Princess Margaret is dead

Princess Margaret died peacefully in her sleep this morning, Buckingham Palace has announced.

In a statement the Palace said: "The Queen, with great sadness, has asked for the following announcement to be made immediately.

"Her beloved sister, Princess Margaret, died peacefully in her sleep this morning at 6.30am in the King Edward VII Hospital."

The statement continued: "Her children, Lord Linley and Lady Sarah Chatto, were at her side.

"Princess Margaret suffered a further stroke yesterday afternoon. She developed cardiac problems during the night and was taken from Kensington Palace to the King Edward VII Hospital at 2.30am.

"Lord Linley and Lady Sarah were with her and the Queen was kept fully informed throughout the night.

"Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and other members of the Royal Family are being informed."

The Queen yesterday left Sandringham, her Norfolk estate, and travelled to Windsor where she remained in touch with developments.

The 101-year-old Queen Mother, who is recovering from a persistent chesty cold, stayed on at Sandringham House.

Princess Margaret's body was being moved to her apartments at Kensington Palace in west London this afternoon where it will remain until her funeral. No date has yet been fixed for the service.

The death of the 71-year-old princess will cast a shadow over the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

On Wednesday, Accession Day, the Queen marked the 50th anniversary of her coming to the throne.

A nationwide tour and a full programme of Jubilee celebrations is planned for later in the year.

Later this month, on February 18, the Queen is due to start a visit to Jamaica, New Zealand and Australia.

Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret's former husband, said: "Both Lord Linley and Lady Sarah are in close touch and informed me about the Princess's death early this morning. We are all extremely saddened."

Speaking on his plane on his way to Sierra Leone today, the Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "I'm deeply saddened to hear of the death of Princess Margaret. My thoughts are with the Queen, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the rest of the Royal Family at this time."

The Prince of Wales, who is staying with friends in Chatsworth, Derbyshire, was said to be "deeply saddened" by the news, as were his sons Princes William and Harry.

A spokesman for St James's Palace said: "The Prince of Wales is deeply saddened by the death of Princess Margaret. He was informed immediately."

There were no immediate plans for the 53-year-old Prince to return to London.

Prince Harry is currently at Eton, while William is spending the weekend at the family's Gloucestershire residence, Highgrove.

A long-time friend of Princess Margaret, the Conservative former Cabinet minister Lord St John of Fawsley, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "She was a person of such great vitality that her death comes as a particular blow and loss.

"I have got wonderful memories of her. She was the most beautiful debutante of her generation and she kept that beauty right through her life.

"She was highly intelligent. In many ways, she was one of the most intelligent women, one of the cleverest women, I have ever met, and she never really had an outlet for that intelligence.

"She had a turbulent life, of course, but at the close of her life - in the last decade - she had somehow 'come into port'. She was not at all unhappy. She loved her royal duties and she did them tremendously professionally.

"She had great satisfaction in the fact that Sarah and David were doing so well. She got great pleasure from her grandchildren. She was devoted and loyal to the Queen and the monarchy.

"One's heart goes out immediately to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother - it is a terrible burden for her to see a loved daughter die - and then to the Queen, because they were very close.

"I never in all my life heard Princess Margaret say a harsh or critical word about the Queen. She was totally devoted to her and the Queen will miss her very much."

The flag at Buckingham Palace was today flying at half-mast. A notice which announced the Princess's passing was attached to a board in the courtyard and drew a steady stream of tourists.

The mood of visitors was sombre, with many only learning of the death when they arrived at the palace.

Mrs June Speller, of Worthing, West Sussex, said: "The last few years of her life have been very difficult but it is still very sad. It's perhaps fitting that she died so close to the anniversary of her father's death.

"I came here today out of respect for the Royals. I do fear it will cast a shadow over the Golden Jubilee celebrations."

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