Princess Margaret

Written on 17 December 2020

Princess Margaret was a singular and revolutionary royal, whose uncensored, rebellious, and often tragic life provided a sharp contrast to that of her more guarded sister, Queen Elizabeth II. The subject of immense media scrutiny, she was one of the first royals to be the target of the sort of salacious tabloid meddling that so many of her modern kin must abide by. Nonetheless, a lively-spirited and unapologetic woman through-and-through, she forged a legacy that changed British royalty forever.

The most commonly acknowledged thing about Princess Margaret was her devil-may-care lifestyle. Reportedly her mornings would consist of reading the newspapers in bed whilst chain smoking and taking an hour-long bath, before presenting herself downstairs just after noon for a ‘vodka pick-me-up’ and a four-course lunch with her mother. She was renowned for her parties, and commonly acknowledged to have broken through perceived class boundaries by fraternizing with show business celebrities and the bohemian sub-culture of the 60’s and 70’s, all whilst maintaining an incredibly close relationship with her sister, the Queen of England.

No royal exploits drew quite as much media attention as Princess Margaret’s turbulent love life, a series of relationships that categorically changed the British public’s attitudes towards divorce, particularly in terms of the royal family. Her famed relationship with divorcee RAF Group Captain Peter Townsend was the subject of rigorous debate, culminating in an incredibly difficult decision for the Princess and a huge blow to the reputation of the Church of England. The church was sternly opposed to the remarriage of a divorcee whilst their previous spouse was still alive, and Princess Margaret was told that parliament would only allow her to marry Townsend if she revoked her place in the succession and everything that came with it, which she was not willing to do. This proved to be a tremendous scandal for the royal family, with public opinion overwhelmingly supporting Margaret. It is widely cited as the reason that royal attitudes towards marriage have softened, but also as a watershed moment for the nation’s attitudes towards divorce.

She married a photographer named Anthony Armstrong-Jones five years later, the first royal wedding to be broadcast on British television and host to over 2,000 distinguished guests. It was through this marriage that the Princess found a gateway into more bohemian circles, but after 18 years and two children together, the couple divorced. Again, this was subject to a huge amount of negative media attention, but is said to have paved the way for acceptance of royal divorce, something that three of the Queen’s four children have taken advantage of, including the heir to the throne. Regardless of scandal, Princess Margaret was an important figure in humanising the British monarchy, helping to bring it more seamlessly into modernity, and despite her rather difficult life she remains one of the most well-loved royals in modern history.

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