February 9

Princess Margaret ( 1930 – 2002 )

 When Princess Margaret Rose was born on 21st August 1930 at Glamis Castle in Perthshire, she was fourth in line of succession to the throne.

Princess Margaret was the first royal baby in direct line to the throne to have been born in Scotland for 300 years. Her grandfather, King George V, was still very much alive, as was his eldest son, Margaret's Uncle David, destined to be King Edward VIII. Her father, King George VI was proud of his elder girl, but Margaret "brought delight into his life".

Though there were four years between them, the sisters were almost like twins – an exclusive and indissoluble team. But that rapidly began to change. At their father's coronation, Elizabeth had a train and Margaret did not.

Her first overseas engagement on behalf of her father, led her 1948 to the Netherlands, where she attended the proclamation of the new Dutch Queen Juliana. Male students from the local university were so smitten that they serenaded her from a boat on the canal beneath her hotel-room windows.

By 1948, her sister Elizabeth was not only a married woman but a mother, too. For the first time in her life, Margaret was like an only child, racketing around that great Palace at the end of the Mall, with no very obvious task and with no companion of roughly her own age. It seemed, she followed Time magazine's suggestion and became "the party animal she remained for most of her life".

She regularly danced the night away with the so-called Princess Margaret Set. She loved to sing at the piano in nightclubs, surrounded by laughing friends. During the day, she did her work, and generally did it well. Like others of her generation, she had a strongly developed sense of duty, though her official duties were not always glamorous or exciting.

Photographs from the time show an almost impossibly glamorous figure. Hats, bouquets, handbags are all apparently permanent fixtures, as is a wide seductive smile. Around her, elderly gentlemen, mayors and the like, dance attendance. All wear an expression of adulation and the Princess gives every indication of much enjoying centre-stage.

Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Minister for Health, noticed that every time she visited a hospital, recruitment of nurses – a particular problem for his new National Health Service – soared. He pressed her office with more invitations.

Then, just as she was spreading her wings, her life changed abruptly. The shy and stammering King George VI had not been in good health for some time, but his death on 6th February 1952, aged 56, was wholly unexpected.

The Earl of Snowdon’s engagement to Princess Margaret in February 1960 was a surprise, as some considered she was still on the "rebound" from her ill-fated relationship with Group Captain Peter Townsend. The couple married in May 1960 and, in the "swinging sixties", they mixed with actors, artists and pop stars. They were divorced in 1978.

Before their divorce Princess Margret and Lord Snowdon visited Australia in 1972. They arrived in Perth on 7th October 1972 and spent more than a week in Western Australia with trips to Kalgoorlie, Kamalda and Albany among other cities.

Princess Margret returned alone to Australia in 1975 to attend the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps 25th Anniversary. Eight days after she finished her tour the Whitlam government was dismissed by the Governor-General. She had met Sir John Kerr and Lady Kerr and the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Mrs. Whitlam on 22nd October 1975.

The older she became, the more the Princess seemed to attract disapproving comment. The Princess performed most of her official visits on her own. Whereas her sister was often accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Margaret cut an increasingly lonely-looking figure. Her once glamorous solitude had come to seem sad.

Early in 1985, she had a serious lung operation and was photographed looking drawn and wan. The Queen's children, meanwhile, were taking on more and more of her duties. When Prince Edward came of age, he took his place on the list of members of the Royal Family eligible to be Counsellors of State (those with powers to act on behalf of the Queen) – and Margaret was simply removed. Yet she had carried out this role for decades, and enjoyed it.

The rules could have been amended to let her continue, but the idea seems not to have been contemplated. Not for the first time, the Princess was underemployed and under-appreciated.

She who had once been the cynosure of the Royal Family – the cleverest, the most artistic and effervescent – was slipping inexorably towards the wings.

She eventually died in her sleep on February 9th, 2002, with her son and daughter at her bedside. The funeral was held at St George's Chapel, Windsor , where her father lay buried, and where her 101-year-old mother would join them both in a matter of weeks. 

[ This comment by Harold Schmauze first appeared on the Radical  Royalist blog on the seventh anniversary of the demise of Princess Margaret.]


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