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Friday 15 February, 2002

Princess Margaret Obituary

Princess Margaret was born on August 21, 1930 in the midst of a lightning storm at Glamis Castle, Scotland the home of her mother's family. The announcement of her birth caused a surge in the popularity of the name Margaret - and even Margaret Rose. According to her governess of 17 years, Marion Crawford, Princess Margaret was a highly intelligent person with many artistic gifts, especially the gift of mimicry, which she used to entertain everyone she came in contact with. A willful, forthright yet charming young girl who could wrap her father around her finger and make the older statesman who visited blush. She was said to be a scene stealer - quite the opposite of her dutiful elder sister, Elizabeth, who always chose her words carefully and behaved with the utmost decorum at all times.

A good deal of her childhood was spent at Windsor Castle during the Second World War. It was an austere and cloistered childhood spent with her Nanny, Governess and other staff, as her parents were quite busy in London tending to the awful business of war. They were pleased to have the weekends with their daughters when possible. During this period the sisters formed a tight bond that would last a lifetime with Margaret admiring Elizabeth's dutiful obedience and Elizabeth admiring Margaret's vivacity. During an interview with Andrew Duncan for his book 'The Reality of Monarchy' Margaret remarked about her childhood, "When my sister and I were growing up, she was made out to be the goody-goody one. That was boring, so the press tried to make out that I was as wicked as hell."

Finally the war was over. Margaret was only 16 in the winter of 1947 when she embarked on a tour of the commonwealth with her family. The tour seemed to have provided her a practical understanding of the roles and responsibilities expected of her and of her family. The author, Theo Aronson, relates a story of seeing the royal family on this South African tour. The train stopped on a platform in the middle of nowhere and the royal family stepped out to wave to their subjects. Though there were few people there, the family greeted them as if they were on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with throngs of people present. Margaret must have sensed the importance her family placed on being royal for their subjects.

Upon her return from the tour, she took on many official engagements, which increased with her father's deteriorating health and her sister's incapacity during her two pregnancies. Almost immediately she established herself as the oft-imitated fashion icon of the day. She was named to the "best dressed lists". Years later she was to remark, "In an interview on TV last year, the Princess of Wales said the things I was saying 25 years ago. Clothes aren't her prime concern. They weren't mine. But fashion writers insist on treating her, as they did me, as if we were unreal figures straight from Dynasty." 

As with the Princess of Wales, it was more than the clothes that drew attention. It was a beauty and vitality that every fairytale princess we've ever read about possesses. There was no escaping that Margaret was the life of the party who broke with royal convention by socializing with people from the arts such as actors, rock musicians, playwrights, dancers, etc. There was no denying her sense of style from her beautiful clothes and dazzling jewels right down to her ivory cigarette holder. She was imitable. In his book, 'Divine Right: The Inglorious Survival of British Royalty', Richard Tomlinson had this to say about Margaret. "But as a figure in royal history she deserves to be taken seriously for two reasons. In the first place, she broke the modern taboo on press coverage of royalty's private affairs. On the other hand, Margaret was interesting - here lay her second contribution to royal history."

In the opening chapters of another of Marion Crawford's books, 'Margaret: The Story of a Modern Princess' she describes not only the pride that father and daughter took in each other, but also the devastating affect that George VI's death had on Princess Margaret. (The same stories are told in Theo Aronson's "Princess Margaret: A Biography" and in Anne Edwards, "Royal Sisters".) During her long period of mourning she would go to St. Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, in search of peace. This loss may have been the catalyst for Princess Margaret's relationship with a man 17 years her senior, Group Captain Peter Townsend.

Princess Margaret had known Group Captain Townsend as he served her father for many years. When Princess Margaret was 21 years of age the Queen Mother appointed Peter Townsend Comptroller of the Household - a position that gave him much contact with Margaret. In his memoirs, Peter Townsend notes they found increasing solace in each other's company as she mourned the loss of her father and he the failure of his marriage. In early 1953, Peter accepted his next royal assignment at Sandringham. Here he claims he and Princess Margaret 'rediscovered each other' declaring their love and desire to be together starting the powers that be in motion. Per the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, until she was 25 Princess Margaret would need the Queen's permission to marry, after that she would require Parliament's

The couple managed to keep their love secret during the next few months. It wasn't until Queen Elizabeth II's coronation on 2 June 53 that a reporter noticed the familiar behavior of the two parties. On 30 June, Princess Margaret left with her mother on official duty. Group Captain Peter Townsend was sent on assignment to Belgium the day before her return. It seems that his absence only made their love grow stronger for upon his return, the lovers were reunited, but only briefly. They both realized what the reality of their union would be. She would give up life, as she knew it. He would feel guilty for not being able to provide the living to which she was accustomed. He assisted her in writing her "official" decision. Which read in part, "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."

