The trials and triumphs of a royal career girl
As the Queen's spinster sister, Margaret plays her unique role on the world stage. How does she view her job? What's the truth about her romances? Here’s a searching look at the Princess we’ll see this summer
Before five o’clock on the morning of February 7, 1955, the oblique rays of the early sun had already begun to wash the Caribbean island of Grenada in a rosy promise of mildewed heat. Along a dusty road at a comfortable remove from the activity that would convulse the island as the day advanced Mrs. Agatha Nevis moved purposefully about an unpainted, one - room shanty, her ebony face moist with the effort of feeding her six children, ages one to ten, and dressing them in their best clothes and brightest hair ribbons.
At five-forty-five, with two babies in her arms and the rest of her brood white-eyed with excitement in tense formation behind her, Mrs. Nevis boarded a bus for the painted, decorated main street of St. George's, the capital. More than five hours later, when a great crowd had gathered, when the temperature had reached one hundred degrees in the shade, Mrs. Nevis got what she had come for.
triumphs of a royal career girl
BY MARJORIE EARL
The object of her vigil was Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, who was then touring the islands of the Caribbean and who will this year sit Canada to attend the British Columbia Centennial celebrations in Vancouver.
When the princess finally appeared Mrs. Nevis strained forward, her eyes devouring the details of the princess’s dainty person; the modish flow'ered hat, the tiny high-heeled shoes, the flashing smile, the big blue eyes, the flushed pink-andwhite complexion and the silk dress, like iced champagne, that so admirably displayed an excellent, if too-small, figure.
In a few minutes it w;as over but Mrs. Nevis was well satisfied with her morning’s exertions. ‘The princess she real nice girl and five feet of beauty,” she said with just a shade of condescension in her voice at the words “five feet.” (Princess Margaret is actually five feet three.)
Mrs. Nevis had perhaps taken more trouble than is average to see “the little dolly princess”
as West Indians called Margaret. But not much more. To glimpse the complex, highly publicized figure of the Queen’s younger sister women— and men too—will endure almost any discomfort and submit to almost any indignity. Later on the same tour, for example, tourists in Nassau were offering over two thousand dollars for an invitation to dine with her, and five hundred for a chance to sit in church with hcr. One woman even attempted to bribe the dean of Christ Church in Nassau with the promise of a new altar cloth.
There arc several reasons why Princess Margaret excites as much or more interest than her elder sister. In the first place, she is a public figure moving in a formal and highly conventional society, who is at the same time that natural enemy of conventional society, that perpetual object of inquisitive speculation, the single woman.
In the second, she is a prisoner of tradition, ceremonial and public opinion, who has made
several futile attempts to escape and in her recent renunciation of a divorced suitor, Group Captain Peter Townsend, one that held elements of tragedy.
But above all, she is a figure from another world, as much a fairy tale as a fairy princess. On the one hand her life is so secret and so far removed from ordinary experience as to be almost mystical. On the other it is so pitilessly public that everyone can share it and take satisfaction from it.
The “peering and the prying” and the “outpourings of school-girl gossip writing,” as a London paper described the unrelenting scrutiny to which Princess Margaret has been subjected, is clearly reflected in a selection of headlines covering the past ten years of her life.
THE PRINCESS DANCES TILL DAWN. MARGARET SEES A NEW CABARET. SHE TASTES SNAILS, PRINCESS SHOULD SET BETTER EXAMPLE continued on page 45
job? Wliat’s the truth about her romances? Here’s a searching look at the Princess we’ll see this summer
The trials and triumphs of a royal career girl
Continued from page 19
FOR TEEN-AGERS, PRINCESS MARGARET SENSATION (one of twentyeight rumored engagements), THE PRINCESS AND THE CHAMPAGNE CIRCUIT (she hates champagne and never drinks it), PRINCESS DANCES CANCAN (“So decorous it might have been presented as a tableau vivant by Queen Victoria for her grandchildren,” commented one man who saw it), PRINCESS WEARS STRAPLESS GOWN, PRINCESS TO BECOME NUN, A TRUE AND DEEP AFFECTION (the first intimation of her critical love affair with Townsend), STILL IN LOVE WITH MAN WHO WAS BANISHED, DOES MARGARET SMOKE CHEROOTS? THE ROMANCE IS OFF.
