In the first two seasons of Netflix’s The Crown, Vanessa Kirby portrays Princess Margaret as a graceful, glamorous force to be reckoned with—and by all accounts, she was. The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II rubbed elbows with the Hollywood elite, landed on countless tabloid covers, and rarely played by the royal rule book. Beneath the haze of mystery and cigarette smoke was a smart, loving woman who struggled to find her place in a world that was always watching and never satisfied.
Before Helena Bonham Carter debuts her interpretation of Princess Margaret in The Crown’s upcoming third season, discover the real-life facts behind the larger-than-life royal.
1. Princess Margaret was born in Scotland.
Margaret Rose was born on August 21, 1930, in Glamis Castle, her mother’s ancestral home in Scotland. Though it’s often said that Margaret was the first royal birth to happen in Scotland since King Charles I in 1600, there was actually one other in 1887: Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, daughter of Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s ninth child. Since Victoria Eugenie was so far down the line of succession, her Scottish birth is often overlooked.
2. Princess Margaret was pushing boundaries even as a toddler.
Princess Margaret identified her earliest memory as the time she was told to stop trying to inch her pram forward by squirming around in it. She didn’t listen, promptly tipped it over, and “was rescued, screaming loudly.”
3. J.M. Barrie quoted Princess Margaret in his final play.
At Princess Margaret’s third birthday party, J.M. Barrie asked if one of the gifts was really hers, to which she replied, “It is yours and mine.” Upon hearing that she had remembered him later, saying, “I know that man. He is my greatest friend, and I am his greatest friend,” Barrie wrote both statements into The Boy David, his final play. He promised Margaret a penny for each performance, and Margaret’s father (King George VI) playfully held him to it; Barrie drew up a formal contract in 1937 and gave the princess 170 golden pennies.
4. Princess Margaret's father referred to her as his “joy.”
King George VI summed up the difference between effervescent, free-spirited Margaret and staid, responsible Elizabeth in one simple statement: “Lilibet [Elizabeth] is my pride, Margaret my joy.”
5. Pablo Picasso wanted to marry Princess Margaret.
Pablo Picasso’s friend and biographer John Richardson recalled how the artist plotted throughout the 1950s to woo the princess with proper fanfare, which would include a formal marriage proposal written on parchment and presented on a red velvet cushion, while Richardson himself would be dressed as a herald or page and stationed nearby with a trumpet. They never crossed paths, and Richardson later told Princess Margaret of Picasso’s intentions, which “outraged” her. “She said she thought it the most disgusting thing she had ever heard,” he told Craig Brown for his book Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret. Perhaps it was because Picasso was nearly 50 years older than her.
6. Richard Burton thought Princess Margaret was boring.
While Picasso and plenty of others couldn’t get enough of the enigmatic, audacious princess, Richard Burton was wholly unimpressed. “We have to see Princess Margaret again at the opening night of Staircase and she is infinitely boringly uncomfortable to be around,” he wrote in a 1969 diary entry.
7. Princess Margaret almost married a divorcé.
Princess Margaret was just 14 years old when she met 30-year-old Group Captain Peter Townsend when he interviewed as her father’s equerry, and began a romance with him eight years later. Since Margaret was not yet 25, the Queen would have to approve her marriage, which both the Church of England and Parliament opposed because Townsend was divorced. As a stall tactic, he was stationed at the British Embassy in Brussels. Upon his return two years later, the couple was informed that if they married, Margaret would forfeit her place in the line of succession. Margaret then issued a statement explaining that she had decided not to marry Townsend because of the Church’s issue with his divorce. However, Margaret’s official biographer Christopher Warwick believes the real reason she changed her mind was simply because their feelings had faded during their two-year separation. The only time she ever mentioned him to Warwick was when she said, “How do you know when you’ve been apart from somebody for two years if you want to marry them?”
8. Princess Margaret's wedding was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on television.
On May 6, 1960, 29-year-old Princess Margaret married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in England’s first televised royal wedding, captivating an estimated 300 million viewers worldwide. (The couple would divorce in 1978.) The government contributed around $31,000 to the ceremony, which critics considered extravagant—especially considering that Queen Elizabeth’s 1947 wedding was strictly budgeted in the wake of World War II; Elizabeth had even used ration coupons to purchase her wedding dress.
9. Princess Margaret had several alleged affairs.
Princess Margaret may have been a rule-breaker by royal standards, but she would never sink so low as to address any of the tabloid rumors about her alleged affairs—so they technically remain just rumors. In 1968, she was linked to nightclub pianist Robin Douglas-Home, who died by suicide 18 months after Margaret reportedly ended their liaison. In 1973, the paparazzi captured photos of the princess at her private island vacation home with Roderic “Roddy” Llewellyn, a high-society landscape gardener who was 17 years her junior. While there’s likely truth to those two purported relationships, others—such as Mick Jagger and Peter Sellers—have practically no evidence behind them.
10. Princess Margaret loved watching ballet.
11. If Princess Margaret could only take one record to a deserted island, it would be from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
During her 1981 appearance on Roy Plomley’s BBC radio program Desert Island Discs, Princess Margaret said that she’d choose Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake, Op. 20, Act II: 13. Dances of the Swans” as her one desert island disc because she “could imagine the scene.” She chose a piano as her luxury item and Tolstoy’s War and Peace as her book, because it “rather needs reading several times, so it’ll keep [me] going for a long time.”
12. Princess Margaret patronized more than 80 charities—which still wasn’t enough.
In addition to her stint as president of The Royal Ballet, Princess Margaret supported or chaired more than 80 organizations, including the Highland Fusiliers of Canada, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps, and the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Some Members of Parliament, however, still criticized her for not adhering to the standards of civic duty set by previous members of the monarchy, and felt that she simply wasn’t doing enough.
13. Princess Margaret had two children.
Princess Margaret's son, David Armstrong-Jones, Second Earl of Snowdon, was born in 1961 and is now a successful furniture maker whose clients have included Elton John and Valentino. Three years after the birth of David, Margaret and Tony welcomed Sarah, known as Lady Sarah Chatto. She inherited both her father’s artistic aptitude and her mother’s affinity for the ballet; she’s a painter who currently serves as the vice president for The Royal Ballet.
14. Princess Margaret was plagued by health issues later in life.
A year after her first stroke in 1998, Princess Margaret sustained severe burns when she accidentally stepped into scalding hot bath water. Her second stroke occurred in 2001, which impaired both her vision and movement. On February 9, 2002, she passed away at age 71 from heart complications following her third stroke.
15. Princess Margaret's mother outlived her by seven weeks.
At the time of Margaret’s death, her 101-year-old mother was fighting a bad cough and chest infection she had contracted over Christmas. On March 30, 2002—just seven weeks after Margaret passed away—the Queen Mother died peacefully in her sleep.
16. Princess Margaret was cremated, which is uncommon for the royal family.
Princess Margaret left this world much like she entered it—breaking with tradition. She insisted on cremation rather than burial, which a former lady-in-waiting claimed was because largely the princess found the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore “too gloomy.” Others said it was so that her ashes could be placed in the tomb of her beloved father (which they were). She also requested that no members of her family attend the actual cremation (which they didn’t), but that her ex-husband, Lord Snowdon, and reported lover Roddy Llewellyn attend the funeral ceremony (which they did).