Princess Margaret was no stranger to controversy and scandal. The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II played by her own rules, much to the chagrin of her royal relatives. In contrast to her quiet,proper sister, Margaret was outgoing and independent. Her romantic relationships, especially her potential marriage to Peter Townsend, garnered national attention and caused more than enough scandals for a single lifetime.
Margaret loved to socialize, smoke and drink, and generally test boundaries - British intelligence agents may have even robbed a bank to save her reputation. Born into a life that wasn't really her own, Margaret rebelled and made the most of her position, having a lot of fun along the way.
Princess Margaret Rose Windsor was born on August 21, 1930, to Albert Frederick Arthur George, also known as Prince Albert and later King George VI, and Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon. She was their second daughter, born four years after her sister, Elizabeth.
At the time of her birth, Princess Margaret's grandfather, George V, was the king of England. He perished in 1936 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward. King Edward VIII abdicated after less than a year, however, so he could wed an American named Wallis Simpson.
Once Edward VIII stepped down, Margaret's father became King George VI. Margaret and her sister had always been important royalty, but now they were daughters of a king.
Princess Margaret was an independent spirit from a young age. She spent most of her youth with her sister, Elizabeth, in London where they were both educated by their governess, Marion Crawford.
The Princess was considered to be attractive. Her paramour, Peter Townsend, is said to have noted:
She was a girl of unusual, intense beauty, confined as it was in her short, slender figure and centered about large purple-blue eyes, generous, sensitive lips, and a complexion as smooth as a peach. [...] She could make you bend double with laughing and also touch you deeply in your heart.
In 1947, King George VI and his family made their first international trip to South Africa. On that trip, Peter Townsend accompanied the king as a member of his household. Townsend was a WWII veteran, married with two children, and had first met Margaret when she was a teenager. At first, he considered Princess Margaret, 16 years his junior, to be nothing more than a spoiled schoolgirl.
The princess and Townsend spent more time together and soon fell in love, however, entering a secret relationship. That relationship became public in 1953 when, at her sister's coronation, Margaret flicked a piece of lint off Townsend's jacket. The act made international headlines as word of their romance spread.
Once Peter Townsend divorced his wife, he was free to be with Princess Margaret... in theory. As Margaret was third in line to the throne (behind her nephew and niece, Charles and Anne), things were a bit more complicated. On top of that, Queen Elizabeth had to consent to the marriage - as Townsend was divorced - since Margaret was not yet 25 years old.
Townsend was sent to Brussels to delay the inevitable, and the couple spent the next two years apart as the press, the public, the church, and Parliament all weighed in on the status of their relationship. When Townsend returned to England in 1955, Margaret was 25 and allowed to marry without her sister's approval. Parliament, however, would not sign off on the nuptials.
The prime minister, Anthony Eden, told Margaret that if she married Townsend, she would be stripped of all privileges as a royal and would lose her royal income. On Halloween 1953, Margaret announced her decision:
I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend. I have been aware that, subject to my renouncing my rights of succession, it might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage. But, mindful of the Church's teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have decided to put these considerations before any others.