Heritage

All the Controversies That Surrounded Princess Margaret, 'The Rebel Royal'

Her life was anything but ordinary.
IMAGE Koch, Eric / Anefo/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret made many headlines in her timeshe was beautiful, elegant, and stylish, after all.

Her life, however, was also often shadowed by controversy, from her affair with an older, divorced man to her “nude” birthday portrait.

Get a glimpse of the Princess’ colorful life and her most notable scandals:

She was known as “The Royal Rebel.”

Princess Margaret did not fit the mold of other members of the royal family. She drank (whiskey was reportedly her favorite), smoked (since she was 15), and partied regularly. She also spoke her mind and was always fashionably late, which was surprising for someone of her stature.

She had an affair with Peter Townsend, who was 16 years her senior and a divorcée.

Peter Townsend reportedly met Princess Margaret when she was only 14 years old. Their romance began in 1952, eight years after he was assigned as King George VI’s (Margaret’s father’s) equerry. During Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, Margaret was caught flicking a piece of fluff from Townsend’s uniform, which confirmed rumors that the two were dating.

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Townsend proposed marriage to her shortly afterward, but the Queen did not give her sister her consent because of her duty as Head of the Church of England, which prohibited marriage to divorced persons. The union was also not approved by the ultra-conservative cabinet of Winston Churchill. The pair was asked to wait until Margaret turned 25, and Townsend was assigned to the British Embassy in Brussels for the time being.

When they reunited in 1955, they were still not allowed to marry. Margaret was given the option to proceed with the marriage, but on the condition that she give up her royal privileges, including her income. She ultimately decided not to marry him, stating:

"I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend," she said. "I 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 duty to the Commonwealth, I have decided to put these considerations before any others."

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Her 29th birthday portrait was anything but conventional.

At the time, the royal portraits were always idyllic—they portrayed the monarchs as gods among men. The Princess’s 29th birthday portrait, shot by her then-future husband Antony Armstrong-Jones, however, implied that she was naked, and it was reportedly taken when she was asked whether or not she missed Peter Townsend.

She married Antony Armstrong-Jones, a commoner.

Before their engagement in 1960, their relationship was kept well under wraps--Princess Margaret usually visited him in his studio, and in public they would be joined by a large group with more “suitable” men. The announcement came as a surprise, and a factor was that Armstrong-Jones, a photographer, was the first commoner in 400 years to marry into the royal family. He was given the title Earl of Snowdon a year after.

She and Armstrong-Jones cheated on each other.

According to the Evening Standard, Armstrong-Jones “indulged in a series of casual liaisons,” while Princess Margaret had involvements with Anthony Barton (her husband’s old schoolmate), Robin Douglas-Home (an aristocratic pianist), and Roddy Llewellyn (who was 17 years her junior).

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She divorced her husband at a time when divorce was unheard of among the royal family.

The two divorced due to an irrevocably broken marriage in 1978, two years after they separated. It was the first time a royal had filed for divorce since King Henry VIII did in 1540. Despite this, they had remained close friends until Princess Margaret’s death in 2002.

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Paulina Paras
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