by Scott Mehl
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
Princess Margaret was the second daughter of King George VI and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II. She was born Princess Margaret Rose of York on August 21, 1930, at Glamis Castle in Scotland. At the time of her birth, she was 4th in line of succession to the British throne.
She was christened by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace on October 30, 1930. Her godparents were:
- The Prince of Wales – later King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor (her father’s brother)
- Princess Ingrid of Sweden – later Queen of Denmark (her father’s second cousin)
- Princess Victoria of the United Kingdom (her father’s great-aunt)
- Lady Rose Leveson-Gower (her mother’s sister)
- The Hon. David Bowes-Lyon (her mother’s brother)
Just six years after she was born, her grandfather, King George V, passed away and her uncle became King Edward VIII. Just 11 months later, he abdicated, and Margaret’s father became King George VI. The family moved from their modest home at 145 Piccadilly, to Buckingham Palace. Here, Margaret was a Brownie with the 1st Buckingham Palace Brownie Pack, and later a Girl Guide and Sea Ranger. These organizations held a special place in Margaret’s heart, and she remained involved with them until her death. She was educated privately by a governess – Marion Crawford, who later wrote a book about the Princesses which resulted in her being banished from royal life. During World War II, Margaret and Elizabeth lived at Windsor Castle, deemed safer than being in London. It was suggested that the two be sent to Canada for the duration of the war, but their mother quickly dismissed that idea. Despite the war, the two girls managed to enjoy a relatively ‘normal’ life at Windsor.
Sadly, in February 1952, her father King George VI passed away, and her sister became Queen. Margaret and her mother soon moved into Clarence House, along with the new Comptroller of her mother’s household, Group Captain Peter Townsend. Townsend had been an equerry to King George VI, and later Deputy Master of the Household. He and Margaret began a relationship and quickly fell in love. In 1953, he proposed and Margaret accepted. However, there were many obstacles at the time. He was 16 years older than Margaret, and he was divorced with two children. At the time, the Church of England would not sanction a marriage of a divorced person. The Queen, who was preparing for her Coronation and then Commonwealth tour, asked the couple to wait a year. Hoping to dissuade them, she also had Townsend transferred to her own household. For the next two years, the couple waited, hoping to be permitted to marry. But the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, advised the Queen that Parliament would not approve the marriage unless Margaret were to relinquish her rights to the throne and her royal position. Margaret finally gave in. On October 31, 1955, she issued a statement in which she announced that she would not be marrying Group Captain Townsend. She chose to put her royal role and duties ahead of her personal happiness.
Five years later, on February 26, 1960, it was announced that Princess Margaret had become engaged to Antony Armstrong-Jones. The two had managed to keep their relationship very private, taking many people by surprise when the engagement was announced. They married in Westminster Abbey on May 6, 1960. Their wedding would be the first British royal wedding to be televised. Despite her position as daughter and sister of a Sovereign, only one foreign royal attended – Queen Ingrid of Denmark, one of Margaret’s godparents. It was speculated that most of the other royals disapproved of Margaret’s marriage to a commoner, let alone a photographer!
Following a six-week cruise on HMS Britannia, the couple moved into Apt. 10 at Kensington Palace. The following year, her husband was created Earl of Snowdon and Viscount Linley. Having initially turned down any titles, the couple decided to accept when they were expecting their first child. In Margaret’s eyes, It would have been “improper” for the child of a Princess to be born with no title. Two children were born to the couple – David, 2nd Earl of Snowdon in 1961, and Lady Sarah in 1964.
With their family growing, in 1963, the couple moved into the newly renovated Apt. 1A at Kensington Palace (now the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). Princess Margaret would live there until her death. Another residence was on the island of Mustique. As a wedding present, Margaret had received a plot of land on the island from her friend and rumored suitor, Colin Tennant. She had a home built there, called Les Jolies Eaux, in the early 1970s and often spent time there. She kept the home until 1996 when she gave it to her son as a wedding present. He subsequently sold the property.
The Snowdon marriage was anything but calm and peaceful. Two very strong personalities, often at odds, led to volatile rows and many affairs for both of them. Margaret’s many paramours included Robin Douglas-Home (who also had a relationship with Princess Margaretha of Sweden) and Roddy Llewellyn. Llewellyn became known as Margaret’s “boy toy”, and the press published photos of the two in their swimsuits together on Mustique. This finally brought about the formal end of Margaret’s marriage. The couple was formally divorced on July 11, 1978.
Having suffered from ill-health for many years, Princess Margaret made her last public appearance at the 100th birthday celebration for her aunt, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester in December 2001. In a wheelchair for several years, she had suffered several strokes which left her a shell of her former self. On February 9, 2002, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon passed away at the King Edward VII Hospital in London, having suffered another stroke. Her funeral was held on February 15 – the 50th anniversary of her father’s funeral – at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Following the ceremony, her remains were cremated at her request and placed in the Royal Vault. Sadly, her funeral would also be one of the last public appearances of The Queen Mother, who would pass away just 6 weeks later.
Following her mother’s funeral, Margaret’s ashes were placed in the King George VI Memorial Chapel at St George’s, alongside the tombs of her parents.