarry, but had relationships with a number of men – “some of her subsequent lovers were almost beyond parody,” says historian Dominic Sandbrook.
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.
- Troublesome royal in-laws through history
- 7 royal babies who were once seventh in line to the throne
Read everything you need to know about season 4 of The Crown – plus our exclusive episode guides – here.
Rachel Dinning is Digital Editorial Assistant at History Extra.
This article was first published on History Extra in September 2018