Princess Margaret Rose was born in 1930, the younger daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York who were destined by the twist of fate that was King Edward VIII's abdication to become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. As the younger sister of the steadfast future queen, Princess Elizabeth, Margaret was bound to be saddled with the stereotypical opposite characterization. As it happened, she was particularly well suited for it. Elizabeth was careful; Margaret came prepared to charm her way out of any punishment that might dare come her way. Elizabeth was dutiful, but Margaret was vivacious, and this naturally caught the attention of the British public. Her style in particular was trendsetting right from the beginning. She loved fashion and cared about the image she presented to the world, and girls watched and copied. She's even credited with helping usher Dior's full-skirted New Look into Britain.
|L to R: Margaret and Townsend, Margaret around the time she announced their relationship was over, and Margaret and Armstrong-Jones engaged and married|
But what goes up must come down, and Margaret began to experience backlash from her fabulous heyday. A new crop of young royals popped up with a new round of exploits, and Margaret's antics began to be seen in a particularly frivolous light. Her marriage collapsed around her, ending in a bitter split and divorce in 1978. She appeared to be carrying on with a man 17 years her junior, Roddy Llewellyn. Her frequent vacations to her home in Mustique began to be seen as intolerable excess, particularly when compared with her sister's sensible Balmoral holidays. She dropped from one of the most popular royals in the family to one of the least.
For all her partying and scandals - definitely a mark of the new royal world - she clung to the some of the formality of the royal world of her youth, insisting even friends call her Ma'am, which seemed hopelessly out of touch in her last decades. She also, it seems, clung to the idea that she was above others and beyond reproach. It's a notion that makes it easy to drudge up hypocritical examples from the Margaret archives, like the time she wrote a scathing letter reprimanding the Duchess of York for daring to send her flowers when she hadn't even apologized for the scandal her behavior and her divorce had brought on the family. Rich indeed, coming from a woman whose love life had provided headline gold for decades.
In the end, all that fabulousness turned right around and swallowed her whole. The years of hard partying, drinking and smoking did exactly what it does, and she spent the last part of her life struggling with health issues. Princess Margaret died on February 9, 2002, after the last of a series of devastating strokes. Her last public appearances bore almost no resemblance to her stylish, elegant, and stunningly beautiful youth, a fact which makes it ever more appropriate to honor her by remembering when she was at her most fabulous.