Morton: Princess Margaret was free-spirited & boundary-pushing, like Prince Harry


There has been a renewed interest in the life of Princess Margaret because of The Crown. In seasons one and two, Margaret was played by Vanessa Kirby, then in seasons three and four, Helena Bonham Carter took over. HBC’s version of Margaret (the family called her Margo) was more of the tragic, unhappy snob which most people remember, but Kirby’s version – the tragic bombshell, always falling for the wrong men – was right for that era as well. One thing The Crown did do well was capture Margo’s cleverness and vivacity compared to her dull, staid sister, and the show also captured how a thick streak of jealousy ran through the sisters’ relationship throughout their lives. Margo passed away in 2002 and I would guess that the Queen misses her every single day. So, anyway, guess what Andrew Morton’s new book is about? The book is called Elizabeth & Margaret: the Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters. People Magazine spoke to Morton:

As children, Queen Elizabeth — then a princess nicknamed “Lilibet” — and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, were famously described by their father King George VI: “Lilibet is my pride; Margaret is my joy.” The contrast between the sisters’ temperaments — dutiful Elizabeth and free-spirited Margaret — would only become more pronounced as they grew up, a theme royal biographer Andrew Morton explores in his new book, Elizabeth & Margaret: the Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters.

Yet despite their deep differences, the sisters were fiercely loyal to each other. Margaret — who died in 2002 at age 71 — “was someone who understood the Queen in a way no one else could,” Morton tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “They knew each other intimately from the day they were born. There is a unique intimacy between two siblings brought up together, brought up royal together, that is absolutely fascinating.”

There are also unique tensions, which have played out recently in the rift between Elizabeth’s grandsons Prince William, 38, and Prince Harry, 36. Although they are separated by two generations, “the parallels between William and Harry and Elizabeth and Margaret are there to be seen,” says Morton, who authored the blockbuster 1992 biography Diana: Her True Story, for which Princess Diana was later revealed to be the primary source.

“In both cases you have one sibling who pushes boundaries,” says Morton, “while the other is more cautious.”

And while both sets of siblings were popularly labeled “the heir and the spare” for their diverging roles within the monarchy, Morton points out at least one key difference.

“Harry is being far more proactive in using his name and popularity to advance causes in a way Margaret never did,” says the author. “She much preferred to be carousing until 4 in the morning.”

[From People]

I think Margo “preferred to be carousing until 4 in the morning” because that’s the only thing she *could* do, that’s the only thing her sister would let her have. It was a different era and there were much different expectations on “the spare,” especially in the early days of the Queen’s reign, when the abdication was still so fresh in people’s minds. Liz never wanted Margo to have any power, any attention, any whiff of responsibility. So Margo surrounded herself with artists and socialites and aristocrats and she did her own glam thing. As for the comparison with William and Harry’s relationship… the thing is, William is not the king. The issue was that Willy already thought he was the “boss” of Harry and that they were living in the Edwardian era. Harry had more of an opportunity to get out of the system than Margo ever did.

HM QUEEN ELIZABETH IIWith HRH PRINCESS MARGARET(Countess of Snowdon)Seen outside Clarence House onthe Queen Mother's 95th birthday.Bandphoto Agency PhotoB21 010077/G-30  04.08.1995

Earl of Snowdon & Princess Margaret

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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51 Responses to “Morton: Princess Margaret was free-spirited & boundary-pushing, like Prince Harry”

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  1. Genevieve says:

    I think another difference between Harry and Margaret is that she would never have been willing to live without the ceremony of being royal – she wanted to be seen as above others. I feel like Harry is completely fine without that. So she was trapped by her own ego, and gave the queen that power over her.

    • MissMarierose says:

      Exactly. She had the opportunity to leave and marry the love of her life at the same time, but chose to stay in the system instead.

      • ShazBot says:

        I think this is why they were so unprepared for/shocked by Harry leaving.
        They never thought anyone would give it up. They figured he’d mope around like Margaret and then marry someone “more appropriate”.
        It never occurred to them that a royal would leave.
        They clearly didn’t know him very well at all.

      • BayTampaBay says:

        “They figured he’d mope around like Margaret and then marry someone “more appropriate”.”

        When you say “They” are you referring to the BRF or The Courtiers?

    • MJM says:

      Spot on.

  2. Pétulia says:

    At least the queen was/is all about duty. And really work. William want the perks the power that come from the position but none of the work.

