Margaret - The Underestimated Princess
The commonly portrayed image of Princess Margaret as the glamorous, chain-smoking, rebel royal only partly encapsulates a more nuanced character whose talents and charitable work are often overlooked.
The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, or Margaret Windsor as she is sometimes known, was born in 1930 and spent her childhood between London and the Royal Lodge in Windsor. Following the outbreak of World War II, the sisters remained at Windsor Castle despite Winston Churchill’s recommendation for them to be evacuated. It was during this period of confinement that Margaret honed her talents for singing, acting and playing the piano. Margaret’s private tutor, Marion Crawford, recalled how the young princess possessed a striking imagination and creativity that came to the surface through her fantastical stories of talking cats and green horses.
Her love of the arts persisted throughout her life and she enjoyed the company of many of the 20th century's most prominent actors, artists and musicians. Pablo Picasso was so enamoured with Margaret that he planned for a proposal in Spanish, French or Latin to be presented to the princess on a red velvet cushion. His dream of her joining him at his newly acquired villa in Cannes never came to fruition but Margaret would go on to marry the celebrated photographer and filmmaker Antony Armstong-Jones in 1960. It was England’s first televised royal wedding, drawing an estimated 300 million viewers worldwide. Both strong personalities, their marriage was blighted by affairs and disharmony, eventually leading to divorce in 1978.
Although characterised as luxuriously idle by some, Princess Margaret was involved in the work of over 80 organisations and charities. She was president of the NSPCC, St John Ambulance Brigade and the Royal College of Nursing, but was perhaps most closely aligned with the Royal Ballet. In 1957, she became president as well as being made an Honorary Doctor of Music of London University. She played an instrumental role in setting up a fund for the celebrated ballerina, Margot Fonteyn, when she was struggling financially.
Princess Margaret also made many overseas visits including a tour of the United States in 1965. Relations between the UK and the US were strained owing to an £800 million deficit in payments and a lack of support for US involvement in the Vietnam War. However, there was no sign of any tension at a formal dinner when the president, Lyndon B. Johnson, raised a glass to Margaret declaring, “You have done your duty while in America. You have represented well the people that you serve with dignity and grace and spirit and joy.”
Margaret certainly played an important role in softening the stuffy image many people associated with the Royal Family. Despite accusations of her own financial extravagance, Margaret’s children both earn their own living and, like their mother, married non-royals. Despite sometimes being a source of conflict, maybe the combination of Margaret’s free-spiritedness and the Queen’s unwavering dedication did, in fact, prove to be the perfect formula.