Troubled life of a princess

From her mother, Princess Margaret inherited enormous charm. When, as a young girl, she undertook her first solo engagement, the launching of the ship Edinburgh Castle, the shipyard's youngest apprentice presented her with a bouquet.

The Princess plucked a single flower from the bunch and handed it to him as a keepsake.

But there were perplexing contrasts in her character, and she could appear off-hand and was strong-willed.

When a teenager, her parents thought she was too young to accompany them to the first Royal Ascot after the Second World War. Margaret watched them go and then calmly called up another car from the Royal mews to follow.

She struck up a friendship with a dashing courtier who was later to become her sweetheart.

In June 1953 speculation was rife that Princess Margaret, then third in line to the throne, wished to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, former equerry and deputy master of the household to her father George VI and then equerry to the Queen.

But Group Captain Townsend had divorced the previous year and, with the public memory of the consequences of Edward VIII's decision to marry the divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson still strong, the consensus view was that a marriage could only take place if Margaret gave up her right to the succession.

In October 1955, she announced that she had decided not to marry the Group Captain - a decision which, later in life, she may have regretted.

The Queen might have been unable to give her consent to such a marriage but her actions throughout were determined by the wishes of the Government rather than her own personal feelings.

It would, in any case, have been difficult for the Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, to consent to the marriage of her sister to a divorced person whose first wife was still living - something which was forbidden by the Anglican Church - unless the Prime Minister were to advise her otherwise.

The Cabinet was never formally asked for advice on this issue, but informal soundings were taken both with the British Cabinet and with Commonwealth prime ministers of those countries recognising the Queen as Head of State.

Both Winston Churchill in 1953 and Anthony Eden in 1955, when the matter was discussed, indicated that they would, if asked informally, be unable to advise that the marriage should take place.

Had Princess Margaret decided to give up her right to the succession and marry Peter Townsend, the line of succession would have been tampered with for a second time in less than 20 years.

Time passed and love for Townsend faded when a handsome photographer came into the Royal focus.

On February 26, 1960, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen had consented to Princess Margaret's engagement to Antony Armstrong-Jones.

They were married in Westminster Abbey on May 6 in a ceremony watched on television by more than 300 million people in 13 countries.

The couple made their home in an apartment at Kensington Palace and in 1961 their son Viscount Linley was born, followed by daughter Lady Sarah in 1964.

However, in March 1976, it was announced that Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, as he had become, had decided to separate and their marriage was dissolved on May 24, 1978.

But the Snowdons had separated, in all but name, by September 1973 when the Princess met Roddy Llewellyn. Five months later, he was invited to accompany her to Mustique in the Caribbean.

Now, in middle age, she found herself linked romantically to a struggling, young landscape gardener who was almost universally considered to be unsuitable for her.

Again, true love and lasting happiness were to elude Margaret in a relationship which seemed to embarrass other Royals.

The relationship with Llewellyn failed and, at last, Princess Margaret began to mend fences with the Royal Family.

A Palace statement indicated that her relationship with Mr Llewellyn had changed. It said she would continue her Royal duties.

In July 1981, Roddy married Tania Soskin, a fashion designer. Lord Snowdon had married Mrs Lucy Lindsay-Hogg in December 1978.

The Princess emerged from depression and periods of ill-health to undertake more than 100 engagements in 1982.

In 1985, she was admitted to hospital complaining of chest pains. A piece of her left lung was removed by surgeons, but she was given the all-clear and returned to her official duties just a few weeks later.

Battered by life and alone - although she had a succession of male friends - Margaret in her fifties began to take on something of the look of Queen Victoria, staunch and unbowed.

She retained a hope of falling in love and marrying again, although that would have required an Act of Parliament.

She told a biographer: "Remarriage would be a devil of a problem and one would not want to be a bind to one's family. But if one did find somebody nice..."

At 60, Margaret received the Royal Victorian Chain from the Queen, a special honour marking the esteem and affection in which she was held.

She became the only member of the present Royal Family, other than the Queen Mother, to receive such an award.

In her early-sixties, Margaret entered a more tranquil period of her life, consolidating her interests in the arts, charity and community work.

Among her associations, she was president of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, president of the Girl Guides Association and publicly backed the campaign to help Aids victims.

