You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Lifestyle Top Stories

Affairs, cigarettes and loneliness: Inside Princess Margaret's rebellious royal life.

Mamamia logo Mamamia 26/03/2019 Amy Clark

Long before Meghan Markle and Princess Diana, Princess Margaret was the original rebel rousing royal.

The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II was everything a royal wasn’t meant to be because, decorum.

Princess Margaret was bold, adventurous and glamorous. Had she not been in the British royal family, she would’ve likely been a Hollywood actress (although she spent most of her life partying with them anyway).

Her love affair with Peter Townsend was the stuff of films (more on this in a bit), and her marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones was equally as headline-making (more on that later, too).

But take away the jewels and cigarette holder, and Princess Margaret lived a deeply lonely life, deprived of real relationships and stifled by her family’s and the British government’s expectations of how a woman in the royal family should behave: quiet, meek and conservative.

She was none of these things, and the public loved her for it, for a time.

From chain smoking in bed every morning and her forbidden relationship with an older divorced man, to being the first royal to marry a commoner in over 400 years (oh, how times have changed, eh?), here’s a deep dive into Princess Margaret’s fascinating life.

Princess Margaret, the royal rebel.

a black and white photo of Princess Margaret: Princess Margaret looked more like a Hollywood star than a royal. Image: Getty. © getty Princess Margaret looked more like a Hollywood star than a royal. Image: Getty. Princess Margaret wearing a dress: Princess Margaret was stunning. Image: Getty. © social Princess Margaret was stunning. Image: Getty.

Much of what most of us know about Princess Margaret is from actress Vanessa Kirby's portrayal of the royal in seasons one and two of The Crown.

While her sister was forced to grow up quickly after being crowned Queen, Princess Margaret was mostly free to do whatever the heck she wanted.

That included partying every night of the week, and spending her days horse riding, eating and chain smoking, according to an extract of Craig Brown’s Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret that listed her morning routine.

According to the account of her routine in 1955, which has been circulating on Twitter, the princess would begin her day at 9am, waking up in bed – where she would stay for the next two hours, eating, reading and smoking.

At about 11am, Princess Margaret would take an hour-long bath, followed by “hair and makeup at her dressing table” and then dressing in clean clothes, because “as one would imagine of a Princess – she never wore any of her clothes more than once without having them cleaned".

Around midday, she'd appear downstairs for a vodka pick-me-up, and a four-course lunch and copious amounts of wine. Princess Margaret's afternoons and evenings would vary with horse-rides, public events, visits with celebrities, and, of course, parties.

Princess Margaret's vibrant, mischievous personality and razor sharp wit made her a charismatic guest at any party. You also never knew what was going to come out of her mouth, as some of her best zingers proved.

Among many insults she routinely gave people who came across her path, Princess Margaret once told model 60s British model Twiggy that her name was "unfortunate", Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor that her engagement ring was vulgar, and actress turned royal Grace Kelly that she didn't "look like a movie star".

Yep. She was a character.

Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend.

Princess Margaret's first great love (and perhaps her only great love) was Group Captain Peter Townsend. Much of what we saw of their secretive romance on The Crown was true to real life.

The Queen’s younger more controversial sister, and Group Captain Townsend – who’d been the right-hand-man to the former king, Margaret’s father King George VI – captured the hearts of the English public via the press and (likely) caused utter chaos for Queen Elizabeth.

The pair wanted to marry and Captain Townsend proposed in 1953, when Princess Margaret was 22.

a group of people posing for a photo: Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend (pictured far left) crossed paths during royal engagements. Image: Getty. © getty Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend (pictured far left) crossed paths during royal engagements. Image: Getty. a group of people posing for a photo: Living and socialising in the same circles made it impossible for Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend to avoid one another. Image: Getty. © getty Living and socialising in the same circles made it impossible for Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend to avoid one another. Image: Getty.

But the then-38-year-old’s status as a divorcee with two children, 16 years Margaret’s senior, made it impossible for the Queen (who is also the head of the Church of England) to give the couple her blessing.

Townsend was sent away to work as an air attaché for the British Embassy in Brussels. In 1955, Princess Margaret was forced to choose between marrying Townsend and her royal privileges including title and income. She eventually made a statement saying she would choose royalty over their relationship.

Princess Margaret's wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones.

Season two of The Crown charted a heartbroken Princess Margaret's meeting, budding relationship and subsequent marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones, but how true was it to reality?

Quite. And in fact, their marriage was possibly even more colourful, sad and history-making than you saw on screen.

While the Netflix series sees the pair meeting at a party in 1958, Armstrong-Jones' relationship with the Royal family began the year before when he took portraits of the Queen and family at Buckingham Palace.

Antony Armstrong-Jones wearing a suit and tie: Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones during their engagement photoshoot. Image: Getty. © social Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones during their engagement photoshoot. Image: Getty.

However, as an active member of high class society, it isn't impossible to imagine Princess Margaret asking her lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Cavendish, to find her any man but one who "breeds horses, owns land, or knows my mother" as she does in the show.

But the scene in episode four in which the seeds of their attraction are planted, where he takes her photograph, isn't quite true to history.

While Armstrong-Jones did take one of the most controversial royal portraits of all time - of Princess Margaret in which she appears to be naked - and it was sent to The Times of London to be splashed across the country, the real Princess Margaret portrait was taken in 1967, several years after after she and Armstrong-Jones married, Vanity Fair reports.

