Princess Margaret, 71, the younger sister of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, once adored as a fun-loving child in a fairy-tale castle but who led a romantically troubled and turbulent adult life, died Feb. 9 at a hospital in London after a stroke.
The queen announced Margaret's death "with great sadness," in a black-framed statement pinned to the gate of Buckingham Palace, where the flag flew at half-staff. Margaret died three days after Elizabeth marked her 50th year on the throne.
Margaret had had a series of strokes in recent years, and in 1999 suffered permanent injuries when she severely scalded her feet at her Caribbean villa. She was a heavy smoker, and doctors removed part of one of her lungs in 1985. In recent years, she had been in a wheelchair.
The last time she was seen in public was before Christmas for the 100th birthday party of Princess Alice, the Dowager Duchess of Gloucester. Margaret wore dark glasses, and her face was puffy.
The palace said Margaret had another stroke Friday afternoon, developed heart problems and was taken from her Kensington Palace home to King Edward VII Hospital. She died in her sleep four hours later with her children, Lord Linley, 40, and Lady Sarah Chatto, 37, at her side.
It was a dreary denouement for a woman who once was a heartbeat from the throne and who in youth had been celebrated throughout the English-speaking world for her talent and beauty and the glamour of her exalted social station. In the period between the world wars, royalty -- especially British royalty -- was revered and respected to a degree difficult to comprehend in these days of nonstop notoriety involving the royals.
Much of the planet owed allegiance to the British crown when Margaret Rose was born Aug. 21, 1930, at Scotland's Glamis Castle, legendary site of Macbeth's murder of King Duncan. It was the first royal birth in Scotland since Charles I in 1601, and bagpipers led jubilant torchlight processions through the countryside.
Four years and four months younger than her sister, Elizabeth, Margaret was viewed by the public as the prettier, more talented and spunkier of the two, and her father's pet. The girls called each other Lilibet and Margo and maintained a loving if frequently fractious relationship. When seen in public, however (which the royal children rarely were), they were the picture of demure innocence.
Whether romping on the royal estates or roaming the rooms of the family's palatial town house on London's Picadilly Circus, the girls were constantly attended by deferential servants and all but worshiped by many members of the public. Tourists and subjects lingered around the residence in hopes of catching a glimpse of the princesses being conveyed across Green Park to Buckingham Palace to visit their grandfather, King George V.
When George died in January 1936, their father's elder brother became King Edward VIII. He was only 41 and vigorous, so it didn't seem to much matter that he was unmarried and that their father stood next in line for the throne, and after him, Elizabeth. Life went on as before.
Less than a year later, everything changed abruptly. Edward was determined to marry Wallis Simpson. But as a twice-divorced American, she was considered unsuitable as a wife for a king, and the British government advised Edward not to marry her. On Dec. 11, 1936, the king went on the radio to tell his subjects that he could not bear the burdens of office "without the help and support of the woman I love," and abdicated.
Suddenly, the girls' father was King George VI, and Elizabeth became heir to the throne. As Margaret is said to have complained, "Now that Papa is king, I am nothing." From that day on, Elizabeth was groomed for the throne, deeply schooled in history and government and rigorously catechized in royal duties, demeanor and prerogatives. Margaret mainly was taught to sing and dance and play the piano.
With the British Empire sunk in the worldwide Great Depression and war clouds gathering, the royal family became even more the symbol of stability and continuity.
When World War II broke out in 1939, the girls did their patriotic part, going on radio and visiting schools and orphanages and anywhere else their appearance might boost morale. Their voices and images were transmitted to the ends of the Earth. They probably were the most popular children in the world, especially Elizabeth, who was preternaturally mature and graciously mindful of royal obligation. Margaret was made much of also but was acutely conscious that she carried nothing like the aura that surrounded the future queen. She also seems to have been imperfectly aware that there was a war on.
"Who is this Hitler, spoiling everything?" the 10-year-old is said to have demanded when the royal children were moved out of London at the beginning of the Blitz.
For more than a decade, Margaret remained second in line of succession, until Prince Charles was born in 1949, followed by his three siblings, and then their children, who left Margaret impossibly distanced from the throne. At her death, she ranked 11th in the line of royal succession.
Postwar Britain was exhausted, pinched and drab. Food and fuel rationing continued long after the victory, and the nation staggered under vast war debts. The future looked bleak, and many Britons looked to past glories. They were bloodied heroes, citizens of this island nation that had stood so long almost alone confronting the Nazis. Uncommon common soldiers, iron men in iron ships, cockney housewives who brushed off the Blitz and kept on keeping on. But when the smoke cleared, it gradually became apparent that Britain's empire was pulling apart and that it was becoming a second-rate power in a world dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union.
It was a relief and a delight for people to turn their eyes to the palace. The wooing and winning of Elizabeth by the dashing Prince Philip of Greece was a storybook romance followed by a dream wedding in 1947. The birth of Charles, a son and heir, gave reassurance that the royal line would continue and, by extension, that there would always be an England. Not yet queen, Elizabeth had already fulfilled a great dynastic duty, further increasing the nation's outpouring of affection.
Margaret, meanwhile, was growing up. From being the off-center of attention with her sister, she drifted toward the margins of public consciousness. Bright, musically talented, proud and willful, she was maturing into a marvelous beauty. She was just over five feet tall and perhaps 100 shapely pounds in her prime; when she focused her violet-blue eyes on a man, the effect was stunning.
