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Princess Margaret: The Scandals of the Queen's Sister

Updated on September 11, 2014
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BritFlorida loves to track down historical stories, especially scandals and mysteries from the UK.

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Princess Margaret. Beautiful, unconventional and rather naughty

She was the Queen's younger sister and yet I imagine that there are many younger people today who don't even know that she ever existed.

To a great extent, she has largely been forgotten. And yet during the second half of the twentieth century she had film star looks and was the most scandalous royal, putting the antics of later princesses into the shade.

Margaret was a fun-loving person. She enjoyed her status as a member of the royal family but even from an early age, she rebelled against the conventions of royal life. As an adult, she was a party girl - a hard drinking chain smoker who loved to dance and lived the jet-set life.

She was the first royal of modern times to divorce and was scandalously involved with younger men, hippies and even gangsters. But was she ever happy?

It would be such a shame if this lively woman was forgotten.

When the world was 'scandalized' by the antics of younger royal princesses and their divorces, it was Margaret who had paved the way in less tolerant times. She had to renounce her first love and many people believe that it was impossible for her to find happiness because of it.

Read on - and let me know your opinion.


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The York family

Although she was born princess, Margaret Rose and her older sister Elizabeth never expected to be so prominent on the world's stage. They were the daughters of the Duke and Duchess of York.

The duke was the second son of the king and therefore, although he and his daughters were in line to the throne, the heir was the elder son, Edward.

The Yorks were a low-key family but this changed dramatically after the king died. Edward ascended to the throne but as we know, abdicated and suddenly, the Duke of York was the king. This meant that older sister Elizabeth was now heir to the throne, with Margaret Rose second in line.

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The second sister

When she was born, it's said that the nation was anxious that the baby should be a boy.

Because the throne passed through the male line in those days, had the baby been a boy, he would have ultimately become king.

Although the girls were four years apart in age, they grew up to be close and remained in London, growing up, during the Second World War.

In later years, when the Queen was discussing Prince William's public night club antics, she remarked "When my sister and I were young, our friends would have parties in their homes and we had a lot of fun. We didn't go to West End night clubs".

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First love - a married man

Just as Elizabeth fell in love with Philip when she was a young teenager, Margaret too had an infatuation - for a member of her father's staff, the equerry Peter Townsend.

He was an ex-RAF officer - a dashing man who had an exemplary record during the Second World War and had been decorated for bravery on several occasions.

As she grew older, it appeared that the adoration was mutual and Townsend proposed marriage.By now, he was divorced from his wife but, just as with Edward and Mrs Simpson, a divorced person wasn't seen as being a suitable partner.

She had to choose between him or her royal title. He lost.

Recommended

Queen's Sister, The
Queen's Sister, The

No film about real people can be strictly accurate because none of us know what went on behind closed doors but this is an excellent re-enactment of the life of the princess - starting in the fifties and taking us through the next twenty years.

We have superb acting and if the story is speculation at times, then it's been carefully considered. Fascinating.

 
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Marriage

Although Margaret was downhearted, she continued to party and became part of a rather bohemian set.

One of the people she met was an avant garde photographer called Anthony Armstrong Jones. In those days, royalty was expected to marry into the aristocracy, if not into another royal family, but Margaret loved the bohemian, unstructured life that Anthony Armstrong Jones represented.

She mixed and mingled with artists and musicians and partied to the full. Visiting his London flat incognito, she soon embarked on an affair which eventually culminated in the first televised royal wedding.

But despite the production of two children, the marriage was not to last.

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A failing marriage

With her film star looks, her position and her wealth, Margaret was more than capable of finding male companionship throughout her dying marriage.

A notorious affair was with the nephew of the prime minister, a jazz musician. The British press laid low though - in those days it was only the European press who would report such scandals. And Margaret had a bolt hole to which she could escape.

On her marriage, a wealthy landowner had given her land on his private and reporter-free Caribbean island,Mustique.

Here, she could be free with her lovers, secure in the knowledge that no photographers could access the private island.She made the most of this freedom but she was wrong about the press.

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Caught by the press

By the mid seventies, with her marriage almost at its end, Margaret had escaped to the island with her newest lover - a would-be pop singer who was seventeen years younger than her.

A newspaper photographer managed to get onto the island and the resultant photographs - of the couple drinking and frolicking on the beach - were splashed all over the British newspapers.

This photograph is rather hazy but it is unmistakably Margaret and her young lover. The press portrayed her as a man-eater who preyed on younger men (far from the truth, I suspect) but the publicity meant that her long-ailing marriage was over.

This was the first royal divorce of modern times.

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The gangster

This shows Margaret - again on her island - in the company of gangster and film actor, John Bindon.

Despite photographic evidence (there were many more) Margaret was adamant that she had never met him, let alone partied with him. And let alone had an affair with him.

But it was, as they say, common knowledge. Bindon was an entertaining character, an actor and a fine raconteur therefore just the type of person who would be attractive and interesting to the princess.

But he had been in jail, he allegedly ran protection rackets and later in the seventies was charged with (and acquitted of) murder.

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In later life

It's said that the drinking, smoking, partying (and allegedly drug taking) took its toll on the princess' health.

From the mid-eighties onwards she suffered ill health. She was seventy one when she died in 2002.

She never remarried. She had a great sense of duty and loyalty to her country and her sister, the Queen. And yet all she asked was to be allowed to enjoy herself from time to time away from the cameras.

Many have said that she could never have found true happiness after choosing to give up her first love.

I do hope that she is never forgotten and that history will look on her kindly.

Further reading

Princess Margaret
Princess Margaret

This book is full of fascinating little stories that are otherwise unknown about the lives of the two sisters and the life of Princess Margaret in particular. It grabbed me from the start when it explained that even at her birth, a government official had to be in attendance. With a start in life like that, I can understand later rebellion.

