If you’ve watched The Crown, you may get the idea that Princess Margaret was something of a black sheep in the royal family.
There was much more to Margaret than that, however. She was, to the institution, the spare to the heir. To the rest of the world, she was part raw magnetism, part enigma, and completely fascinating.
The Countess of Snowdon was thought to live in Queen Elizabeth‘s shadow. In recent years, it’s become clear that it was Margaret who naturally had all the makings of a leader. Elizabeth had to work hard to propel herself to her rightful place. Margaret, for her part, often found herself lessening her shine so as to not detract from her sister.
Many people don’t see Margaret beyond the scandals that marked her early life. She was the first royal in nearly a century to divorce. She lived unapologetically and was controversially critical of some of The Firm’s oldest traditions. Though Margaret wasn’t in the position to thrust the monarchy into modernity, she showed the world that not all royals are created equal.
Margaret wasn't supposed to be her first name.
Princess Margaret Rose was born on August 21, 1930, at Glamis Castle in Scotland. The family would affectionately refer to her as Margot throughout her life, but it wasn’t the name that the queen mother had initially wanted. In a letter to Queen Mary, the then-Duchess of York explained, “I am very anxious to call her Ann Margaret, as I think Ann of York sounds pretty, & Elizabeth and Ann go so well together.”
Grandpa King George V ultimately shot down the name, as he wasn’t a fan of Ann.
Her baptism was delayed due to superstition.
Margaret was baptized in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on October 30, 1930, by Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Margaret’s baptism had been delayed because she was set to be the 13th child baptized at that time in the parish records. The family was wary of the number and its significance, so they held off a few days.
There were rumors that Margaret was deaf and mute.
Despite the fact that Margaret was always pretty bright for her age, rumors circulated that she was deaf and mute. King George VI would often make jokes about the rumors to guests when Margaret came along, chatting up a storm. The rumors weren’t put to rest until her first public appearance at the age of 4, at her uncle’s wedding.
Margaret grew to resent her lack of education.
For the first few years of Elizabeth’s and Margaret’s lives, much wasn’t expected of them. Despite Queen Mary’s insistence on her granddaughters getting a formal education, their mother thought that they would be fine being educated by their governess, as she had been growing up. Both would resent their lack of education as they grew up.
Margaret was deeply involved in Girlguiding.
Margaret joined the Brownies at Buckingham Palace at just 7 years old. Brownies are the second youngest division of Girlguiding, the UK equivalent to the Girl Scouts. She rose through the ranks as she grew and continued her dedication for all of her life. She served as the president of Girlguiding UK from 1965 until her death in 2002.
Margaret got a reputation as being spoiled and bratty.
Margaret was one of the only members of the royal family who was not expected to take up duties when World War II broke out. She was just 9 years old. Critics of the family noted that King George VI would often let Margaret get away with a lot, such as staying up past dinnertime.
She started smoking at 15.
Many portrayals of Princess Margaret include her signature long cigarette. She was an avid smoker, beginning at the age of 15. She had a part of her left lung removed in 1985 at 55 years old, drawing parallels to her father’s demise. She continued smoking until 1991.
Margaret's teenage years terrorized the palace.
Margaret’s teenage years were far from warm and fuzzy. When she finally began taking on royal duties, she was regarded as having a bad attitude. She often had to be forced to make her appearances and didn’t hide her disdain for that.
She was only 17 when her affair with Peter Townsend began.
The controversy regarding Margaret and Peter Townsend largely revolved around him being a divorced man. It was often overlooked that Peter was 16 years older than Margaret. She was just 23 years old when he proposed to her.
Margaret's wedding was the first televised British royal wedding.
When Princess Margaret married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in May 1960, it caused quite a stir. The engagement was a surprise as Margaret had concealed the romance. Many still remembered the controversy around her first brush with engagement. It’s for all these reasons and the general glamour of a royal wedding that the broadcast attracted over 300 million viewers.
Margaret's second choice wasn't met with much approval either.
Although Margaret was allowed to marry Antony, he wasn’t popular in royal circles. Queen Elizabeth allowed the marriage, determined not to stand in the way of her sister’s love life for a second time. Royals were scandalized by rumors that Antony was bisexual. As a result, only one foreign royal, Queen Ingrid of Denmark, attended the wedding.
Margaret was not above lashing out at her friends.
Margaret’s charisma guaranteed she always had a group of friends around, but they weren’t particularly close. The reason? Margaret was quick to put people in their place.
“The princess’s party trick seems to have been to lull people into a false sense of security and camaraderie and then demolish them with regal, rank-pulling put-downs that are masterpieces of the art,” wrote Craig Brown in Ma’am Darling: Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret.
“Many of her circle only put up with her so that they could compare notes on her nastiness in the giggling aftermath of her tirades.”
Margaret was said to have some seriously steamy affairs.
Margaret and Antony were married from 1960 to 1978, but both had affairs during the marriage. Margaret was linked to Mick Jagger, Peter Sellers, David Niven, Warren Beatty, Anita Pallenberg, and Dusty Springfield. Arguably her most infamous alleged affair was with Robin Douglas-Home, the nephew of former British Prime Minister Alec Douglas-home.
Margaret and Antony's divorce was a royal scandal.
Margaret and Antony decided to part ways in 1976. The divorce made her the first member of the senior royal family to divorce since 1901. Antony remarried five months after the divorce was finalized in 1978.
Margaret burned most of her personal letters.
Margaret was one of the first royals to be truly exhausted and enraged by media interference in her life. After being hounded by the press for most of her life, she decided to burn a number of personal letters and photos in the later years of her life. She also burned things she thought would be detrimental to the family, including correspondence between Princess Diana and the queen mother.