It is obvious from the headlines that Margaret is a great many things to a great many people. Public figures can enhance their reputations for righteousness or liberality by condemning or defending her. Gossip columnists can capture readers by discussing her problems and offering pompous advice. Fashion experts can make sales by praising or criticizing her clothes. Shows can stay open because she sees them. (“We reckon that Princess Margaret’s three visits sent business up by eight hundred pounds a week,” says the manager of the theatre where Guys and Dolls played.) Young girls can vicariously enjoy her pleasures and thwarted wives her pain.
But the steady diet of sugared lies, palatable generalities and overcooked guesses served up around Princess Margaret has failed to produce a balanced portrait. So, apparently, has artist Pietro Annigoni, judging from the flood of violently conflicting opinion that engulfed his painting of the princess, exhibited in Jan uary.
Annigoni’s princess, which suffered severe strictures from art critics as well as from the public, nevertheless found powerful supporters close to the princess, who recognized in it an interpretation of her character generally ignored by writers. The expression on her face is aloof, inscrutable and totally unlike the Princess of popular legend. But Margaret herself evidently likes it for she ordered it placed on public exhibition.
Four years ago Annigoni was the darling of critics and public alike because of his serene portrait of the Queen. "It is obvious Annigoni found the Queen a straight, simple person to paint,” commented a member of the royal household.
“I painted her (the princess) as a woman of mystery, not completely understood by anyone,” Annigoni says.
The subject of the painting is a woman of moods and contrasts, an enigma even to some of her friends. She loves the country and she loves the city. She is deeply religious and indefatigably gay. She likes attention and is capable of deliberately creating a sensation. But she is also happy to retire into herself seeing no one but her family. She loves fashionable clothes but is content in gum boots and a duffel coat. She has limited stamina but enormous vitality. She has a warmth and
“Noel Coward said she could have earned a living as an actress» Her caricatures are hilarious”
charm, but she can discard it easily in favor of a chilling hauteur.
“She’s terribly difficult to talk to. She doesn’t say anything back, you know,” says one young man who has recently been in her company. “It’s hard being her partner,” says another. “When she dances she doesn’t falter for an instant and she talks so amusingly.”
Thousands of words have been spent in praise of Princess Margaret’s wit but it is difficult to find an authentic illustration of it. The most frequently repeated of her alleged witticisms is the following, quoted from a book on the royal family:
“ ‘Behave yourself,’ whispered Elizabeth sternly. Whereupon Margaret made her famous retort, ‘You look after your Empire and I’ll look after my life.’” Commander Richard Colville, the Queen’s press secretary, says that nearly all, if not all the bright remarks Princess Margaret is supposed to have made are pure invention.
This is not to say that Margaret is not witty. Certainly, she is talented. “She is a prolific and joyous letter writer,” says John Gordon, editor of the I ondon Sunday Express. “Indeed, as a writer, pouring out comments on people and events, I put her in a higher class than most women journalists. As a columnist she would have won outstanding success, if I may judge from the many letters 1 have seen.” Noel Coward once said she could have earned her living as an actress. She has loved the theatre since childhood. She sings well in a tone that is surprisingly deep and flexible.
Her talent for mimicry is sometimes a little too sharp for comfort but her friends insist that her caricatures can be hilarious. Inclined on occasion to be slightly pompous herself, she dislikes pomposity in others. Two years ago when she was touring East Africa she neatly deflated the sycophants attending an evening reception for her. Although the heat was suffocating, short evening dresses and dinner jackets had been banned because the word was that Her Highness would be wearing a long dress. At the last minute Margaret made a quick switch. She soared coolly in on the assembly, choking in their prisons of starch, whalebone and kid, wearing a short evening dress and no gloves.
The rigors of a royal tour tire her and she is an easy victim of colds, chills and gastric nervousness. But she is not without stamina and even physical daring.
She was once thrown three times, heavily, before she succeeded in making an illnatured horse take a tricky jump. Her endurance on a dance floor, however, seems to he limitless, provided of course she isn’t bored.
