LONDON (AP) – Caught between the old social order and the sudden freedoms of a more democratic age, Princess Margaret led a life shadowed by the great disappointment of her thwarted romance with a divorced commoner.
Margaret, who died Saturday at 71, added cosmopolitan glamour – and controversial romance – to the royal family's reserved image. But she won respect as an attentive patron of charities and happiness as the mother of two loving, well-adjusted children and grandmother of three.
Queen Elizabeth II announced the death of her "beloved sister," who had been taken to King Edward VII Hospital at 2:30 a.m. from her apartments in Kensington Palace and died four hours later. The princess had suffered a stroke Friday afternoon and developed cardiac problems during the night, Buckingham Palace said.
At her side when she died were her son, 40-year-old David, Viscount Linley, and daughter Lady Sarah Chatto, 37, the children of her former marriage to the Earl of Snowdon. Lord Snowdon said he and the children were "extremely saddened."
The queen was at Windsor Castle, where she had traveled Friday from Sandringham, her estate in eastern England. The 101-year-old Queen Mother Elizabeth, who is recovering from a persistent cold, stayed at Sandringham.
"This is a terribly sad day for all my family," Prince Charles said in a televised address. "She lived life and loved it to the full. We shall all miss her dreadfully."
Buckingham Palace said the princess' coffin would rest at Kensington Palace for several days to permit family and close friends to pay their respects. A private funeral will be held Feb. 15 in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
The princess, a heavy smoker for many years, had had two strokes since 1998. At her last public appearance, many were shocked to see her in a wheelchair, her face puffy with illness and her eyes hidden behind dark glasses.
Margaret was only 22 when her ill-starred romance with Royal Air Force Group Capt. Peter Townsend, a dashing – but divorced – hero of the Battle of Britain, made headlines around the world. By the standards of the day, divorce was seen as shameful, and for the sister of the new queen, marriage to a divorced man was unthinkable.
Townsend had met Margaret when he was an aide to her father, King George VI. At her sister's coronation a small gesture by Margaret – brushing some fluff off Townsend's jacket – led to headlines about a budding romance.
The shock of King Edward VIII's abdication to marry a divorcee was still fresh in the public memory, and the Church of England forbade remarriage of a divorced person. The government firmly opposed such a marriage.
After more than two years of negotiation, press speculation and enforced separation from Townsend, Margaret announced in October 1955 that she would not marry him, "mindful of the church's teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth."
Townsend, who remarried happily, reflected on his romance with Margaret in a 1978 autobiography: "I simply hadn't the weight, I knew it, to counterbalance all she would have lost. It was too much to ask of her, too much for her to give."
In 1978, Margaret became a divorcee herself – the first in the queen's immediate family – when her marriage to Snowdon was dissolved. She did not remarry.
Despite their different personalities, the princess and her dignified sister remained close.
"In our family," Margaret once said, "we don't have rifts. We have a jolly good row and then it's all over. And I've only twice ever had a row with my sister." She didn't say what they argued about.
Margaret's cheerful informality was sometimes offset by an unsettling "royal" streak. Even close friends had to call her "Ma'am," although members of the family were said to get away with "Margot."
When Margaret and Elizabeth were born, their father was Duke of York, second son of the king. The abdication of their uncle thrust their father onto the throne and set Elizabeth on the path to monarchy.
An elderly courtier who collided with little Margaret Rose as she cartwheeled down a Buckingham Palace corridor was said to have sighed, "Thank God the other one was born first."
Margaret was musical, liked to perform and had a gift for mimicry. She supported the arts, loved opera, theater and dance. She was often seen at restaurants and nightclubs with groups of friends and smoked her ever-present cigarettes in a long, distinctive holder.
Jazzman Louis Armstrong, following a conversation with Margaret about music, told the press, "Your Princess Margaret is one hip chick."
In 1958, she began to see society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. She was 30 when they were married in Westminster Abbey on May 6, 1960. The queen gave him the title Earl of Snowdon.
By the early 1970s, the marriage was beset by rumors of infidelity and the two were leading separate lives. In 1973, the princess, then 43, began a six-year relationship with Roderic "Roddy" Llewellyn, a man of no apparent means 17 years younger than she.
The Snowdons' marriage was dissolved in May 1978 with little fuss from a public that expressed nothing but sympathy for a woman who seemed never to have found lasting love.
Lady Glenconner, one of the princess' closest friends, emphasized the happiness the princess had found in her children.
"People said her life was a sad one, but I don't think it was. She was so proud of her children, David and Sarah, and her grandsons. I think she had a wonderful life."
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press