The early years
Born on 21 August 1930 at Glamis Castle, Princess Margaret was the younger daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Baptised in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury, her early life was predominantly spent at the Royal Lodge in Windsor and her parents’ London townhouse in Piccadilly.
The young Margaret was passionate about music, displaying a natural talent for the piano and singing, partly owing to her reputed perfect pitch. During her time spent at Windsor Castle during World War II, she received tutelage from Sir William Henry Harris, the resident organist at St George’s Chapel.
Aged five, her uncle acceded to the throne as King Edward VIII following the death of her grandfather, King George V. With Edward’s subsequent abdication less than a year later on 11 December 1936, Margaret became a princess as the baton was passed to her reticent father, now King George VI.
Margaret was educated at home under the supervision of her mother and her Scottish Governess, Marion Crawford. The informal nature of her education was epitomised by the words of Randolph Churchill who claimed that her mother “never aimed at bringing her daughters up to be more than nicely behaved young ladies”. This absence of intellectual rigour would become a sore point for Margaret Windsor in her later life.
A committed smoker and rarely one to shy away from a drink, Margaret’s early adult life was a tale of decadence, glamour and mild scandal. An independent spirit, she was a regular fixture on the London arts scene of the 1950s. Possessing a degree of chic at odds with the stuffy royal archetype, she was a natural magnet for the British press.
The headlines often centred around her relationships, most notably with her father’s equerry Peter Townsend. Only 14 years old when they first met, their clandestine relationship wouldn’t begin until 8 years later, after the death of Margaret’s father in 1952. Married with two sons, Townsend filed for divorce in the same year, but it was this status that would leave Margaret with an impossible decision. Prime Minister Anthony Eden decided that she would have to relinquish her royal privileges and income if she insisted on marrying Townsend. Ultimately, Margaret put her sense of duty and Christian beliefs before her personal happiness and ended the relationship in 1955.
In May 1960, Margaret married the magazine photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, later Lord Snowden, at Westminster Abbey. They had two children, Sarah and David, before eventually divorcing in 1978.
Away from her often turbulent private life, Margaret’s early royal duties included tours of South Africa and the Caribbean, later representing the Crown at independence ceremonies throughout the Commonwealth. With a particular interest in the field of welfare, she was the president or patron of many organisations including the NSPCC, St John Ambulance Brigade and the Royal Ballet.
Her later life was compromised by poor health, including a stay in hospital owing to pneumonia in 1993. Her last public appearance was at the 100th birthday celebrations of The Duchess of Gloucester in December 2001. She died on 9 February 2002, aged 71. Non-conformist until the end, she chose to be cremated rather than the royal tradition of burial, with her ashes being placed in the Royal Vault in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.