Sibling relationships are often fraught with tension and rivalry. This is true regardless of one’s background, but relationships can be especially complex when there’s a lot on the line — like a crown, for example. Royal history has no shortage of examples of feuds between siblings, from the deep-seated conflict between Queen Mary I and her sister and heir Queen Elizabeth I to the present-day rift between William, Prince of Wales, and his younger brother, Prince Harry.
The late Queen Elizabeth II and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, could have easily been adversaries. The two were close in age, and Elizabeth’s status as the future queen would certainly have been an understandable cause of jealousy as they grew up. The two shared a special bond, though, that endured through their decades in the royal limelight. Still, the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and her sister was not without its ups and downs.
The royal sisters were raised as ‘twins’
When Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were children, they never expected to be anything more than princesses. Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, and Margaret on August 21, 1930. At the time, their father held the title of Prince Albert, Duke of York. As the younger son of King George V, Albert was never meant to inherit the throne; when King George V died in 1936, the crown passed to his heir, King Edward VIII. Edward (called David by his family) ruled for less than a year, though, abdicating in favor of his brother so that he could marry Wallis Simpson, whose status as an American divorcée scandalized the public in an era of conservative morals.
In those early years of their lives, the two sisters reportedly lived very similar lives. "They were treated just alike–same socks, same skirts–and in that way, Elizabeth was brought down to Margaret’s level, because there’s a four-year age difference," royal biographer Andrew Morton told Vogue. "They were twins."
Princess Margaret reportedly told Queen Elizabeth she would one day be queen
Queen Elizabeth was 10 years old and Princess Margaret was just 6 when their father became King George VI and Elizabeth the presumptive heir. It was reportedly Margaret who put together what their father becoming king meant for her older sister. According to the Channel 5 documentary "Elizabeth: Our Queen" (via Hello! Magazine), Elizabeth had just come home from a swimming lesson when news of her father’s ascension to the throne broke. Margaret explained to her sister what had happened, saying: "Well, does that mean you’re going to be Queen now? Poor you!"
From that moment on, the sisters’ lives were different. Not only were they suddenly in the spotlight, but Elizabeth’s future became set in stone. Prior to their father becoming king, royal biographer Andrew Morton told Vogue: "They lived in the shadows of Uncle David, the Prince of Wales, a charismatic figure. When he abdicated in December 1936, it was an incredible blow and transformed the lives of Elizabeth and Margaret as importantly as their parents."
According to Morton, their new proximity to the throne also drastically altered how the two girls were raised. He said: "The dynamic changed; Elizabeth was treated as the heir presumptive … Instead of being treated like twins, they were treated separately and educated separately, and their lives began to diverge."
Queen Elizabeth was ‘motherly’ toward Princess Margaret
While the two sisters were close, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were aware of the age difference between them, and Elizabeth reportedly took her role as big sister very seriously. Their governess, Marion Crawford, described the tender relationship between the two. "Lilibet was very motherly with her younger sister. I used to think at one time she gave in to her rather more than was good for Margaret. Sometimes she would say to me, in her funny responsible manner, ‘I really don’t know what we are going to do with Margaret, Crawfie,’" Crawford said in "Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret" by royal biographer Craig Brown.
Elizabeth’s determination to protect her younger sister would play out in many ways over the years but may have also complicated their relationship. "Elizabeth was brought up taking a slightly maternal role with her younger sister and this even led to friction when she had to set rules and regulations for Margaret according to royal protocol," said body language expert Judi James (via Express).
Queen Elizabeth had a more rigorous education than her sister
The young Princess Margaret may not have envied the responsibility that came with being the heir to the throne of England, but she was reportedly jealous of the fact that Elizabeth’s status as the future queen meant that she was given a better education than her older sister. Princess Margaret’s friend and lady-in-waiting, Anne Glenconner, wrote about the relationship between the two royal women in her memoir, "Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown." The two were tutored at home rather than sent to school. According to Glenconner, both royals received a well-rounded education, but Elizabeth’s was more rigorous.
"She always minded about not being educated as well as the Queen," Glenconner told People. "The Queen had people from Eton and Cambridge, naturally. But Princess Margaret was never part of that. [Margaret] had a governess and was taught to play the piano and speak French. She was very well read and would have really enjoyed being educated in a more stringent fashion."
In an interview with Fox News, Glenconner said that this was the only thing Princess Margaret was truly envious of. "She was very intelligent and she valued education. So I think that’s the only thing she used to talk about … But otherwise, there was no jealously at all," she said.