 

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    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Dressage Husband - thanks for the vote!

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 3 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      She was certainly the antithesis of all that her sister QE II tries to stand for. One wonders if Elizabeth may have been more of a rebel had her father not abdicated? I found this Hub interesting and voted accordingly.

    • evawrites1 profile image

      evawrites1 3 years ago

      Interesting story, I didn't know anything about Princess Margaret. I'm sure she was a woman of character with her own opinions.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Carol Houle: Yes, I loved that film!

    • Carol Houle profile image

      Carol Houle 3 years ago from Montreal

      I look forward to seeing The Queens Sister. Did you see The King's Speech? Margarette and Elizabeth are portrayed as little girls. I love period pieces. A very enjoyable lens.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @meggingmad: Thank you! No, I didn't know that about her being an excellent pianist. I've heard an old recording of her on the radio (I think it was on 'Desert Island Discs') where she was asked about her piano playing. I must look it up on Youtube.

    • meggingmad profile image

      meggingmad 3 years ago

      She was also dubbed "The house guest from Hell". She would "invite" herself to someone`s house, and send them an advance order of what she liked to eat and drink. Furthemore, if she liked a piece of furniture or an ornament, she would make it quite clear she did, and the poor host would be expected to make a gift of it. Her granny, Queen Mary was up to that trick too.However, you have to admire her "chutzpah".Finally....Did you know that she was a concert quality pianist? A musician friend of mine was invited to the palace as part of a musical evening. Margaret herself "did a turn". Her skill astonished my friend, who was himself a concert pianist.Yup...Margaret was quite a lady!BTW...Loved your lens.

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 3 years ago

      Princess Margaret was her own person, unwilling to be restrained by royal expectations. Thank you for the very interesting tidbits about the second sister.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @LSJ-88: Absolutely! Scandals abound way before Diana and Fergie :)

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Blonde Blythe: Thanks so much!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Donna Cook: Thank you! She was fascinating.

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      A very interesting and information lens. Was very interesting to read.

    • LSJ-88 profile image

      LSJ-88 3 years ago

      Very interesting! I know so little of the Royal family, except what has occurred in the last two decades or so. I think it is fascinating that she was surrounded by scandal, because so many people have this assumption that scandalous behavior is a "new thing."

    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 3 years ago

      Fascinating lens! I really enjoyed it! :)

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      Donna Cook 3 years ago

      Terrific lens! I'm a confirmed Anglophile and really enjoyed another look at the "second sister."

    • AnonymousC831 profile image

      AnonymousC831 3 years ago from Kentucky

      Very interesting lens, I enjoyed it. Congrats on LOTD.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      It was also said that she had a child before her marriage to Armstrong-Jones and that he was adopted in secret. I don't know whether or not that is true. Interesting lens. Found out some things I did not know about Princess Margaret.

    • yoursfoolie profile image

      yoursfoolie 3 years ago

      A sympathetic and insightful piece... Clearly our author is, as we say, sympatico! But then, that's a writer for you, and this story of Anne's life has an added value in that in some ways it mirrors those of all of us on this site:Gary Snyder relates a conversation he had with a mentor just at the point in his life at which he was committing fully to his calling in the litetary arts.His mentor (concerned, doubtless, for his well-being ~ haha!) did his best to talk him out of it As Gary walked off unconvinced, the mentor lobbed a parting shot."You know, poets have to play ~ a lot!" he called warningly...Princess Anne had an additional dimension of challenge: the spectre of the life led by dispossed nobility. I am directly descended from a dutchess, a world-published lyric poet, and have tested repeatedly at various points in my life into the 98th percentile of human intelligence. I've been homeless for the last seventeen months. Native refinement causes me to feel every humiliation and discomfort trebly, nor is it the pathway to favored treatment among more robust and less sensitive denizens of the street. I am currently nrecognizable as the creature who became homeless a year and a half ago.(I'll take this unexpected opportunity to inquire whether anyone out there has yard space they'd let me pay rent to pitch a tent on ~ will travel. Please contact direct at a ayaylee.aal@gmail.com. Sorry for the desparation that drove me to use a comment column for such a purpose.)Well, anyway: here's one reader in whom your lense clearly provoked a whole lot of emotion and association... Way to write!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @MarcellaCarlton: Thank you - she certainly had a fascinating life and I hope she's never forgotten.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @esmonaco: Thank you very much.

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      Danny Gibson 3 years ago from Northampton

      And here you go again, promoting all things Blighty. Is there anything I can do to stop you?!Interesting lens.

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      MarcellaCarlton 3 years ago

      Fabulous article about the second sister, Princess Margaret.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Always learning something new from you, very interesting well deserved purple star!!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Sir Daniel UK: I just promoted your splendid Watership Down review :)

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Merrci: Oh, that would be wonderful! The British Royal Family is fascinating - there are so many great stories going back years.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @anonymous: I was amazed too!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      So interesting. Congrats on the speedy purple star too! I'll have to check out your other lenses too.

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      That was the quickest purple star in history, not even ranked yet. Nice work! Thanks for sharing.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Brite-Ideas: I'm hoping to spread the word :)

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      very intriguing - I really didn't know much about her (until reading this!) - quite interesting

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Nancy Hardin: Thank you Nancy.I liked her too. Also I suspect that her life would have been very different with Peter. Evidently the British people were all for it but it was the establishment that got in the way. ('Hellion' is a great word!)

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      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I liked Princess Margaret, probably because I've always been pretty much a hellion myself. To me, her marriage to Peter Townsend should have been accepted, and I believe her life would have been quite different. But then, who knows... ? Another great review of a historical figure!