But if Margaret stays up late on Saturday night she still rises on Sunday to go to church and often she goes to early Communion during the week. Although she is not an intellectual or a speculative thinker, she takes her religion seriously and has studied it earnestly. “Some people might think Princess Margaret is a bit flighty,” says the Rev. Peter Gillingham, a Queen’s Honorary Chaplain at Sandringham. “It’s true she likes parties and clothes but you should not accept all you read about her. She has a very serious side to her nature.”
One aspect of her seriousness is the almost mystic fascination ordinary people hold for her. She is as curious for details of how they live as they are for details about her. In May last year she attempt-
ed to feed this curiosity when she visited a new housing estate outside London. She lunched humbly with the local vicar and his wife, then later, while visiting a typical home, she instructed her equerry to make other arrangements for a surprise visit. “Forgive me for barging in on you like this,” she apologized to the astonished occupants, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Millard, “but 1 wanted to visit a family that had not been warned to expect me.”
Although she could not be ordinary if she tried, she sometimes rebels against the restrictions that prevent her from doing what ordinary people do. In 1949, for example, she went to Italy on what her father innocently described as a “quiet, educational holiday.” Excited crowds and persistent photographers mobbed and hounded her from the beginning of the trip until its end, preventing her from doing any of the things tourists normally do. Recently she walked down London’s Charing Cross Road on a weekday afternoon with some friends. Before she had gone five blocks she was stopping traffic. On another recent occasion she took a regular passenger train from Scotland to London. The confusion that resulted when station officials barred the friends and relatives of other passengers from the platform drew a sharp rebuke from Princess Margaret. But it put an end to her “ordinary” excursions. She now walks her dogs in Green Park, near Clarence House, but there has been some public discussion about whether or not, in the interests of her personal safety, this should be permitted.
Princess Margaret undoubtedly felt the restrictions of her position most keenly during the two-and-a-half-ycar period when she considered giving up her royal prerogatives to marry palace equerry Group Captain Peter Townsend, a di-
The cairn was a con
voiced man fifteen years her senior. But, if at times she longed to escape the restrictions, in the end she chose to bow to them and to remain what she inescapably is, a royal princess and a woman apart.
The Townsend crisis, as it is usually called in England, is significant in rctrosiect for two reasons: first because of the light it throws on an essential element of Princess Margaret’s character and on the character of the monarchy itself and. second, because it marks a point of departure in the relationship between the royal family and the public.
In the past it has never been easy for the public, through the popular press, to get reliable information about the private lives of the royal family. Since the Townsend crisis, it has been even less easy. Soon it is quite liable to be virtually impossible. The Duke of Edinburgh said recently, "The more one is quoted and reported the less one is inclined to leave to chance both what one says and what one does in public and the more jealous one becomes of one’s private life. The result, of course, is very dull for newsipapermen.” A further indication that the future will be dull lor newspapermen ¡s a recent complaint from Buckingham •aluce to the British Press Council that die private lives of members of the IO al family are being increasingly dis, pted by certain sections of the press.”
I he most glaring disruption occurred, of course, after the disclosure of Princess Margaret’s partiality for Peter Townsend. The publicity about this attachment began with a clamor in the British press
ruptions, for two and a hall years and ended in October 1955 in a climax of controversy between rival newspapers and dissident clergy that muddied the mitres of the Established Church and shook the monarchy itself.
Ihe heights of sentimental fantasy which were scaled in between these two dates more than justify the London Sunday Observer’s comment about Princess Margaret. "The press treatment of this girl is probably the least accurate branch of contemporary journalism.” One writer, for example, says that he bolstered his "engagement” story by inventing a cairn of rocks which the lovers had allegedly erected in Scotland to plight their troth. A few weeks later he wats astonished to see. in another magazine, a picture of this mythical cairn.
Detailed accounts of Princess Margaret's crucial twenty-fifth birthday party including a tea. a ball and a midnight barbecue and even giving the guest list appeared in most newspapers and were broadcast by the BBC. But the party never took place. "The royal family dined alone and spent the evening quietly,” said a mystified palace press secretary. "They retired early. There was no barbecue, no ball, no party and no celebration.”
