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Biographical entry Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (1930 - 2002)

Hon FRCS 1963.

21 August 1930
Glamis Castle, Scotland, UK
9 February 2002
London, UK
Member of the UK Royal Family


Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon was admitted as an Honorary Fellow of the College on 11 April 1963. She was born on 21 August 1930 in Glamis Castle in Scotland, and christened Margaret Rose. At the age of six her life changed dramatically when her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated in order to marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson and her father became King George VI. She then became second in line to the throne after her elder sister, Elizabeth. Both the princesses were educated at home by a governess. Margaret was not expected to undertake official duties until she reached the age of 18 although she did join her parents and sister on a state tour of South Africa in 1947 - her first trip abroad. During the tour Margaret was chaperoned by the King's equerry, Peter Townsend.

At the age of 18 Margaret "came out" and, a beautiful and vibrant woman, embarked on many official engagements. Her main interests were in welfare charities, music and ballet and she became president of organisations as diverse as the St John Ambulance Brigade, the Lowland Brigade Club, the NSPCC and the London Lighthouse. She also represented the Crown on various foreign tours including a highly successful trip to the Caribbean in 1955 during which calypsos were dedicated to her.

The King died in 1952 and Margaret was devastated by his death. Around this time she began a relationship with Group Captain Peter Townsend, who was 16 years older than her and by then divorced with two children. Just before the coronation he asked her to marry him and she accepted. The Queen asked them to wait a year by which time it was made known that parliamentary sanction would not be given and the only way the marriage could proceed would be if Margaret renounced her right of succession. In October 1955 she announced that she had decided not to marry Peter Townsend.

In 1960, Margaret married the photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones who was created the Earl of Snowden and they had two children, David born in 1961 and Sarah in 1964. For a while the couple's life epitomised the so called "swinging sixties", mixing with the famous and fashionable names of the day and both having a series of affairs. They divorced in May, 1978.

Her later years were beset by ill health exacerbated by heavy smoking and drinking. She suffered a series of strokes and died on 9 February 2002, aged 71. Her life, as one of her obituarists pointed out, was a contradiction between her unconventional tastes and behaviour and her "unquestioning assumption that her royal status commanded the utmost respect". The same writer summed up "verdicts on her life tended to divide between those accustomed to the ways of princesses and those unable to see the point of them".

Tina Craig

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Guardian at accessed on 31 January 2013 and various standard reference works.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England