THE QUEEN was naturally jubilant on her coronation day, but her sister Princess Margaret was seen looking “forlorn” rather than celebratory for a very personal reason, according to a newly published account.
As first in line to the throne after her father, George VI, she succeeded him at the young age of 24 after his sudden death in 1952. A period of national mourning followed and she was crowned in a lavish ceremony in 1953, with six aristocratic maids of honour accompanying her down the aisle of Westminster Abbey. One of those women was Lady Anne Glenconner, a childhood friend of the Royal Family, who went on to become Margaret’s Lady in Waiting later in life.
Margaret is often perceived as the rebellious royal who had a troubled, or even scandalous, love life. Some believe she was always stuck in the shadow of her dutiful sister, even though they were said to be very close.
Lady Glenconner became Margaret’s confidante as her official aide, and they helped one another through trying marriages and personal trauma.
In her 2019 autobiography, ‘Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown’, Lady Glenconner explained how Margaret struggled even on the first official day of the Queen’s reign.
She explained the joy that was in the air following the service in Westminster, when the newly crowned monarch was going to be photographed with her Maids of Honour: “The Queen was so full of excitement that she started running so we all ran with her.
“Equally spontaneously, she sat down on a red sofa in the gallery, her dress billowing and settling down around her. We sat with her, and when she kicked up her legs for total joy, we did the same. It was happiest of moments.”
However, she added: “During the Coronation Day, though, I was completely oblivious to Princess Margaret’s feelings of sadness.
“All the while we were having the time of our lives, a private film, commissioned by the Queen, captured Princess Margaret looking forlorn.”
Margaret was not one of the Maids of Honour and instead stood with the Queen Mother throughout the ceremony. She was seen glancing at her sister with great sadness.
Lady Glenconner asked her friend, “years later”, why she was so down on a day of celebration.
Margaret reportedly said: “Of course I looked sad, Anne.
“I had just lost my beloved father and, really, I had just lost my sister, because she was going to be so busy and had already moved to Buckingham Palace, so it was just me and the Queen Mother.”
However, the coronation day turned out to be a pivotal time for Margaret for quite another reason too.
The press had seen her picking a piece of lint off from Group Captain Peter Townsend’s uniform outside Westminster Abbey and, according to Lady Glenconner, “wouldn’t let it go” afterwards.
He was her father’s equerry who was 16 years her senior and married – but the two had started a relationship.
Margaret’s friend explained: “It fuelled a scandal that would shake the monarchy and divide the nation.”
Margaret eventually chose not to marry her father’s equerry because she did not want to jeopardise her place in the Royal Family, even though Cpt Townsend divorced his previous wife just to marry the young royal.
Yet, her love life was to be a source of speculation for years to come.
She herself divorced the man she actually married, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, a move which carried great social stigma at the time in 1978.
Yet this has become Margaret’s last legacy. She paved the way for other royals, like Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew, to leave their unhappy marriages in pursuit of new relationships.