Princess Margaret’s birthday of August 21. 1955, had a special significance. She was then twenty-five and could, under ihe terms of the Royal Marriages Act, marry without the queen’s consent. Prior to that date her marriage to Townsend was impossible because the Queen, as head of the Established Church, which prohibits the remarriage of divorced persons, could not consent to it. Convinced that Margaret, at twenty-five, would give notice that she intended to marry Townsend without royal consent, the newspapers whipped the public into such a frenzy of curiosity that ten thousand people in seven hundred cars and sixty
buses overran the minute Scottish village of Crathie, near Balmoral Castle, to watch the royal family come and go from Sunday morning service.
Now that the smoke has cleared and the missing links have been found, the procession of events leading up to Princess Margaret’s renunciation of Townsend can be seen clearly and judged dispassionately.
In February 1952, the King died. Princess Margaret, sorely grieved by this event because she was deeply attached to her father, was left much in rtie company
of Townsend, a war hero and an attractive man whom she had always admired and respected and who had been a member of her family circle since she was fourteen.
In the summer of 1952 Townsend sued his wife for divorce and in December of that year the divorce became final.
In February 1953 Jane Armstrong, a Canadian who is London correspondent of the Toronto Telegram, made the initial disclosure of this romance. It was not, as is commonly supposed, made at the time of the Coronation by French and Ameri-
can newspapers. Throughout the controversy that followed. Miss Armstrong, who has lived in England for many years and understands the monarchy better than most writers, stoutly maintained that Princess Margaret and Townsend would never marry. Pressed by her publisher to give a reason she said: “She cannot do it. She is too much of a conformist. It is simply impossible.”
In April 1953, a crucial link in the chain was forged by Townsend himself but until now this link had been missing. It was supplied by the Dean of Windsor,
the Rt. Rev. Eric Knightlcy Chetwode Hamilton, when he recently divulged to friends that at Easter, 1953, Townsend called on him as a parishioner and a friend to confess that he loved Princess Margaret and that she loved him and to ask for help and counsel. The dean says he told Townsend that he could offer neither and that marriage between them was “quite impossible.” He added that Townsend, as a servant of the royal family, occupying a position of trust, could not make such a declaration to Princess Margaret. The dean also says that he communicated Townsend’s confession to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In May 1953 Townsend’s appointment as comptroller of the Queen Mother’s household (in spite of his divorce) was announced in the London Gazette and Townsend was to accompany the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret on their trip to Rhodesia after the Coronation.
In July 1953, at the last moment, Townsend was replaced by Lord Plunkct, another equerry, and a few days later, amid a deafening official silence, he was banished to Brussels to become the air attache at the British Embassy. “The situation had become impossible, especially for her,” he said before his departure.
In the interval between the autumn of 1953 and the spring of 1955 the roar about Margaret and Townsend decreased in volume only to start with new' vigor three days after she returned from her first solo Commonwealth tour to the Caribbean in March. It reached a minor crescendo at her twenty-fifth birthday in August and a major one during the last eighteen days of October when Townsend was home on leave and she saw him daily, presumably to test the strength of
her feelings after a two-year separation.
During this time the Privy Council was alerted, there were meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the Queen, the prime minister and the cabinet. One day the attorney - general was hurriedly summoned from a courtroom at the Old Bailey. In the end Princess Margaret herself ended the fury as she alone had the power to do.
She had consulted no one. She had discussed her feelings for Townsend with no one. Even the Queen did not know what she intended to do. “Absolutely no pressure w'as put on her,” said a member of the royal household. "Until the last minute everybody at the palace was in an absolute frenzy preparing to deal with the constitutional issues involved if she decided to marry him.”
A mystery to church and state
Princess Margaret’s statement, issued on October 3 1 and written for her by Captain Oliver Dawnay, was a hurried last-minute solution to what had remained throughout as much a mystery to Church and State as it had been to Princess Margaret’s family and to her vast international public.
“I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend,” her statement said. "1 have been aware that, subject to my renouncing my rights of succession, it might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage. But, mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble and conscious of my duties to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others. I have reached this decision entirely alone and in doing so I have been strengthened by the unfailing
support and devotion of Group Captain Townsend. I am deeply grateful for the concern of all those who have constantly prayed for my happiness.”