Princess Margaret was more pampered as a child
Another contrast in the way Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were brought up is that Margaret was reportedly spoiled by her parents who wanted to make sure that she didn’t feel left out as Elizabeth received more attention as the future monarch.
Writing for The Telegraph, royal biographer Sarah Bradford claimed she was told by the daughter of a courtier that King George VI "spoiled [Margaret] dreadfully. She was his pet … she was always allowed to stay up to dinner at the age of 13 and to grow up too quickly."
The way the young princess was indulged was not appreciated by palace staff, said Bradford. "The courtiers didn’t like her much — they found her amusing but … she used to keep her parents and everyone waiting for dinner because she wanted to listen to the end of a programme on the wireless," she wrote. The young Margaret was also something of a jokester, unlike her sister. "[Elizabeth] didn’t really like jokes played on people … She didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings. Princess Margaret had none of that compunction," royal writer Jane Dismore said on the podcast "The Firm: Blood, Lies and Royal Succession" (via Grazia). Margaret’s sense of humor is another thing that caused her father to spoil her, much to the dismay of the courtiers.
Princess Margaret was more outgoing than Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret had very different personalities. As royal expert Victoria Arbiter explained in the Channel 5 documentary "Princess Margaret: Rebel Without A Crown" (via Express), Elizabeth was more reserved while Princess Margaret was more outgoing. Their contrasting temperaments reportedly suited Elizabeth nicely. "Elizabeth was quite happy for Margaret to be the centre of attention because she said, ‘If Margaret’s there, she makes everybody laugh," said Arbiter. "And so it took the pressure off Elizabeth who perhaps was more introverted compared to her mischievous sister."
Royal biographer Craig Brown wrote in "Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret" that Elizabeth was the dutiful heir, while her younger sister brought a more rebellious spirit to the royal family. In describing the sisters’ personality traits, he wrote: "Elizabeth was organised, Margaret artistic; Elizabeth discreet, Margaret attention-seeking; Elizabeth dutiful, Margaret disobedient; Elizabeth disciplined, Margaret wild."
Royal biographer Andrew Morton spoke to Vogue about the sisters’ personalities, saying: "They were the yin and the yang, and, in a way, every royal has a shadow self; Margaret was the shadow of Elizabeth." Morton made it clear, though, that while Margaret was more comfortable with the focus being on her, Elizabeth also shared many of the more gregarious traits that Margaret was known for. "We’re used to talking about Elizabeth as being stoical, the sensible one, and Margaret, the creative one, the theatrical one, but Elizabeth did have those qualities in her," he said.
The princesses were on stage together
During World War II, the young princesses helped put on a series of pantomimes to aid the war effort (via People). The pantomimes included productions of "Aladdin" and "Old Mother Red Riding Boots," and saw both sisters take to the stage.
While the pantomimes were their mother’s idea, they helped Princess Margaret find a gift for performance. "Princess Margaret, particularly, came into her own," royal expert Jane Dismore said on "The Firm" podcast via Express, adding: "And the local papers that were invited to watch and comment on the performances said that Princess Margaret ‘shone’ in the role of whatever she was playing and they always said something kind, but never quite as enthusiastic about Princess Elizabeth." Margaret was reportedly so talented at performing that she could have made a career out of it, but it was an option she was never able to explore as a princess. "Had she been allowed to take up acting professionally, she would have been very good at it," said Dismore.
Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret reportedly got into physical fights as children
It’s hard to imagine Queen Elizabeth II as anything but regal, but the royal was a child once and, like any child, she could be quite naughty. Perhaps that’s especially true of a royal with a sibling; kids will be kids, after all, and siblings are bound to fight.
The young princesses reportedly had their share of squabbles growing up and even came to blows on multiple occasions, according to royal expert Victoria Arbiter. In the Channel 5 documentary "Princess Margaret: Rebel Without A Crown," Arbiter spoke about how tensions between the girls would sometimes escalate, breaking out into a physical explosion. "They could go at it," she said (via Express). "Marion Crawford, their governess, had said they didn’t hesitate to argue and fight. Elizabeth apparently had a good left hook whereas Margaret wasn’t shy to bite her sister in return."
Talk about a royal rumble!
Princess Margaret was ‘terribly loyal’ to Queen Elizabeth
Whatever personal jealousies and rivalries that may have existed between Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, the two put their bond as sisters first. Princess Margaret reportedly adored her older sister, and any arguments that may have sprung up between them were overshadowed by Margaret’s undying devotion to the queen. Her lady-in-waiting, Anne Glenconner, told People that the age difference between them may have prevented a rivalry from truly taking root.
