Princess Margaret documentary explores the life of the 'rebellious' royal

Danielle Stacey
Royal Correspondent
The newly-wed Princess Margaret and her husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones wave from Buckingham Palace on their wedding day in 1960 (Getty)

Princess Margaret’s life is explored in a new two-part BBC documentary, starting on September 11.

The series “Princess Margaret: The Rebel Royal” will look at her love life, her style and her defiance, during a time in which Britain was transforming.

It will begin with her birth in 1930 and will include the abdication of her uncle King Edward VIII, which saw her propelled to being second in line to the throne.

The Queen’s younger sister was romantically linked with numerous men throughout her life, but it was her relationship with her father’s married equerry, Group Captain Peter Townsend, which almost changed her life.

The Princess was reportedly just 17 years when their liaison began but Townsend was divorced by the time she was 22 and asked her to marry him.

However because she was under 25, under the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the young royal would need the monarch’s consent. While the Queen asked her sister to wait, the Church of England and Winston Churchill’s government did not approve of the second in line marrying a divorcee.

Princess Margaret was renowned for her love of fashion and glamorous house parties (Rex)

Townsend was posted to Brussels until Margaret was at least 25, so that they would not need the Queen’s permission but even then, the only way they would be allowed to marry was if the Princess renounced all her royal privileges and left England for at least five years.

In 1955, Margaret decided not to marry Townsend, having chosen duty over love.

In 1960, she wed bohemian photographer and ‘commoner Antony Armstrong-Jones and was drawn into a circle of artists, writers and celebrities riding the wave of the swinging sixties.

The couple had two children David and Sarah, but their marriage eventually broke down and they divorced in 1978, which was seen as controversial at the time.

Having been a heavy smoker for most of her life, Margaret’s health deteriorated in the final two decades of her life. She had a lung operation in 1985 and a bout of pneumonia in 1993 and by 2001, had suffered several strokes. She passed away on February 9, 2002, aged 71, from cardiac problems, after suffering another stroke. 

Contributors to the programme include Lady Anne Glenconner, a childhood friend who became her lady in waiting; Jane Stevens, one of her closest friends; Basil Charles, the owner of a bar on the Caribbean island of Mustique; David Griffin, Princess Margaret’s chauffeur; and Craig Brown, her unofficial biographer.

The first hour-long episode will air on September 11, at 9pm, on BBC TWO, with the second part on the following week on September 18.

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