Princess Margaret lost the two men she loved deeply in a very short period of time. For all of her image of a party girl, her devotion to duty seems to be as strong as her sister's as witnessed by this one action. She seemed to flounder after she was 'forced' to end her affair with divorcee Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1953. Throughout this time period Princess Margaret was reported to be out and about brandishing a 'trademark' cigarette holder and glass of Famous Grouse whisky. As an elegant, worldly woman and one of the most photographed this seems to be right on track with what other women of the time were doing.

While at Balmoral in October 1959 she received a letter from Peter Townsend sharing the news of his engagement to Marie-Luce Jamagne, a Belgian heiress. "I received a letter from Peter in the morning, and that evening I decided to marry Tony," was her description of the engagement. She married Antony Armstrong-Jones on May 6, 1960 - with the Queen's consent. During their 18-year marriage she suffered from several bouts of gastric upset and gastroenteritis reportedly due to the flaring of her and her husband's 'artistic temperaments'. She gave birth to two children, David, Viscount Linley, and Lady Sarah. Her marriage to Tony was a high profile one drawing criticism for apparently taking pleasure out of life. In keeping with the tradition Margaret had developed at the start of her 'official' life, they attended many high profile parties in between the performance of duty. Both were rumored to have lovers outside the marriage but it wasn't until Margaret was photographed with Roddy Llewellen, a man seventeen years her junior, that the couple announced their separation in 1976.

Tony pressed for a divorce. Margaret was devastated. So much so that her divorce proved more stressful then her marriage. In 1978 she suffered not only another bout of gastroenteritis, but also hepatitis, which damages the liver. Reportedly, she also sought psychiatric assistance to help her cope with this devastating blow. Distraught as she was, she continued her work with the arts and for children. President of a dozen organizations the BBC reports that, "In fact her A to Z of patronages - 41 in all - started at architects and ended with zebras." Due to her continued image as the partying princess, her workload (as many as 300 official engagements a year) was never truly appreciated. 

Her partying lifestyle did begin to take a toll on Princess Margaret as in January 1985 she had a section of her left lung removed in a cancer scare. The tissue proved to be non-malignant, but it was thought that she needed to give up smoking immediately. She tried. It is said that she increased the amount of cigarettes she smoked each day to a point of chain smoking when she was stressed. The first time this pattern is said to have emerged was after she lost her beloved father.

Her close aide, Lord Napier and Ettrick, says she did give up smoking in January 1993 when she was diagnosed in the papers with 'suspected pneumonia' and spent a full six months convalescing. Her health seemed to be doing fine until February of 1998 when it is reported that she suffered a 'mild' stroke while on holiday at her home in Mustique. Transported via air ambulance to Barbados and then onto London, she spent two weeks recovering in Edward VII hospital. She seemed never to fully recover from this stroke. The following year, while in Mustique, she accidentally scalded her feet by stepping into a very hot bath. She made her appearance at Edward and Sophie's wedding in June of 1999 in a wheel chair with bandaged feet and ankles. Apparently, she didn't heal well. In November of 1999 she was again taken ill. The palace denied reports of another stroke. In December 2000 she was reported ill over the holidays; too ill to join the family for church services at Sandringham. On January 10th she was admitted to Edward VII hospital in London due to a loss in appetite. The last time we saw Princess Margaret in public was at 100th birthday party of Princess Alice.

Her life has had some amazing highs and some devastating lows. She has had to live within the strict protocol demanded of a member of the royal family while possessing a very creative and gregarious spirit. She managed to carve a niche for herself by supporting the arts, marrying a photographer and raising two children who are artists. Her son, David, Viscount Linley, a furniture designer and restaurateur, survives her. Happily married to the former Serena Stanhope they have one son, Charles. Her daughter, Lady Sarah, is a painter who met and married fellow artist Daniel Chatto. The couple has two sons, Samuel and Arthur. Her children have always spoken very highly of their mother.

Her funeral will be held on Friday, February 15, 2002 - fifty years to the day of her father's funeral of 1952.

Thanks to all of you for sending in your tributes and to Geraldine. She's doing an amazing job compiling them for us. Please feel free to share any thoughts with me for this week's Speakers Corner as well.

All the best,

-- Eileen Sullivan --

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