16 Grand Facts About Princess Margaret

Victor Blackman/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Victor Blackman/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

queen mother with her daughters elizabeth and margaret
The Queen Mother with her daughters, Elizabeth (left) and Margaret (right) in 1936.
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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.”

royal family at King George VI's coronation
The royal family at King George VI's coronation in 1937.
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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.

princess margaret with elizabeth taylor
Princess Margaret shakes hands with Elizabeth Taylor (Burton's wife) at the premiere of Staircase in 1969.
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

Group Captain Peter Townsend on horseback
Peter Townsend photographed during a weekend away at Allanbay Park with Princess Margaret in 1955.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

Princess Margaret's wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones
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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.

Roddy Llewellyn
Roddy Llewellyn in 1978.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

Princess Margaret at the ballet
Princess Margaret with British prima ballerina Svetlana Beriosova in 1968.
William Lovelace/Daily Express/Getty Images

Princess Margaret adored all the arts, but she said ballet was her favorite; she even served as the first president of The Royal 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 with husband and children
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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 in 1965
Princess Margaret in Amsterdam, 1965.
Les Lee/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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).

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

11 Unusual Christmas Traditions Around the World

A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
R. fiend, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

We all know about the typical trappings of Christmas—Santa, the tree, eggnog and carols, turkey and ham, that fruitcake that’s made three trips around the country and counting. But what about traditions that are generally less well-known in America—the ones that might take place halfway around the world? Traditions like the Swedes watching the same Donald Duck cartoon each year, the Japanese devouring KFC, or Austria’s “bad Santa,” Krampus? Allow us to take you on a journey with the international Christmas traditions below.

1. Sweden // Watching Donald Duck on Television

Every year at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, around half of Sweden sits down to watch the 1958 Walt Disney TV special “From All of Us to All of You.” Known in Swedish as Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul, the title translates to “Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But, really, it’s usually known as Kalle Anka. Since 1959, the show has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time every December 24 on TV1, Sweden’s main public television channel. According to Slate, it’s one of the three most popular TV events each year, and lines of the cartoon’s dialogue have become common Swedish parlance.

Slate’s Jeremy Stahl, who remembers his first Christmas visiting Sweden with his soon-to-be-wife, observes, “I was taken aback not only by the datedness of the clips (and the somewhat random dubbing) but also by how seriously my adoptive Swedish family took the show. Nobody talked, except to recite favorite lines along with the characters." Stahl notes that for many Swedes, other Christmas Eve festivities revolve around watching the show—what time they eat the Christmas meal, for example—and that, although the tradition may seem strange, it also makes some sense: “For many Swedes, there is something comforting about knowing that every year there is one hour, on one day, when you sit down with everyone in your family and just be together.”

2. Venezuela // Roller Skating to Christmas Eve Mass

Roller skates on a wooden background
xavigm/iStock via Getty Images

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, it’s a long-established tradition to strap on your skates and roll on over to morning Christmas mass. According to Metro.co.uk, legend has it that children go to bed with a piece of string tied to their toes, with the other end dangling out the window. As the skaters glide by early the next morning, they give the strings a firm tug to let the children know it’s time to wake up and put on their skates. Firecrackers accompany the sound of the church bells, and when mass is finished, everyone gathers for food, music, and dance. The custom continues today.

3. Japan // Eating KFC on Christmas Eve

A KFC in Japan at Christmas
A KFC in Japan at Christmas
Robert Sanzalone, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Christmas isn't a widely celebrated holiday in Japan—a mere 1 percent of Japanese people are estimated to be Christian—and yet a bucket of KFC “Christmas Chicken” is the popular meal on December 24. According to the BBC, 3.6 million families celebrated this way in 2016.

It all began with a 1974 marketing campaign—“Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii” (Kentucky for Christmas). According to Smithsonian, when a group of foreigners couldn’t find Christmas turkey and opted for KFC instead, the company saw it as a fabulous marketing opportunity and advertised its first Christmas meal—chicken and wine for the equivalent of $10, which, Smithsonian notes, was rather pricey for the mid-'70s. These days, the Christmas dinner includes cake and champagne, and costs roughly $40. Many people order their meals far in advance to avoid lines; those who forget can end up waiting for as long as two hours.

4. Ukraine // Decorating the Tree with (Fake) Spiders and Webs

A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
Marty Gabel, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to Ukrainian folklore, there was a poor family with a widowed single mother who couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree. One night, as they all slept, a wonderful Christmas spider decorated the tree with a beautiful, sparkly web. The rays of the sun touched the web, turning it to silver and gold, and from that day on the family wanted for nothing. Ukrainian families decorate their trees with glittering spiders and their webs in honor of the tale.

