A Much Maligned Princess: Princess Margaret: A Life Unravelled by Tim Heald

HRH Princess Margaret The Countess of Snowdon The Polimore TiaraTim Heald doesn't unravel Princess Margaret's life at all in this book, which was very disappointing. He fails to analyse the important relationships in her life - with her husband and family - except, perhaps, for the tragic one with Peter Townsend. He doesn't really give a good account of why her marriage failed. He focuses on her royal duties and seems to become somewhat bored with his subject. Perhaps this was because he tried to avoid writing about scandal. This was good, but makes the book less interesting!

The Princess was very close to her sister, but once Elizabeth became Queen she had to live in her shadow. She found this difficult and she was often given royal duties that no one else wanted. Later the next generation took over and she had to live in their shadow as well, although she might not have minded this because royal duties sound fairly dull most of the time.

I thought that it was no wonder that Townsend and Margaret had a relationship because he was often her escort. Heald makes the point that Townsend was an older, married man with children while the Princess was really a teenager. He 'took advantage' to a large extent. In spite of this, he was favoured by the Press. Heald thinks that the relationship failed because 'they just didn't love each other enough' but I got the impression that Townsend was really the one who was more opposed to the marriage, once he knew that he would lose his job and Margaret would have to give up her royal privileges. The Princess was unlucky because of what happened with her uncle - some had taken his part and got 'burnt', like Churchill. Churchill wasn't sympathetic this time. It wasn't the Queen's fault.

According to one good friend, it was a tragedy and they vowed not to marry anyone else. The Princess felt terribly betrayed when Major Townsend married. He married a French woman who looked remarkably like the Margaret. This friend thought that the marriage to Snowdon was on the 'rebound'.

Snowdon was looked down on because of his occupation and wasn't interested in sharing royal duties. He was also regarded as a nuisance by the staff - one brought in the Princess's breakfast, but not his! He wasn't suited to being bossed around and liked women. Soon they both started having affairs but they remained friends after the marriage was over.

Princess Margaret was infamously contrary. She could be charming, but she could also be rude. She often demanded to be treated like a Princess, but she could also 'muck in'. In one case, an important man was so nervous when he met her that he spilled drinks twice. She helped him clean up but told him she'd get her own the third time!

Heald avoids scandal and seems to call her boyfriends 'walkers' which I found odd. Enjoying parties, having a few boyfriends, including a younger one, and going on the occasional holiday to Mustique doesn't seem to me anything to make a big fuss about. The Press is notoriously hard on the Royal family, however.

He emphasizes that the Princess was surprisingly religious. According to another book, she thought about turning Catholic. This could have been another reason why she didn't marry Townsend.

I felt that I learned a little bit more about the Princess after reading this, but not that much. She remains enigmatic.


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