In February 1960, around two years after they first met, Armstrong-Jones and Princess Margaret announced their engagement. Armstrong-Jones designed Princess Margaret's ruby engagement ring to look like a rosebud, thought to be a reference to her middle name Rose.

a man and woman posing for a photo: Princess Margaret's wedding was lavish for the time. Image: Getty. © getty Princess Margaret's wedding was lavish for the time. Image: Getty.

The unlikely royal couple married on May 6, 1960, at Westminster Abbey. It was one of the most lavish royal weddings of the time and was attended by around 2000 guests, including the groom's two ex-wives and former lover Jacqui Chan. It was also the first ever royal wedding to be televised, and was watched by an estimated 300 million people.

The Queen gave Armstrong-Jones the royal title Earl of Snowdon, or Lord Snowdon as he was often referred to as.

Princess Margaret children.

Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon had two children together long before their marriage began to break down.

In 1961, Princess Margaret gave birth to their first child, David, royal title Viscount Linley. Their second child, daughter Sarah, was born three years later in 1964.

Both of Princess Margaret's children are still alive today.

Princess Margaret wearing a suit and tie: Princess Margaret with Antony Armstrong-Jones, son David and daughter Sarah. Image: Getty. © getty Princess Margaret with Antony Armstrong-Jones, son David and daughter Sarah. Image: Getty.

David inherited his father's title of Earl of Snowdon when Armstrong-Jones passed away in 2017. He's been married to Serena Alleyne Stanhope (now the current Countess of Snowdon by marriage) since 1993 and they have two children together: Charles Patrick Inigo and Lady Margarita Elizabeth Rose.

Lady Sarah Chatto (nee Armstrong-Jones) lives a notoriously private life away from the publicity that comes with being a royal. She's an accomplished painter, and has been married to actor Daniel Chatto since 1994. They have two sons together: Samuel David Benedict and Arthur Robert Nathaniel, both of whom are quite active on Instagram.

Princess Margaret's marriage (and divorce) to husband Lord Snowdon.

a couple of people posing for the camera: Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones in the 70s. Image: Getty. © getty Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones in the 70s. Image: Getty.

Antony Armstrong-Jones was the first commoner in 400 years to marry into the royal family. Despite living (seemingly) happy lives together for the first part of their marriage, their relationship soured after the births of their two children.

Lord Snowdon is said to have hated the royal lifestyle within Kensington palace, particularly Princess Margaret's staff.

He may have also been bisexual, a claim he neither confirmed nor denied during his lifetime.

In a profile with The Telegraph, journalist Andrew Alderson said Armstrong-Jones "mixed freely in gay circles," once telling the writer, "I didn't fall in love with boys, but a few men have been in love with me".

At a stretch, some say Princess Margaret unofficially confirmed rumours regarding her husband's sexual orientation at high-society party in New York where the hostess asked her politely how the Queen was keeping.

"Which one?" she is reported to have replied with her razor-sharp wit. "My sister, my mother or my husband?"

We don't know for sure how many affairs Lord Snowdon indulged in, or who with, but what we do know is Princess Margaret wasn't that keen on monogamy either, having several affairs with high-profile men of the time.

As well as with Armstrong-Jones' friend Anthony Barton and nightclub pianist Robin Douglas-Home, Princess Margaret's most controversial affair was with Roddy Llewellyn, a landscaper 18 years younger than her, News.com.au reports.

Princess Margaret et al. sitting and looking at the camera: Princess Margaret and Roddy Llewellyn were together for several years while Princess Margaret was married, and after she got divorced. Image: Getty. © getty Princess Margaret and Roddy Llewellyn were together for several years while Princess Margaret was married, and after she got divorced. Image: Getty.

Lord Snowdon's 1969 affair with Lady Jacqueline Rufus-Isaacs, the daughter of the 3rd Marquess of Reading and a regular in the royals' party scene, reportedly upset Princess Margaret greatly, sparking their 1976 separation.

In 1978, Kensington palace announced Princess Margaret and Armstrong-Jones were divorcing with an official statement.

“Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and the Earl of Snowdon, after two years of separation, have agreed that their marriage should be formally ended. Accordingly, Her Royal Highness will start the necessary legal proceedings,” the statement said.

Princess Margaret death.

Princess Margaret never remarried following her divorce from Armstrong-Jones.

Her later years were plagued by bad health, most of which was a consequence of her partying lifestyle earlier in life.

Princess Margaret posing for a picture: Princess Margaret used a walking stick after a number of health scares later in life. Image: Getty. © getty Princess Margaret used a walking stick after a number of health scares later in life. Image: Getty.

A cigarette smoker since 15, Princess Margaret had part of her left lung removed in 1985. She eventually gave up smoking, but continued to drink heavily. Her next serious health scare came in 1993 when she was rushed to hospital with pneumonia.

In 1998, she suffered a stroke that left her with a mild speech impediment while holidaying on Mustique, and in 1999, she scalded her feet with hot bath water at her Mustique villa, leaving her unable to walk, The Guardian reports.

In total, Princess Margaret suffered three strokes, the third killing her in 2002, aged 71.

Pictures: Royals from around the world - Then and now


More from Mamamia.com.au

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon