The Icon – Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon

Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon, remains one of the most enigmatic and captivating figures in the annals of British royal history.

Born amidst the grandeur of Glamis Castle in Scotland, she was not only the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II but also a symbol of a changing monarchy in the 20th century. As the first royal to be born in Scotland in over three centuries, her life was destined to be anything but ordinary.

From the unexpected abdication crisis of King Edward VIII that thrust her family into the limelight, to her own personal romances that captured the world’s attention, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon’s life was a tapestry of duty, controversy, and passion.

This article delves deep into the life of this remarkable royal, shedding light on her significance within the British Royal Family and her enduring legacy in the public’s imagination.

Early Life and Background

Birth and Ancestry

Princess Margaret Rose Windsor was born on 21 August 1930 at the historic Glamis Castle in Scotland to George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. She was the second child to the royal couple with her oldest sister Elizabeth who would later become Queen.

Just Who Was Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon?
Margaret (front) with her grandmother Mary and sister Elizabeth, May 1939. | Image: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This birthplace held significance not just for its ancestral ties to the Bowes-Lyon family, but also because she was the first member of the royal family to be born in Scotland in over 300 years.

This unique distinction set her apart from the outset, marking her as a royal with deep ties to both English and Scottish heritage.

Education and Early Interests

Educated alongside her elder sister, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), Margaret’s early years were shaped by private tutors and a curriculum tailored for royals.

Beyond her formal education, Margaret displayed a genuine passion for the arts from a young age. Particularly, she was enamoured with music, showcasing a talent for playing the piano.

Ballet, too, held a special place in her heart, and she was often seen attending performances, further cementing her love for the art form.

Her early years weren’t just about education and interests. The abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, in 1936 brought about a seismic shift in her life.

Her father, initially the Duke of York, was suddenly thrust onto the throne as King George VI, altering the trajectory of young Margaret’s life and placing her at the centre of royal duties and expectations.

Ascension to Prominence

King Edward VIII’s Abdication

1936 was a tumultuous year for the British monarchy. King Edward VIII, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon’s uncle, made the unprecedented decision to abdicate the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée.

This abdication sent shockwaves throughout the nation and the Commonwealth. Suddenly, Margaret’s father, initially known as the Duke of York, found himself ascending to the throne as King George VI.

This unexpected turn of events thrust the young princess and her family into the limelight, placing them at the very heart of British public life.

The weight of this new responsibility, coupled with the public’s insatiable curiosity, meant that Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon’s every move was now under intense scrutiny.

Role During WWII

The onset of the Second World War in 1939 brought further challenges for the young princess.

As London faced the threat of bombings, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon and her sister, Princess Elizabeth, were relocated to Windsor Castle for safety.

Just Who Was Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon?
Elizabeth and Margaret performing at Windsor Castle in a 1943 production of the pantomime Aladdin. Image: National Media Museum from the UK, Public Domain.

Throughout the war, the two princesses remained largely shielded from the direct impact of the conflict. However, they weren’t entirely isolated from the nation’s collective experience.

They made public appearances, participated in broadcasts, and even contributed to the war effort in their own ways.

These formative years played a crucial role in shaping Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon’s understanding of duty, resilience, and the unbreakable bond between the monarchy and the British people.

Personal Relationships and Controversies

Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon Relationship with Peter Townsend

One of the most talked-about aspects of Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon’s life was her relationship with Group Captain Peter Townsend. A decorated war hero, Townsend was a trusted equerry in the royal household.

Just Who Was Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon?
Flight Lieutenant Peter Townsend in 1940. Image: Daventry B J (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer, Public Domain.

Their romance, which blossomed in the early 1950s, was the subject of much public speculation. The crux of the controversy lay in the fact that Townsend was a divorced man. At the time, the Church of England, of which the monarch is the Supreme Governor, prohibited the remarriage of divorced persons if their former spouses were still alive.

This posed a significant dilemma for Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon, who had to choose between her royal duties and personal happiness. Despite their deep affection for each other, the societal norms and religious constraints of the era proved insurmountable.

The relationship ended, leaving a lasting impact on the princess’s personal life and public image. Following the end of his relationship with Princess Margaret, Peter Townsend moved on to find love again. He married Marie-Luce Jamagne, a Belgian heiress, in 1959. Their marriage, while less publicized than Townsend’s relationship with Princess Margaret, was marked by genuine affection and commitment. Marie-Luce Jamagne, with her grace and charm, played a significant role in Townsend’s life after his royal romance.

Marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones

In the latter part of the 1950s, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon’s life took another romantic turn when she met Antony Armstrong-Jones, a talented photographer with a flair for capturing the essence of his subjects.

Their courtship was kept relatively private, but in 1960, the world watched as they exchanged vows in a grand ceremony at Westminster Abbey. This wedding was notable for being the first royal wedding to be televised, drawing millions of viewers from around the globe.

The couple had two children:

  1. David Armstrong-Jones, 2nd Earl of Snowdon: He is the first child of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones. David was born on November 3, 1961.
  2. Lady Sarah Chatto: She is the second child of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones. Lady Sarah was born on May 1, 1964.

By the late 1970s, rumours of infidelities and disagreements became more frequent. In 1978, the couple took the difficult decision to divorce, marking the first royal divorce since King Henry VIII’s era.

Public Life and Contributions

Fashion and Social Scene

Just Who Was Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon?
Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon in 1965. Image: Jack de Nijs for Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

Princess Margaret’s presence in the 1950s and 1960s was not just felt within the confines of the palace, but also on the bustling streets of London’s high society.

Known for her impeccable fashion sense, she quickly became a style icon of her era. Her outfits, often a blend of traditional royal attire with contemporary designs, were frequently featured in fashion magazines, setting trends and inspiring a generation.

Beyond fashion, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon was a regular fixture at London’s most elite social events, from theatre premieres to glamorous parties. Her association with artists, musicians, and intellectuals made her a central figure in London’s vibrant arts scene.

Charitable Work and Associations

Beyond the glitz and glamour, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon was deeply committed to charitable causes and welfare work. Throughout her life, she was associated with over 80 organisations, ranging from children’s charities to ballet companies.

Her dedication was evident in her hands-on approach; she didn’t just lend her name to these organisations but actively participated in their events, fundraisers, and initiatives.

One of her most notable associations was with the Royal Ballet, reflecting her lifelong passion for dance. Her contributions to the arts and welfare sectors left an indelible mark, showcasing a side of the princess that went beyond the headlines and controversies.

Later Life and Legacy

Health Challenges

As the years advanced, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon faced a series of health challenges that took a toll on her vibrant spirit.

Known for her love of socialising and her vivacious nature, the princess’s health issues, including respiratory problems attributed to her smoking, began to limit her public appearances.

By the late 1990s, she had suffered several strokes, which further impacted her mobility and overall well-being. Despite these setbacks, her resilience and determination remained evident, as she continued to fulfil her royal duties to the best of her ability.

However, on 9 February 2002, the princess’s health deteriorated rapidly following another stroke, leading to cardiac complications. She passed away at the age of 71, marking the end of an era for the British Royal Family.

Legacy and Cultural Impact

Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon’s legacy is multifaceted, reflecting the complexities of her life. While she is often remembered for her controversies and her spirited nature, her contributions to the arts, her charitable endeavours, and her unwavering commitment to her royal duties are equally noteworthy.

In recent years, her life has been portrayed in popular media, most notably in the television series “The Crown”, which offers a dramatised account of her life and the challenges she faced.

Such portrayals have reignited interest in the princess, introducing her to a new generation and ensuring that her legacy continues to be discussed and debated.

As history reflects on Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon, she emerges not just as a royal but as a woman who lived her life with passion, faced challenges head-on, and left an indelible mark on the British monarchy.

Conclusion

Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon, was undeniably one of the most intriguing figures of the British Royal Family in the 20th century.

Her life, marked by both privilege and scrutiny, was a testament to the changing dynamics of royalty in the modern era.

From her birth in the historic Glamis Castle to her prominent role in the arts and social scenes of London, she navigated the complexities of her royal status with a blend of grace and defiance.

Her personal relationships, especially her romance with Peter Townsend and her marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones, were emblematic of the societal shifts and challenges of her time. Yet, beyond the headlines and controversies, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon’s dedication to charitable causes and her unwavering commitment to her royal duties showcased a side of her that was often overshadowed by the media’s portrayal.

As we reflect on her life and legacy, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon emerges as a multifaceted figure — a royal who embraced both tradition and change, faced challenges with resilience, and left an enduring impact on the British monarchy and the world at large.

References

While this section provides a list of sources and citations, for the purpose of this exercise, I’ll provide a mock list to demonstrate the format.

In a real-world scenario, this section would contain actual references used to gather information for the article.

  1. Aronson, T. (1997). Margaret: A biography of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. London: Cassell.
  2. Warwick, C. (1985). Princess Margaret: A Life in Contrast. London: Michael O’Mara Books.
  3. The Royal Family’s Official Website. Biography of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon.
  4. BBC History. Articles and documentaries on the life and times of Princess Margaret.
  5. Lacey, R. (2002). Royal: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. London: Little, Brown.
  6. The Guardian Archives. Various articles on Princess Margaret’s public appearances, charitable work, and personal life.

Feature Image: Eric Koch for Anefo, CC0.

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