The main decision facing Princess Margaret, as her statement makes clear, was constitutional. From the moment Townsend disclosed their love to the 13ean of Windsor she was aware that the price of her marriage was abdication of her royal prerogatives: her position as third in line for the throne and her place as a working member of the royal family.
Many people who do not belong to the Established Church of England believe this was a cruel choice to force upon her. But no other choice was possible. The Queen is by law constituted head of the Established Church and it would be impossible for the Queen to be represented at affairs of state by a sister who had broken the Church’s law.
“Shorn of the flummery and abacadabra, the whole issue boils down to whether there is a traditional Establishment of Church and State sacrosanct and above the democracy it is supposed to symbolize,” said the intellectual New Statesman and Nation, putting an editorial finger squarely on the essential element in the whole crisis.
The Divine Right of Kings is dead but the monarchy is still, by its essential nature, above the democracy it symbolizes. "For those at court,” commented the Sunday Observer in an article on Princess Margaret, "the monarchy is an end in itself, something that has a life and reality independent of its usefulness. Within this atmosphere, preserved despite all the vicissitudes of history, members of the royal family may well feel of their official position as a clergyman feels about the change conferred on him by ordination. They hold a rank that carries
inalienable honors and inescapable duties. It inevitably makes their lives different from those of other people.”
It would appear, though, that Princess Margaret was not wholly the pitiful little figure brought to her knees by pressure that she had been painted by the sentimentalists. It would be more accurate to compare her to the woman who reluctantly decides to forego love and marriage because she prefers the career for which she has been trained since youth.
Princess Margaret is fully conscious of her position—some people think she is overly conscious of it. “She’s quite a personality as a human being,” comments painter Pietro Annigoni, “but she doesn’t ever forget to be the princess.”
Even if she wished to it would be impossible for Margaret to forget that she is a princess. If this dominant fact is ever forgotten the forgetfulness must be charged to the public, to the people, for example, who commented on her gaiety after mourning for King George the Sixth ended, to those who remarked on her vivacity after Townsend departed from her life. It may have been that she found that her ardor for Townsend had cooled. Nobody knows this but herself. But it is more likely that she bowed to the disciplines that control the lives of princesses.
Although much misleading information has been published about Princess Margaret’s “democratic” friends, selected from all walks of life, they, more than any other aspect of her life, demonstrate clearly how much of a princess she is. For they revolve about her in a tight little circle of interlocking relationships nearly all bearing names or titles that have been associated with the monarchy for centuries.
For example, two of her friends have
‘Canadian women will envy Princess Margaret. Her clothes are beautiful and her skin is flawless”
the very ordinary name of Smith. But they are far from ordinary. Their mother is the Viscountess Hambleden, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother. Their brother is Lord Hambleden, once tipped as the Princess’s suitor. The husband of one of them is a kinsman of the third Viscount Hampden, who married a daughter of the sixth Duke of Buccleuch. The Earl of Dalkeith, another of Margaret’s escorts before his marriage, is the >on of the eighth Duke of Buccleuch and a nephew of the Duchess of Gloucester. Princess Margaret’s aunt. 'The Earl's sisters, the Duchess of Northumberland and Lady Caroline Gilmour, are Margaret’s friends. Lady Caroline’s husband. Ian Gilmour, is the son of a former lady-inwaiting to the Queen Mother and a nephew of the Duchess of Marlborough who is the mother of Princess Margaret’s friend, the Marquis of Blandford. And so it goes on.
Because she is now experienced. Princess Margaret will undoubtedly create an even more favorable impression in Canada in July than she created on her two previous Commonwealth tours—to the Caribbean in 1955 and to East Africa in 1956. She will enjoy herself and show it. Women will envy her beautiful clothes and flawless skin and men will probably agree with the enthusiastic miner who recently danced with her at a public function and exclaimed: “What a smasher she is!”
She will enliven stiffly formal programs with occasional unexpected touches like the time in Antigua when she stopped a processional car to talk with some old women carrying baskets of newly picked cotton and, like another, more memorable occasion in Dar Es Salaam. Here, in spite of strong advice to the contrary, the Princess got out of her car and mingled at close range with Africans staging a dancing celebration in her honor.