One of those she stunned was Royal Air Force Group Capt. Peter Townsend, a hero of the Battle of Britain who served as an equerry, or aide, to the king. Active, intense and amiable, Townsend was a favorite of the royal household and is said to have embodied many of the personal qualities of Margaret's adored father. But Townsend was nearly twice her age when they met, 32 to 17, and he was married, with two young sons. Margaret apparently was the insistent initiator of the liaison, which continued discreetly for years.
George died of lung cancer at 56 in 1952, while his elder daughter was in Kenya on a tour of the Commonwealth. On the evening of Feb. 6, it was Princess Elizabeth who climbed up into Treetops, an elaborate arboreal official guest lodge from which wildlife could be observed at a nearby water hole. In the morning, it was Queen Elizabeth II who climbed down.
The high and mighty of the Earth marched behind George's coffin in a cold, steady rain, and it was obvious to all that the procession was a ceremonial leave-taking -- not just of a popular monarch but of the power and glory of imperial Britain.
After a suitable period of mourning, all eyes turned to Elizabeth, whose task was to metamorphose the monarchy into an institution appropriate to the modest realities of postwar Britain. She began by allowing her June 1953 coronation to be televised, against the advice of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who feared that it would cheapen the solemn enthronement, and over the objections of much of Britain's nobility. Elizabeth sensed that her essential function was public relations, the monarchy long since having been stripped of any but moral authority.
The pomp and circumstance were impressive, and the broadcast was a masterstroke; people in every time zone around the world rose early or stayed up late to watch the young queen, trembling but unfaltering under the symbolic and actual weight of crown and scepter. It inaugurated an era in which members of the royal family were expected to earn their keep by being useful as well as decorative, appearing here, there and everywhere, making little speeches, cutting ribbons, kissing babies, whatever it took.
The magnificent coronation ceremony was the making of Queen Elizabeth II, but it marked the beginning of the unraveling of her sister's life. During and after the ceremony, Margaret was seen to be showing proprietary fondness for Townsend, gazing at him with open affection, picking lint from his coat and generally making it obvious that they were more than just friends.
The British press in those days protected the royals, papering over their peccadilloes, but U.S. newspapers broke the story. Townsend was packed off to exile as air attache at the British Embassy in Brussels. Margaret became a renowned partier, creating a personal cafe set that astonished London with its revels. She began the constant smoking and heavy drinking of Famous Grouse Scotch that eventually undermined whatever genetic robustness she had inherited from her mother, Queen Mother Elizabeth, who celebrated her 101st birthday in August.
Depending on her whim, Margaret could be the life of the party or the death of it. In either case, people had to stay until she gave them leave to go, which might be toward sunup. She was insistent upon the deference due her royal status and adamantly unforgiving of slights, real or fancied.
In 1955, Margaret turned 25, at which age she would no longer need the queen's permission to marry, and she and Townsend openly resumed their relationship, which had continued surreptitiously during his exile. The Church of England thundered that no divorced person was permissible as a royal spouse; Parliament threatened to cut off Margaret's allowance; the cabinet threatened to resign; and the palace announced that, if the marriage took place, Margaret would become plain Mrs. Peter Townsend, with no title, no perks, no royal status whatsoever.
Margaret dithered, but at the end of October, she went on the radio to announce that, "mindful of the church's teachings," she was renouncing Townsend. They did not see each other again until summer 1993, when Townsend, then 78, was invited to lunch at Kensington Palace. He died in 1995.
In 1960, on the same day she received a note from Townsend announcing his intention to marry a 20-year-old Frenchwoman, Margaret accepted the marriage proposal of Anthony Armstrong-Jones, a fashion and portrait photographer. A commoner, he was created Earl of Snowdon on the eve of their wedding at Westminster Abbey. Their marriage was an unhappy one and ended in divorce in 1978. It marked another first for Margaret: the first divorce in the immediate family of a British monarch since 1533, when Henry VIII put away Catherine of Aragon in favor of Anne Boleyn.
It's an intriguing oddity that Snowdon and Margaret's children have had stable marriages and productive lives (Linley is a leading furniture designer, and Chatto is a successful painter), while the queen (whose own marriage has always been rock solid) has endured the divorce of three of her four children, and many of their activities became endless Fleet Street fodder. Snowdon said in a statement that he and his children were "extremely saddened" by Margaret's death.
Following her divorce, Margaret largely faded from public notice, except for occasional items concerning possible romantic liaisons, including those with a prime minister's son and actor Peter Sellers. Her most widely reported public dalliance, in England and at her Mustique island retreat, was with landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn in the early 1970s. She was 42, he was 25, and she was by all accounts besotted with him.
Margaret's hedonistic existence was punctuated by periods of depression, along with chronic illnesses. Her ready wit was often viciously employed, and her manners at times ranged from rude to crude. At formal dinners, she would smoke not only between but during courses, stubbing out cigarettes in her plate and sometimes repairing her makeup at the table.
With her intelligence, talent, wealth and prestige, Margaret probably could have been successful in any undertaking she chose. She chose to party, by all accounts loving the arts, opera, theater and dance. She loved nightclubs and exclusive restaurants.
Jazz great Louis Armstrong, after discussing music with Margaret, remarked to British reporters, "Your Princess Margaret is one hip chick."
Charles paid tribute to his "darling aunt," the Reuters news agency reported. "My aunt was one of those remarkable people who, apart from being incredibly vital and attractive . . . had such incredible talent," he said from the royal estate at Sandringham in eastern England, where he was consoling the queen mother, who is recovering from a persistent cold. The queen was at Windsor Castle, 12 miles outside London, where she had traveled Friday from Sandringham.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, upon learning of Margaret's death, told reporters: "The whole country will be deeply saddened. She will be remembered with a lot of affection."