    • VS says:

      Can someone please define that “duty” and “work”? I keep hearing those words, yet no one is saying what those are. Is that cutting ribbons? is that smiling and waving? is that marrying people you don’t necessarily love as long as they give you white kids? what is it really?

      • Pétulia says:

        Work in the royal sense. Cutting ribbons/unveiling plaques/garden parties, that was in the queen time. Now William not only isn’t doing enough of that he has no successful project like his father( the prince’s trust) or his brother (invictus/sentebale)

      • Betsy says:

        As Pétulia said: duties include: representing the Crown. Openings, ribbon cuttings, teas, visiting factories, visiting hospitals, that type of thing is one variant of Royal work. Charles did a lot of stuff with the Duchy Organics and the Prince’s Trust, and Harry did a lot of stuff with Sentebale and Invictus. Yes, getting married and having children is one of them, but it’s the day to day stuff that matters more. William and Kate just want the perks, no work. A Zoom a week isn’t really enough.

      • Lorelei says:

        @VS it amazing how when it comes to the “duty” conversation, no one ever mentions Sentebale, or the Invictus Games, or even Meghan’s cookbook and SmartSet collection. There are different ways of doing your duty to the people of the UK.

        Plus, Harry and Meghan also DID do a lot of the bread & butter type engagements, ceremonial events, etc. Not to mention Harry’s time in the military, and their excellent performance on all of their extremely successful tours, which got tons of good press worldwide for the BRF.

        William and Kate are constantly held up as the example of the “dutiful” royals but what exactly has either one of them actually done? They were born white, have stayed in the UK (with the exception of their many, many vacations), produced an heir and two spares (I hate the expression “spare” but that’s how they’re viewed), and done the bare minimum for their patronages. Plus, Kate has kept her mouth shut for two decades now, which is one of her most important virtues according to the BRF, apparently.
        A bunch of the organizations they were associated with have gone bankrupt and been forced to shut down while they stood by and did nothing, and when was the last time we heard anything about Head’s Together?

        I’m not a British taxpayer, but if I was, I think I’d see myself as getting my money’s worth out of Harry and Meghan, and maybe Charles, but definitely not the Cambridges.

        The definition of “duty” changes depending on which royal they happen to be talking about at the moment, imo. This article also fails to take into account that it was a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WORLD that Margaret lived in; there is no fair comparison of her and Harry.

        The press is always going to praise the Cambridges and bash the Sussexes, no matter what the facts actually are. They’ll never get the credit they deserve so I’m glad they peaced out.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hahaha duty, you mean the kind of duty that gives her six months off each year? The kind of duty that she uses her privilege to manipulate politicians to protect her wealth from scrutiny? Duty ok sure. What you are talking about is a facade over gigantic unearned privilege built on colonial oppression

  3. Snuffles says:

    And Margo enjoyed the trappings of royalty far too much. And knew nothing of the world outside of it. And, sadly, being a female in that world, in that era didn’t give her many options.

    Harry had Diana introducing him to real people and the real world. Then he had the Army. Harry formed real world connections with people outside of the aristocracy. He had more options than Margo ever did.

    • Couch potato says:

      True! I just watched a documentary about the queen mother today, and one of the things mentioned was the Royal Ascot. Divorsed people weren’t allowed in the royal enclosure there. They’ve clearly changed the rules, otherwise the queen would have been quite lonly there. There were so many things Margreth would have missed out on, if she’d married Townsend. Another factor was her mother. She was very conservative and had a strong influence over her daughters. She and Prince Philip clashed a lot, because he was more into modernising the monarchy, while TQM wanted to live in the bygone era.

      • booboocita says:

        Victoria Hamilton played the Queen Mother to perfection in The Crown. She had QM’s combo of domineering, commanding attitude and daffy charm down pat.

  4. Amy Bee says:

    Not to mention that Margaret lived in a time when aristocratic women were expected to just marry well and produce heirs. If Harry was of her era, I think he would have been able to make something of himself.

    • Emily_C says:

      This. And I think even today, a woman who was in Harry’s position would have had a much harder time breaking free. Back then? When papers called her a “floozie” for having a lover when everyone knew her husband was banging anything that moved? She was well and truly stuck.

  5. Myra says:

    She is a cautionary tale for Harry of what his life would have been like had he stayed. Thankfully he got out and he can do so much more without the limitations of palace protocols.