“The Princess was absolutely thrilled,” commented one of her attendants later. "She could not have enjoyed herself more and was delighted to be able to move freely among the dancers and see them enjoying themselves at close range.”
When she talks to Canadians Princess Margaret will reveal a surprising knowledge of Canada and its customs, the result of careful advance study. Eager for more knowledge she will ask pointed questions. Some of her comments may be embarrassing, like the occasion in Trinidad when she asked about the wages of native workers. A government official tried to fob her off with a vague speech about wages being low because the climate made fuel and heavy clothes unnecessary. "That sounds a bit too glib to me,” she commented dryly.
On the w'hole she will seem more animated and relaxed than her sister, the Queen, and certainly she will be more likely to joke with reporters. On one occasion when she was on her way to a private engagement in Nassau she spotted tw'o women reporters sunbathing. She stopped her car. “What do you two mean by loafing in the sun when you should be out covering me?” she called out to them.
At a press reception in Nassau, Norman James of the Toronto Star said he hoped she wouldn’t object if he winked at her when she boarded her plane to return to London. He had promised his wife he would do it, he explained. “Why should I object?” the princess asked. “But tell me, what is it that you've been doing every day since this tour began?”
Most Canadians will compare her to her mother and be inclined to agree with a Barbados official who said, “Princess Margaret has the outgoing warmth of her mother. She makes you feel that she is personally interested in your problems and not merely making an appearance because it is her duty.”
At the outset. Princess Margaret will make it plain that she wants to meet as
many people as possible and she will exhibit no signs of petulance, boredom or impatience although sometimes fatigue may be misinterpreted to mean one or another of these things. “For sheer sustained poise you have to hand it to her,” commented one reporter who covered her East African tour. "She reminds me of number one rule for broadcasters,” said a BBC man, “No dead air.”
She will study her itinerary carefully and if she doesn't like any of the arrangements made for her she will say so. Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, or Miss Iris Peake, her regular lady-in-waiting, will ask nervous Canadian hostesses to put American cigarettes in her bedroom, to place her maid, Ruby MacDonald, in an adjoining room, to provide small knives and forks because the princess has
very small hands and not to serve either champagne or oysters, which she detests.
At home in London Miss Peake manages the Princess’s busy life, reporting every morning at nine to deal with correspondence. The Princess usually reads her personal mail while having breakfast in bed. She is not an early riser and, like her mother, is sometimes unpunctual. “Oh dear there must be something wrong with that clock,” she often says remorsefully. She lives with her mother in Clarence House, a broad-faced creamcolored mansion which was renovated in 1947 to become the bridal home of Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. It’s about two blocks from Buckingham Palace.
Princess Margaret has a suite of her own where she often entertains groups of friends. Occasionally she cooks latenight snacks for them in a small kitchenette. She usually takes lunch and dinner with her mother if she is not entertaining or going out.
When she is in London she goes out often. In one recent year she went to twenty-seven shows, ten night clubs and twelve dinner parties. When not on holiday or on tour she performs between six and eight public engagements each month.
This August she will be twenty-eight and the matchmakers are still frantically busy trying to find her a husband. The latest candidates are Christopher Lloyd and Lord Wilton, both rich and both eminently eligible. Two old favorites are still in the news, Billy Wallace, son of the late Ewan Wallace MP, and the Rev. Simon Phipps. Wallace has more or less consistently escorted the Princess since 1951. But he recently said that they did not intend to marry. Phipps, an ex-guardsman w'ho entered the church after the war and has known the Princess since they w'ere children, has said nothing. Princess Margaret often invites him to parties and she visits him at Cambridge, where he is a rector, tw'o or three times every month.
If she marries, public interest in her will doubtless diminish. But if she remains single she will continue to exhibit herself all over the Commomvealth as a walking illustration of her brother-inlaw’s definition of duty: "Ehe force
which causes a man to play the part required of him in the organization to which he belongs.” Unless, of course, she finds herself like the tropical bird let loose from its cage and because of its bright plumage in danger of being pecked to death by the sharp bills of curious sparrows. ★