Today in Royal Birthdays: Princess Margaret, the Queen’s Sister
Posted Aug 21 2013 8:50am
While it’s no secret that I love Duchess Kate, you might not know that there’s another royal who I’m equally (maybe even more) fascinated with: Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister Princess Margaret, who would have been 83 years old today, August 21st.
Margaret was rebellious, vibrant, and way before her time. If she were alive today, she would probably drink her grand-nephew Prince Harry under the table.
Princess Margaret did her best to throw off the shackles of royal life, but succumbed time and again to her insatiable need for attention and whimsy. While her sister was off on royal tours and meeting weekly with Prime Ministers, Margaret was helping usher London into the swinging sixties, palling around with artists, poets, musicians and celebrities like Peter Sellers and Mick Jagger.
She was glamorous as all hell, but she was also haughty, difficult and (understandably) addicted to the good life.
Happiness seemed to elude Margaret.
When she was in her early 20s, she was faced with an impossible choice: love or duty. She wanted to marry Captain Peter Townsend, a recently divorced member of her father’s staff, but it was seen as an improper match by the Church of England and Parliament, who needed to approve the marriage. If she married him, she’d have true love…but she’d lose her income, her title, and her standing.
The world waited for Margaret to make her decision, and when she finally chose to give up Townsend–under enormous pressure from her sister, the new Queen–it was front-page news. The thought of being without Peter was awful to her, but reportedly the reality of being kicked off the Civil List, stripped of her title, and having to live as a commoner–how deadly-dull–was worse.
Apparently, she was never really the same.
Soon after, Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones, who was eventually named Earl of Snowdon. One of my favorite celebrity images of all time is Princess Margaret, in the bathtub wearing nothing but jewels on her head, photographed by her husband Snowdon.
They had two children together, but their marriage reportedly turned very unhappy, very quickly, and in 1978, Margaret became one of the first major royals since Henry VIII to divorce.
As you can imagine, it was kind of a big deal.
Margaret’s later years were very Jackie O.
She was gifted land on the Caribbean island of Mustique by her friend Colin Tennant, Baron Glenconner. There, she built a home called Les Jolies Eaux where she hosted celebrities, partied, draped herself in caftans and jewels, and enjoyed the (incredibly) high life.
Eventually, she went OG Cougar and took a lover 17 years younger than her, which got everybody’s knickers in a twist. She overdosed on sleeping pills at least once, and her health deteriorated quickly in later years.
A lifelong chain smoker, Margaret died too young: at the age of 71, only two months before the Queen Mum.
Gore Vidal wrote of Margaret, “She was far too intelligent for her station in life,” remembering a conversation with her where she dissected her own position, saying:
“It was inevitable: when there are two sisters and one is the Queen, one must be the source of honour and all that is good, while the other must be the focus of the most creative malice, the evil sister.”