    • Snuffles says:

      I want a scene in season 6 of The Crown with Margaret having a private tea with teenager Harry warning him not to make the same mistakes she did and to seek out more for himself.

      In my mind I can totally picture her doing something like that in real life.

      • eekamouse says:

        Yes! I can imagine she did this as well. Always whispering affirmations to him to figure out his own path.

  6. Cecilia says:

    Margaret was maybe a bit of a wild child but she didn’t push boundaries. She was very much an aristocrat and was fine with that lifestyle. She enjoyed being royal, just not the trappings that came with it. Harry on the other hand sees it more as a burden. And maybe that’s because people expected to be “william & Harry” reign instead of a William reign. Like pointed out a few days ago, never were royal reporters so intent on the spare being needed for the monarchy to survive. Margaret was sure as hell not needed. All she had to do was not make to much of a scandal.

  7. Lauren says:

    Margaret couldn’t do without all the glitz, glamour, and ceremony surrounding royal life. It doesn’t help that she didn’t have formal education or knowledge of the real world, real-world situations. Margaret made the best with what she had and could do. If there is a smidge of truth in The Crown Petty Betty was just too envious of her vivacious, more interesting sister and tried to keep her far from a public role. Thankfully Diana tried to push her kids to do better, to see the difference and good they could make in the world. Harry got the memo, Bill didn’t.

  8. Sofia says:

    As others have mentioned, Margaret enjoyed being royalty and the perks that came with it. I know The Crown portrayed a different story but in reality, Liz and Eden came up with a plan that would allow Margaret to marry Peter, keep her titles, have a yearly salary, I think even stay in Crown property and even do some engagements but she would have to give up her place in line and any future children wouldn’t be in the line of succession. It was Margaret herself who decided not to marry Peter.

    • Lizzie says:

      She made that decision in her early 20s. I wonder if she would have done the same thing a decade older and wiser.

      • Digital Unicorn says:

        Yeah I think she would have – being taken out of the line of succession was, I think, the deal breaker for her. She was The Queen’s sister and that meant more to her than anything else. As others have said she loved everything royal.

        Plus I think the reality of marrying Townsend dawned on her, I’ve always felt that she got swept up in this love affair with an older man but when reality set in (and when she realised what she would lose) she freaked out and bolted. She wanted the fairytale life AND the royal life.

  9. Alexandria says:

    Push what boundaries? She was a typical aristocrat who liked to wine and dine. Enjoying life being the spare. What expectations did the public have on her? The British public or press has way more (mostly unfair and insane) expectations and standards for the current sixth in line than they had on her. She was just expected to be quiet and marry well. She would never push boundaries because she needs that royal lifestyle. Free spirited maybe but not boundary pushing. She still likes the status, like Anne. These people are not down to earth.

    Shaking my head at these writers. It’s smarter to write about how HM differed from Margaret and Edward / Wallis. These 3 people could never.

  10. RoyalBlue says:

    yawn. anyone get the impression that royal biographers just wing threat way through their jobs by playing armchair psychologists? They are explaining the behavior of the royals based on inference and feelings. but at the end of the day, what it boils down to is that it’s all made up. I mean, we do it here all the time by piecing together stuff we have heard it read but you don’t see us running off claiming to be experts about it.

    • Betsy says:

      Yes, I do. I haven’t read many, but I’ve read excerpts (like here). The only Royal biography I have read and really enjoyed was The Diana Chronicles. Tina Brown talked to people who knew Diana (and had met her personally on one or two occasions) and when she’s making educated guesses, she says so. I really appreciated that, especially since so much of knowing the Royals really is guessing at them.

  11. Snuffles says:

    Also, let’s be real, I’m sure the RRs probably expected to live the same existence of Margaret. A lifelong party boy making tabloid headlines.

  12. Tessa says:

    Margaret was reported to be resentful of how Elizabeth got a better education than she did.

    • Seraphina says:

      If that really is true, she could have remedied that insecurity. She had the money to do so. I wasn’t aware Liz had a very good education.

      • BayTampaBay says:

        Liz did not receive what today would be considered “a very good education”.

      • Seraphina says:

        Yes, I always was under the impression she felt unprepared for her role education wise but I have no idea what her education consists of.

      • booboocita says:

        @Seraphina — governesses and private tutors. And most of that education was in the humanities with a little bit about government and how to best fulfill the role of a constitutional monarch. I believe Margaret got the same, more or less, without the constitutional monarchy tutorials.