"She was terribly loyal to the Queen — and being five years younger, I think it would have been much more difficult if she had been just [a little] younger than the Queen," she said. "There would have been more rivalry. She never said anything."
The love between the two is indisputable. In the Channel 5 documentary "Princess Margaret: Rebel Without A Crown," royal expert Victoria Arbiter said: "They were each other’s best friend" (via Express).
Princess Margaret was one of the few people who had a direct phone line to Queen Elizabeth
There are few people who can say they had unfettered access to Queen Elizabeth. Royal expert Duncan Larcombe told Ok! that Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales, had a direct line to the queen (via Marie Claire). Royal commentator Jonathan Sacerdoti said that Elizabeth also spent a lot of time on the phone with her daughter, Anne, Princess Royal, and that the passionate horsewoman never ignored a call from her racing manager, John Warren (via Express).
Princess Margaret was another of the few people who was able to speak to Queen Elizabeth without having to schedule a time. Margaret’s friend, Reinaldo Herrera, revealed in Vanity Fair that the two women were in constant communication. "Princess Margaret had a telephone on her desk in Kensington Palace with a direct line to the Queen in Buckingham Palace, on which the two would gossip and laugh with each other daily," he wrote.
Queen Elizabeth once stood in the way of Princess Margaret’s planned marriage
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with Princess Margaret was Margaret’s affair with Peter Townsend. The ill-fated romance between the princess and the royal equerry was doomed from the start due to Townsend’s previous marriage, which ended in divorce. Per History.com, under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, Margaret needed Elizabeth’s permission to marry, but the monarch was reluctant to give it as it might have conveyed to the public that she — and by extension, the monarchy and the Church of England — condoned divorce, something that was still stigmatized in the 1950s.
While Elizabeth did eventually decide to give her tacit blessing to the marriage by planning to change the law — as long as Margaret gave up any claim to the throne — Margaret ultimately ended the relationship in what was seen as an act of self-sacrifice and duty. In a statement, the princess said: "Mindful of the church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others" (via The New York Times).
Was Princess Margaret jealous of Queen Elizabeth?
In spite of the close bond between Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret — and despite claims to the contrary from Margaret’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Glenconner — it does seem there may have been some jealousy on Margaret’s part, although not enough to make her bitter toward her older sister. Royal biographer Andrew Morton told Vogue: "Margaret was Elizabeth’s backup in the nicest possible way. But there’s an awful lot of jealousy because Margaret was the one who commanded attention and she loved the spotlight. It’s a complex relationship; it’s one of loyalty and support, but also primal jealousy."
Morton said that Margaret was prone to tantrums, allegedly once telling her sister: "If you weren’t Queen, nobody would talk to you" (via Vogue). She also refused to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 10th wedding anniversary with Prince Philip, an incident that was portrayed on Netflix’s royal drama "The Crown." Royal biographer Sarah Bradford mentioned the tension between the sisters in her 2002 obituary of Princess Margaret for The Telegraph, claiming that Elizabeth "had everything her sister wanted — a handsome husband, children and, finally, the Crown" and that the younger royal was "subconsciously jealous."
Queen Elizabeth cried at her sister’s funeral
The royal family has long been known to keep a stiff upper lip, and Queen Elizabeth rarely lost her composure in public. While she was moved to tears a few times, such occasions were quite rare — "you can count the number of times the Queen has cried in public on the fingers of half of one hand," royal biographer Andrew Morton told Vogue. In the Channel 5 documentary "Elizabeth: Our Queen," Princess Margaret’s friend Princess Josephine Loewenstein said that Margaret had told her: "I’ve only seen my sister cry once" (via Woman & Home).
One event that moved Queen Elizabeth to tears was the funeral of her little sister. Princess Margaret died on February 9, 2002, two decades before Elizabeth’s own passing, and the queen was devastated by the loss. While the announcement of her death was quite formal, it expressed Elizabeth’s emotions: "The Queen, with great sadness, has asked for the following announcement to be made immediately," opened the statement made by the queen’s press secretary. "Her beloved sister, Princess Margaret, died peacefully in her sleep this morning …"
Royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith wrote in "Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch" that Elizabeth was far from stoic at Margaret’s funeral. She could be seen crying as Margaret’s coffin was moved to a hearse. Smith quoted Margaret’s friend, Reinaldo Herrera, as saying: "It was the saddest I have ever seen the Queen."