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A Sister’s Love: Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret

Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret. Images from Wikimedia Commons

Born four and a half years apart, Queen Elizabeth II and her younger sister, Princess Margaret Rose, had the most enjoyable and blissful childhood, with doting parents and a family home that had given them a sense of normalcy, at least by royal standards. They were educated at home by tutors and despite a cosy life, they were closeted and sheltered. They took riding lessons, enjoyed card games, went to tea with cousins, and enjoyed family pillow-fights. All these would come to an abrupt end when the Duke of York became king in 1936. Royal biographer Harold Nicolson wrote that when 10- year-old Princess Elizabeth learned of their new fate, she hurried to the nursery to tell her younger sister. Princess Margaret, upon hearing the news, replied: "Does that mean that you will have to be that  you will have to be the next Queen?...Poor you.”

While Princess Elizabeth was prim and proper, Margaret had always been the less conventional and serious. While fewer responsibilities expected from her, she nonetheless remained deeply loyal to her older sister. The 17-year-old Margaret took it seriously when Elizabeth married in 1947. Margaret busied herself with royal duties. She was only 15 when she undertook her first solo engagement, opening a Save the Children play centre in London. When she turned 18, her “coming out” year, she undertook 50 engagements.

Princess Margaret’s free-spiritedness, however, did not sit well with her older sister. Her decision to marry the divorced commoner, Peter Townsend, surprised her family. She famously informed Elizabeth of this plan while she was preparing for her  coronation. Peter Townsend was an equerry at the Queen Mother’s household, and although the queen and the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother were fond of Townsend, (he was close to the late King George VI), the queen told her sister that she would have to wait for a year to marry Townsend. However, Queen Elizabeth II was constrained to follow the advice of the prime minister, Winston Churchill, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who both refused to allow the marriage to take place.

Heartbroken and shattered, the princess eventually married society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. They had two children but their marriage ended in divorce. She spent the rest of her life in an apartment in Kensington Palace or flew to her home in the Caribbean island of  Mustique. She never re-married (but have had a string of scandals, nevertheless), and instead spent her time taking royal duties or with the Queen and Queen Mother. Her high-speed lifestyle wore her off and when she died aged 71 in 2002, she was but a remnant of a former glamorous and envied princess of a bygone era. 

The former Cabinet minister Lord St. John of Fawsley, a long-time friend of Margaret, commented: “I never in all my life heard Princess Margaret say a harsh or critical word about the Queen. She was totally devoted to her and the Queen will miss her very much.”


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