        A number of people who’ve met TQ have said or written that she’s fairly intellectually incurious. They don’t say she’s stupid, but that she remains ignorant of whole swathes of information, mostly because she either thinks such info is irrelevant to her life or she simply doesn’t care. I wish that at some point in her youth, someone had realized that a monarch, even one with little to no hard power, might need to know something more about the world around her.

      • Seraphina says:

        Thank you ladies, very informative. Such a shame is all I can say – on all accounts.

    • FunkyEdema says:

      Elizabeth didn’t received a thorough education either, though. I’m sure the war exacerbated the situation, but the Queen Mum (who was apparently in charge of hiring their tutors) also just didn’t seem to think providing girls with a well-rounded education was necessary.

      • Seraphina says:

        The Queen Mum is fascinating – for the sheer fact of her crazy a$$ way of thinking.

  13. Abena Asantewaa says:

    Andrew Morton, said he did not believe Meghan’s stuff were taken from her, because people saw her in Wholefoods. What Andrew is forgetting is that, she had to inform the security, before going anywhere. That wholefoods photo was when Meghan was a girlfriend, she was spotted at with the bag, at Kensington Palace gate. All the time Meghan was in England, apart from Royal duties, how many photos did you see of Meghan about town, compared to Kate, who was seen out and about all the time. Obviously, Morton has to say that, to flog his book. These people are so dishonest

  14. Amelie says:

    There’s a documentary that just came out on Netflix about Margaret’s and Elizabeth’s relationship. I don’t think it’s specifically a Netflix documentary, it probably aired on British TV recently? It was in Netflix’s Top 10 last time I looked so this post made me want to watch it.

  15. equality says:

    What a load. William partied as much as Harry and is not that dedicated to “duty”. Harry was serving in the military and leading a life outside the royal family. He was only around them for the big public events. Margaret never did anything similar. All these people who act like Harry should have known all this royal protocol or whatever to advise Meghan are ignoring the fact that he had only been a fulltime “working” royal for about a year before meeting her.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      My theory: Harry grew up and became an adult because he actively serve in the military after attending college at Sandhurst thus having held a real job.

      William has never grown up because he has never held a real job.

      • Dee says:

        William has gotten lots of leeway in any of his part time helicoptering jobs and word has it he wasn’t a very dedicated employee even then.

  16. equality says:

    Excerpt from this book in the NY Times about the “very much not racist” family:
    During a tour of South Africa that coincided with Princess Elizabeth’s 21st birthday in 1947, she and her family were lavished with the modern-day equivalent of $10 million in diamonds and other jewels — a cartoonish scene in 2021. “In Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, more than 42,000 schoolchildren had to contribute their weekly pocket money, whether they wanted to or not, toward a platinum brooch set with 300 diamonds, which was duly presented to the princess,” Morton writes. “Saddest of all was an earlier incident when a skinny barefoot African ran after the royal car while waving what seemed like a piece of paper. For his pains the queen mother hit him with her parasol, and then police wrestled him to the ground. The impoverished fellow was only trying to give the millionaire princess his own contribution to her birthday — a 10 shilling note” — or about two dollars.

    • JanetDR says:

      This is the saddest thing. 😢

    • Betsy says:

      That is horrifying.

    • Carabella says:

      This is horrifying, but it was due to the British missionaries that there were schools and schoolchildren (and health clinics for the schoolchildren) in the first place.

      • florencia says:

        This is not the positive argument you seem to think it is. Offering some bare bones schooling and medical care in return for searing racism, crushing the local culture, making the native population second class citizens and forcing a different religion on them is hardly worth celebrating.

      • equality says:

        Colonialism actually introduced diseases to native populations that they had no herd immunity for and caused epidemics. The schools frequently were run like boarding schools and separated families.

  17. FunkyEdema says:

    I don’t think it mattered what Betty wanted. Even if the Queen had wanted to give her greater responsibility, her adviser, the flunkies who actually control everything, would’ve fought against it.

    I’m not saying the Queen is blameless, but I do think Margaret’s fate was more-or-less sealed from the moment she was born. The unbending system she was born into doesn’t allow for “the spare” to play any significant role.

    • Carabella says:

      Agree. A classic case of the servants being in charge of the masters. The TV series, The Crown, doesn’t show that enough.