During the evening of 21 August 1930, a second daughter was born to the then Duke and Duchess of York at Glamis Castle in Scotland. Her elder sister, the future Queen Elizabeth II, was delighted, “I have got a new little baby sister. She is so lovely and I am very, very happy to have her.”1 She was named Margaret Rose, instead of Margaret Ann, as King George V did not like the name Ann. The new Princess was christened on 30 October and her godparents were her great-aunt Princess Victoria, Lady Rose Leveson-Gower, the Honourable David Bowes-Lyon, The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and Princess Ingrid of Sweden.
In 1932, Marion Crawford joined the York household as a governess to Princess Elizabeth and a few years later, to Princess Margaret as well. She would stay with them for the next 15 years. Margaret was especially close to her father. The education of the Princesses was not emphasized much, though King George V did tell Marion Crawford to teach them to write a decent hand.
The year 1936 would change the course of Princesses’ lives. In January, their grandfather King George V died and was succeeded by their uncle, now King Edward VIII. However, before the year was out, Edward abdicated the throne to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson and their father became King George VI. The little Princesses were now first and second in line to the throne. The family moved into Buckingham Palace in early 1937. The coronation of their father was kept on the same date as it had been for their uncle, 12 May 1937. Elizabeth and Margaret watched the coronation of their parents from the Royal Gallery with their grandmother, Queen Mary.
The start of the Second World War meant that the Princesses were taken to greater safety at Windsor Castle. They were to remain there for the next five years. As her sister grew up, Margaret felt more and more left behind. The four-year age difference became even more noticeable and the sisters began to lead different lives. Elizabeth’s education became different from Margaret’s, as she was the heiress. Despite this, claims that Margaret was jealous of Elizabeth are unfounded. Margaret herself commented, “I have never suffered from “second daughter-itis”. But I did mind forever being cast as the “younger sister.”2
By the age of 16, Margaret had started to perform official engagements on her own. She would never enjoy the public speaking aspect of the official engagements. In 1947, her sister married Philip Mountbatten, who became The Duke of Edinburgh upon marriage, and Margaret was quite fond of Philip but it also meant that her relationship with her sister would change even more. In addition, the press now began to focus on Margaret’s personal life, searching for any sign of burgeoning romance. Margaret threw herself into the social circle of her newfound adulthood with the press keeping tally on the number of parties she attended. One of the first important engagements she attended as an adult was the inauguration of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands on 6 September 1948. She was joined by her father’s equerry, Group Captain Peter Townsend.
Peter Townsend was a 34-year-old fighter pilot who had been appointed to the King’s personal staff in 1944 and he was a married man. His wartime marriage was probably already floundering around the time of the visit to the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the attention of the press seemed firmly focussed elsewhere. Shortly after her 21st birthday, something was happening between Margaret and Peter Townsend but it coinciding with the worsening health of the King. King George VI died in the early hours of 6 February 1952, while Elizabeth was in Kenya. Margaret was devastated by the death of her father. She was unable to sleep and eat and was eventually prescribed sedatives. “There was an awful sense of being in a black hole (and) feeling tunnel-visioned…”3 Her sister now became Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1953, Margaret moved from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House. By then, it was said, she and Peter Townsend had been in love for two years and he proposed to her. Her sister was both kind and sympathetic but she did request Margaret to wait at least a year. Under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, the sovereign’s consent had to be given to any proposed royal marriage. If consent was refused, the only option was for the petitioner of at least 25 years of age to signify his or her intention of marrying. Thereafter, unless both Houses of Parliament raised any objections with 12 months, the marriage could legally take place. Peter Townsend had divorced his first wife in 1952 and The Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England – which forbade divorce – was unable to give a personal lead. For a while, Margaret believed that a way for them to be married could be found. As Margaret’s 25th birthday loomed, the press became more demanding. However, her birthday came and went without an announcement. On 31 October 1955, Margaret issued the following statement: “I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend. I have been aware that, subject to my renouncing my rights of succession, it might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage. 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. I have reached this decision entirely alone, and in doing so I have been strengthened by the unfailing support and devotion of Group Captain Townsend.”4
The supposed fairytale had come to an end.5
- Warwick, Christopher (2002), Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts p. 30
- Warwick, Christopher (2002), Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts p. 124
- Warwick, Christopher (2002), Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts p. 170
- Warwick, Christopher (2002), Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts p. 204
- Warwick, Christopher (2002), Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts (UK & US)