One of her favourite pastimes was to go to the ballet and opera, and she was president and patron of the Royal Ballet.

But in a 1997 TV documentary shown on Channel 4, the Princess was portrayed as rude, selfish and an embarrassing man-hunter.

She was said to have been upset by the programme, Portrait of a Princess, and had asked her friends not to co-operate with its makers.

Margaret continued to be affected by ill-health. In childhood and her early twenties she suffered from migraines, a condition that led her to take on the role of patron of the Migraine Trust.

Later she suffered from bouts of flu, pneumonia and hepatitis.

In January 1993, Princess Margaret, then 62, was admitted to the King Edward VII Hospital with suspected pneumonia.

She was said to be smoking 40 cigarettes a day and was told by doctors that she had to quit. Letters poured in from the public urging her to kick the habit and offering solutions.

Margaret was also known to favour a stiff drink of whisky.

It appeared that she took the advice and managed to at least give up smoking - but in February 1998, she suffered a mild stroke while holidaying in Mustique.

She flew back to Britain and was admitted to the King Edward VII Hospital where she stayed for two weeks.

Shortly after, she suffered another blow when her loyal private secretary, Lord Napier and Ettrick, who ran her office for 25 years, retired from his position. Viscount Ullswater, a former Conservative Minister, took over.

There were more health problems on Mustique when, in March 1999, the Princess suffered bad burns to her feet after stepping into a scalding bath at her holiday home.

She was treated by a local doctor but returned to London a week later for further treatment at the King Edward VII Hospital.

A six-month convalescence period led to increasing concerns about her health.

She failed to appear at Royal Ascot for the first time in many years and there were doubts that she would go to the wedding of the Earl and Countess of Wessex in June.

But she did attend, although she was in a wheelchair and remained seated throughout the service - even during the National Anthem.

At the Queen Mother's 99th birthday celebrations in August, Margaret looked frail as she leaned on a walking stick and her flat ballet-type slippers and bandaged right foot and ankle showed the extent to which her injuries were still affecting her.

But shortly afterwards Buckingham Palace announced she was to resume public duties.

Her first engagement was in September when she opened a counselling project in Aberdeen for abused children.

However, in November 1999, Margaret was taken ill following an official engagement handing out Queen's badges to girl guides.

She was not taken to hospital, but a doctor was called to her apartments at Kensington Palace.

The Palace denied a report that the Princess may have suffered a minor stroke.

Towards the end of her life, Margaret appeared in public on relatively few occasions.

But she was present to celebrate the Queen Mother's 100th birthday in August 2000.

Health problems persisted and she was bedridden over Christmas and the New Year at Sandringham, the Queen's Norfolk estate.

A doctor was summoned and Margaret underwent medical tests amid media speculation that she was suffering from acute depression.

Friends insisted the tests would diagnose a physical, rather than a psychological, illness.

Buckingham Palace said later that the Princess may have suffered a second stroke although doctors later said her symptoms were the continuing after-effects of the first episode.

She was admitted to the King Edward VII Hospital suffering from a severe loss of appetite after responding slowly to treatment at Sandringham.

Then in March 2001, Margaret suffered a further setback when she was the victim of a confirmed second stroke which affected her left side and later eroded her eyesight.

By now she was receiving nursing care at Kensington Palace and the Queen was being kept informed of her sister's condition.

But in May Margaret insisted on attending the Chelsea Flower Show and looked frail as she was pushed around the gardens in a wheelchair.

She also attended the Duke of Edinburgh's 80th birthday celebrations at Windsor in a wheelchair and had her left arm in a sling "for comfort" after her two strokes.

Margaret looked the frailest member of the Royal Family when she appeared in public at the Queen Mother's 101st birthday celebrations in August 2001.

Again, she was confined to a wheelchair, had her left arm in a sling and was wearing heavy dark glasses.

Her face showed signs of puffiness, thought to be the side-effects of medication.

She was not paralysed but had difficulty controlling the movement of her left side.

Her eyes were over-sensitive to light as a result of the strokes.

Margaret celebrated her 71st birthday later that month with a small family gathering at Balmoral in Scotland where she was continuing to receive nursing care.

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