Saturday, 21 August 2010

80th Birthday of Her Royal Highness
The Princess Margaret Rose
Countess of Snowdon
1930 - 2002

When Princess Margaret Rose was born on 21st August 1930 at Glamis Castle in Perthshire, younger sister to Princess Elizabeth, (HM Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia) she was fourth in line of succession to the throne. Princess Margaret died in London on 9th February 2002. She was the younger daughter of The Duke and Duchess of York, later to become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother following the Abdication Crisis of 1936. Glamis was the Scottish home of her grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore.

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, because 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 Princess Margaret 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.

Pietro Annigoni's 1957 portrait of Princess Margaret.

In 1972 Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon visited Australia. 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 Margaret returned alone to Australia in 1975 to attend the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps 25th Anniversary. She had met Sir John Kerr and Lady Kerr and the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Mrs. Whitlam on 22nd October 1975. Eight days after she finished her tour the Whitlam government was dismissed by the Governor-General.

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. She appeared to make a good recovery, but was felled nine years later by a stroke. Again, she bounced back and seemed to be on the mend. 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 9th February 2002 with her son and daughter at her bedside. The funeral of Princess Margaret has been held at St George's Chapel, Windsor, on Friday 15th February at 3.00pm, 50 years to the day since the funeral of her father, King George VI. HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, was present although she was not in the best of health. The Queen Mother had been staying at Sandringham but travelled by helicopter to Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park on Thursday, 14th February. Seven weeks later The Queen Mother was to die at Royal Lodge, on March 30th 2002.
More on Princess Margaret's life.

The heirlooms that was put up for auction in June 2006 by the Princess' two children, Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Chatto had been estimated to fetch some £3 million but they raised £13,658,728. Lord Linley and Lady Sarah needed to meet death duties on their mother's estate.

The final tally for the auction exceeded all expectations, but more than £410,000 of that total went to charities like The Stroke Association and SOS Children's Villages. In 2006 Jon Barrick, Chief Executive of The Stroke Association said: "Any donation received from the auction will be added to The Stroke Association's Princess Margaret Fund which provides medical research into the condition that causes over 65,000 deaths each year and has left around 300,000 people living with moderate to severe disabilities." Another charity bonus came from the chain-smoking princess's gem-set cigarette case, inscribed: "To Margaret from her very devoted Papa GR Christmas 1949". It was expected to fetch upwards of £3,000. It went for £102,000.

On her 80th birthday Princess Margaret is missed by more people than the media let us believe. Even the German daily Frankfurter Neue Presse commemorated the late Princess Margaret.

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