5. Guatemala // La Quema del Diablo, “Burning the Devil”

Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Conred Guatemala, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Every December 7, beginning at 6 p.m. sharp, Guatemalans build bonfires to “burn the devil” and kick off their Christmas season. The tradition has particular significance in Guatemala City, according to National Geographic, due to its association with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which honors the city’s patron saint. The tradition evolved from simply lighting bonfires during colonial times to burning a devil figure to clear the way for a celebration of the Virgin Mary. In recent years, devil piñatas have been added to the festivities, too. These days, an estimated 500,000 bonfires burn in the course of an hour on the holiday, and fireworks explode across the smoky sky.

6. Catalonia // Caganer, the Pooping Christmas Figurine

A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
J2R/iStock via Getty Images

A regular figure in Catalonian nativity scenes, the caganer is a bare-bottomed man with his pants around his knees as he bends over to poop. He typically wears a white shirt and a barretina, a traditional Catalan hat. The caganer most likely first appeared in nativity scenes in the early 18th century; nativity scenes in the region typically represent pastoral scenes with depictions of rural life. The caganer often appears crouched behind a tree or a building in a corner of the nativity. Caganer literally means “pooper” in Catalan, and no one is certain of his significance, though one theory is that he represents good luck and the wish for a prosperous new year, since the pooping could be construed as the fertilization of the earth. Another theory is that he represents the mischief that resides in all of us. Yet another theory: he could merely represent humility and humanity. After all, everyone poops.

7. Wales // Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare”

Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare,” is the name given to the ghostly looking horse figure often brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales. Typically constructed of a horse skull, a white sheet, and adorned with colorful ribbons and bells, the Mari Lwyd is carried around Welsh towns by singing revelers who challenge their neighbors to a battle of wits through poetry. Atlas Obscura explains that despite often being associated with Christmas, Mari Lwyd is actually a pre-Christian practice, and some Welsh towns choose instead to parade their horse skulls on other days, such as Halloween or May Day. However, the Christmas season is the most popular time for Mari Lwyd, and the practice often includes wassailing, which involves the drinking of a boozy, sugared-and-spiced ale.

8. Austria and German-speaking Alpine region // Krampus, the Christmas Devil

Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day
Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day in Italy
dario_tommaseo/iStock via Getty Images

While well-behaved children in Austria and elsewhere look forward to St. Nicholas rewarding them with presents and sweets, those on the naughty list live in fear of Krampus. Part demon and part goat, Krampus is a “bad Santa” devil-like figure with origins in pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Later, Krampus became a part of Christian traditions alongside the celebrating of St. Nick. During Krampusnacht, or “Krampus night,” right before St. Nicholas Day, adults dress up as Krampus, and Krampus might also be seen on a Krampuslauf—literally a “Krampus run.” He also appears on Christmas cards throughout Austria, and enjoys a long-held place in the country’s holiday traditions, as well as in other German-speaking areas near the Alps.

9. Iceland // The Yule Cat

Iceland has its own frightening Christmas figure, the Yule cat, which lurks in the snow and waits to devour anyone who has not received new clothes to wear for Christmas. National Geographic did some digging into the origins of this tradition, and notes that in Icelandic rural societies employers often rewarded members of their households with new clothes and sheepskin shoes each year as a way to encourage everyone to work hard in the lead-up to Christmas. “To this day Icelanders still find it important to wear new clothes on Christmas Eve when the celebrations begin,” the website writes. So, basically, the Yule cat punishes the lazy by devouring them, though, as National Geographic observes, “According to some tales, the Yule Cat only eats their food and presents, not the actual people.” Whew!

10. Greenland // Whale Blubber Dinner

Although women around the world have often traditionally prepared the Christmas meal, in Greenland the men serve the women. The main dish is mattak, strips of whale blubber, as well as kiviak, flesh from auks buried in sealskin for several months and then served once it begins to decompose. Dessert is a little more familiar: Christmas porridge garnished with butter, cinnamon, and sugar.

11. Italy // Befana, the Christmas Witch

Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
corradobarattaphotos, iStock via Getty Images

Like Austria’s Krampus, Italy’s Christmas witch, Befana, is scary-looking—she has the warts and the sharp nose of the typical witch depiction—and yet every January 5 she leaves gifts and sweets for the good children. Of course, she also leaves coal for the naughty ones. According to legend, she swoops up the particularly bad children and brings them home to her child-eating husband. According to Vice, Italy honors Befana with festivals each year, complete with market stalls, raffles, games, and prizes. Children also write letters to Befana just as they do to Santa Claus.