Well, I am starting this book extremely late
but I thought I'd add my two cents anyway.
I'm about halfway through the second chapter and I'm pleasantly surprised at the effort the author takes to describe the supporting characters and the social and political milieu of the girls and their society.
Although the author confines them to footnotes, I found the descriptions of peripheral politicians and other noteworthies to be really enlightening. These people for whom I barely recognized the names became more three-dimensional and real. The more these people began to feel human, the more I was able to imagine what it was like for Margaret to grow up in that time.
For example, it was interesting to read about the MP and Home Secretary who was required to attend Margaret's birth. I had always heard that story about a government official being required to attend a royal birth but didn't realize that in Margaret's case, it would be Labour politician, son of a labourer who himself went to work in the cotton factories at the age of ten and who seethed at the prospect of the landed gentry using their position to force disadvantages on the working class. No wonder the Queen Mother was so uncomfortable with the practice and sought to have it banned as soon as her husband became King. This incident gives lie to the story that everyone surrounding the family were syncophantic; instead, hints at a much more diverse milieu in which the Family had to operate.
Also interesting to read about was the subtle prejudice in some of society against anything that was un-English - even the Scottishness of the Duchess of York. The pomposity of her ceremonial secretary who was horrified that Princess Margaret's birth would take place in Scotland and who shot down any idea the Duchess had of having her daughter baptised in the Glamis family chapter because it was almost Presbyterian - this pomposity seemed almost too much. We think of the old English guard coming down hard on Wallis and the Queen Mother sailing through with aplomb and approval, but it appears that she had her challenges too.
What would really grate on Scottish nerves though was the response they made to the charges that Elizabeth was a simple country Scottish wife - they responded with the fact that she really wasn't Scottish but English because her family really didn't spend that much time in Scotland, Glamis, their ancestral home, was really just a hunting lodge, a little vacation home to spend time at on holiday where their real home and heart were in England. Reading passages like this make me understand the history of animosity that the Scots must have built up over the years against the English and why its calling into play in politics and society now. Of course, in the introduction, the author states that the overriding theme of all of his books concerns what it means to be English, and Princess Margaret, Prince Philip, Barbara Cartland, Brian Johnson, and Denis Compton are all case studies of Englishness so its fair enough that he concentrate on this; but as someone of Scottish descent, I find the English attitude that he alludes to, quite offputting.
The author reminds us that the birth of Margaret - although she was royal - was considered small news, somewhat similar to Beatrice and Eugenie today. It seems hard to believe that at Margaret's birth, King George V was expected to live for many more years and the Prince of Wales was still extremely popular. So it seemed she was born and died in relative obscurity with points in her life where she seemed more important.
I am getting somewhat annoyed at the author interjecting a 21st interpretation into some events that clearly happened almost 80 years before in a very different age and time. His disagreement with Crawfie's statements that the Yorks were a normal well-to-do family was to state that a normal well-to-do family of today would not hire a head nanny and two nursemaids for two children or that the normal well-to-do family of today wouldn't reside at a residence such as the Yorks' residence at Piccadilly. All true but hardly the point. Crawfie, when she wrote the book, could not accurately predict how the well-to-do in the 21st century would live. Amy Vanderbilt, America's premier doyenne of social etiquette, wrote in her 1950s encyclopedia of etiquette, that the extremely wealthy of the 1950s would be hard pressed to be able to maintain a household staff of the number and level of experience that a normal upper middleclass family were accustomed to maintain in the years immediately preceding WWI. The author's point would have been more interesting if he had compared the York's lifestyle with some of the aristocrats or well-to-do families in politics and business of that time period.
When he goes over the reason for the propaganda for the simple York family life, he overlooks the main reason I have read is that, the reason was not to make the Yorks look like normal people but the reason for the simple home life stories was to make them not look like the immensely stylish and avant garde Windsors. Yes, I imagine that during the war, it was heartening for the people to hear that the Royal Family were undergoing sacrifices for the war also but I think the myth of the simple Royal Family got its beginnings with the Abdication Crisis and the need to give the Royal Family a new look which differentiated from the Duke of Windsor's trademark appeal.
Margaret, so far, he paints as a bit spoiled. He casts doubt on her artistic talents (he's the first I've heard that has done so) but he doesn't really give any reasons for that so its hard to know whether to agree or disagree with him. He does seem to agree though that she was intellectually brighter and more curious than Elizabeth. If this is true, then it must have galled her completely to see her less intellectually adept sister go to more advanced lessons in constitutional history, etc. while she was made to be left behind. I'm putting myself in Margaret's place, and if I were in her shoes, that would infuriate me. I wonder why they did that; it seems a relic from the times when the younger sons were intentionally given worse education than the heir so that they wouldn't think of trying to take the throne away. It seemed quite senseless by Elizabeth's and Margaret's time.
King George VI seems more human and much more a man; his fits of temper during the tour in South Africa appeared to be due to his concern about spending so much money in the warm sun while most of Britain was still on rations and being flooded out. While his temper wasn't admirable; the concern that prompted his temper was.
I was also entranced to learn of his close relationship to Margaret. The author states that of all people, Margaret was the one who was able to get her father to have a loving, almost tactile relationship with her which was astounding because the King was not a tactile person at all. It was interesting to contrast Margaret's experience with her father and Diana's experience with her father and the Royal Family. Diana's teachers and tutors observed that Diana needed touching in her relationships and while her father definitely loved her, he didn't provide the touching and hugging that she thrived on. It's curious to wonder how Margaret was able to create the intimate, loving, very tactile relationship with her father, who was not normally very demonstrative and tactile whereas Diana, who had the same needs was not able to induce people to respond to the human touch unless they also had the same tactile needs that she did. Margaret, in this case, seemed to be able to bring the gap between a need to hug and touch and standoffishness in a way that Diana couldn't.
I read somewhere that when Diana first came into the family, Margaret welcomed her and fanned her interest in the ballet. It would have been great if the two had been closer and I don't know what happened there. I do know that Margaret was angry at the thought of Diana attacking the Queen's position in the Panorama interview which was understandable but they really didn't seem close even before then.
Maybe it will come out in later chapters in the book.