Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon

Updated: Apr 12


Princess Margaret, 1965

Princess Margaret was born on 21 August 1930 at Glamis Castle, Scotland, her mother's ancestral home, & was affectionately known as Margot within the royal family.


Margaret Rose was the second daughter of King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). She was born at Glamis Castle in Scotland on 21st August 1930. The registration of her birth was delayed for several days to avoid her being numbered 13 in the parish register, 13 is widely considered to be unlucky by people in Britain.


Princess Margaret, 1965


Princess Margaret by William Timym, 1944


Her mother the Duchess of York originally wanted to name her second daughter Ann Margaret, as she explained to Queen Mary in a letter: "I am very anxious to call her Ann Margaret, as I think Ann of York sounds pretty, & Elizabeth & Ann go so well together." King George V disliked the name Ann but approved of the alternative "Margaret Rose".



She was educated alongside her sister, Princess Elizabeth, by their Scottish governess Marion Crawford. Margaret's education was mainly supervised by her mother.



Margaret was a Brownie in the 1st Buckingham Palace Brownie Pack, formed in 1937. Margaret was also a Girl Guide & later a Sea Ranger. She served as President of Girlguiding UK from 1965 until her death in 2002.





HM Queen Elizabeth II when aged thirteen, riding with her father King George VI and sister Princess Margaret , 21 April 1939


During the early days of World War II Margaret & her sister Elizabeth stayed at Birkhall, on the Balmoral Estate until Christmas 1939, nights there were so cold that drinking water in carafes by their bedside froze. During Christmas they stayed at Sandringham House, then moved on to Windsor Castle for much of the remainder of the war. The King & Queen were advised to evacuate the Princesses to Canada. Their mother famously replied, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave."


During the war she developed her skills at singing & playing the piano. she was said to be spoiled by her parent, especially the king.






In 1950, the former royal governess, Marion Crawford, published an unauthorised biography of Elizabeth's & Margaret's childhood years, titled The Little Princesses, in which she described Margaret's "light-hearted fun & frolics" & her "amusing & outrageous ... antics".

Margaret enjoyed socialising with high society & the young, aristocratic set, including Sharman Douglas, the daughter of the American ambassador, Lewis Williams Douglas. A celebrated beauty known for her glamour & fashion sense, Margaret was often featured in the press at balls, parties, & nightclubs.



Margaret was grief-stricken by her father's death in 1952 & was prescribed sedatives to help her sleep. She late wrote, "He was such a wonderful person, the very heart & centre of our happy family.". She was consoled by her deeply held Christian beliefs.


Watch the Pathe video below, as several members of the Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth II herself, the Queen Mother & Princess Margaret as the arrive for  1953 premiere of the opera 'Gloriana' at the Royal Opera House in this spectacular archive footage.




Peter Townsend was appointed Comptroller of her mother's restructured household. By 1953, he was divorced from his first wife & proposed marriage to Margaret. He was 16 years her senior & had two children from his previous marriage. Margaret accepted & informed her sister, the Queen, of her desire to marry Townsend. The Queen's consent was required by the Royal Marriages Act 1772. As in 1936, the Church of England refused to countenance the remarriage of the divorced.

Queen Mary had recently died, & Elizabeth was about to be crowned Queen. The Queen told Margaret, "Under the circumstances, it isn't unreasonable for me to ask you to wait a year." The Queen was counselled by her private secretary, Sir Alan Lascelles, to post Townsend overseas, but she refused & instead transferred him from the Queen Mother's household to her own. The British government refused to approve the marriage, &  newspapers reported that the marriage was "unthinkable" & "would fly in the face of Royal & Christian tradition". Prime Minister Winston Churchill informed the Queen that the Dominion prime ministers were unanimously against the marriage & that Parliament would not approve a marriage that would be unrecognized by the Church of England unless Margaret renounced her rights to the throne.


Group Captain Peter Townsend

Churchill arranged for Townsend (pictured) to be posted to Brussels. Polls run by popular newspapers appeared to show that the public supported Margaret's personal choice, regardless of Church teaching or the government's opinion.


For two years, press speculation continued. Margaret was told by clerics that she would be unable to receive communion if she married a divorced man.


On 31 October 1953  Margaret issued a 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 teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before others. I have reached this decision entirely alone, and in doing so I have been strengthened by the unfailing support and devotion of Group Captain Townsend.


Princess Margaret met the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones at a supper party in 1958. She married Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey on 6 May 1960. Armstrong-Jones proposed to Margaret with a ruby engagement ring surrounded by diamonds in the shape of a rosebud.



It was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on television, & it attracted viewing figures of 300 million worldwide. 2,000 guests were invited for the wedding ceremony. Queen Ingrid of Denmark, & the King & Queen of Sweden were among the foreign royalty to attend the wedding.




Margaret's wedding dress was designed by Norman Hartnell and worn with the Poltimore tiara. She had eight young bridesmaids, led by her niece, Princess Anne.


The Duke of Edinburgh escorted the bride, & the best man was Dr Roger Gilliatt. The Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher conducted the marriage service. Following the ceremony, the couple made the traditional appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.



The honeymoon was a six-week Caribbean cruise aboard the royal yacht Britannia. As a wedding present, Colin Tennant gave her a plot of land on his private Caribbean island, Mustique. The newlyweds moved into rooms in 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, Viscount Linley, born 3 November 1961, & Lady Sarah, born 1 May 1964.




Princess Margaret's main interests were welfare charities, music & ballet.

She was president of the National Society & of the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Invalid Children's Aid Nationwide (also called 'I CAN').


Also;

Grand President of the St John Ambulance Brigade

Colonel-in-Chief of Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps


She was the president or patron of numerous organisations, such as;

The West Indies Olympic Association

The Girl Guides

Northern Ballet Theatre

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Scottish Ballet

Children 1st, Tenovus Cancer Care

The Royal College of Nursing

The London Lighthouse (an AIDS charity that has since merged with the Terrence Higgins Trust).


By the early 1970s, the Earl & Countess had drifted apart. On 19 March 1976, the Snowdons publicly acknowledged that their marriage had irretrievably broken down.


In May 1978, she was taken ill, & diagnosed as suffering from gastroenteritis & alcoholic hepatitis. On 11 July 1978, the Snowdons' divorce was arranged, becoming the first divorce of a senior member of the British royal family since Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh's in 1901. In December 1978, Snowdon married Lucy Lindsay-Hogg. In January 1981, Margaret was a guest on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. The appearance is described by The Guardian: "She is fantastically posh, chooses Rule Britannia as one of her discs, & asks for Scotland the Brave played by the pipes & drums of 'my regiment', the Royal Highland Fusiliers."

The Princess's later life was blighted by illness & disability. Since the age of 15 or even earlier, she had smoked cigarettes & had continued to smoke heavily for many years. On 5 January 1985, she had part of her left lung removed; the operation drew parallels with that of her father over 30 years earlier. She gave up smoking in 1991, but continued to drink heavily. In 1993, she was admitted to hospital for pneumonia & later experienced a mild stroke in 1998 at her holiday home in Mustique.



Early into 1999 the Princess suffered a bathroom accident leaving her with severe scalds to her feet. Her mobility declined significantly leaving her requiring support when walking & sometimes having to use a wheelchair.


By late 2000 she had become bedridden, the following year in January she had loss of appetite & swallowing problems, & had to go into hospital. The year 2001 brought more suffering for the Princess as she suffered more strokes that left her with partial paralysis on the left side & her vision was affected.


Princess Margaret, 1995

Princess Margaret was last seen in public during the 101st birthday celebrations of her mother in August 2001 & the 100th birthday celebration of her aunt, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, that December.


She died in the King Edward VII's Hospital, London, at 06:30 (GMT) on 9 February 2002 at the age of 71, after suffering yet another stroke which resulted in cardiac problems.

Margaret's coffin, draped in her personal standard, was taken from Kensington Palace to St James's Palace prior to her funeral. Margaret's funeral was held on 15 February 2002, the 50th anniversary of her father's funeral.

In line with her wishes, the ceremony was a private service at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, for family & friends. Unlike most other members of the royal family, she was cremated, at Slough Crematorium. Her ashes were placed in the tomb of her parents, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, in the King George VI Memorial Chapel in St George's Chapel two months later.

A state memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey on 19 April 2002.



"We thank thee Lord who by thy spirit doth our faith restore When we with worldly things commune & prayerless close our door We lose our precious gift divine to worship and adore Then thou our Saviour, fill our hearts to love thee evermore"

Princess Margaret's epitaph, written by herself, is carved on a memorial stone in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle





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