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  #61  
Old 07-01-2008, 11:19 AM
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I am afraid I don´t agree with the last chapter of this book. Princess Margaret perhaps didn´t have the robust health of her mother or her sister but I can´t agree with the author´s conclusions.
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Old 07-05-2008, 07:29 AM
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I must read the last chapter again. I can't really remember the author's conclusions.
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  #63  
Old 07-08-2008, 12:55 AM
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Well, the Queen and Queen Mother certainly have been more than usually healthy well into old age. I was a bit surprised by that photo in the book showing Margaret already smoking by the age of 15; she was storing up all sorts of problems for herself although back then the dangers weren't well known.

I'm not sure about the conclusion of the book either. He seems to be seeing Margaret as a symbol of what happened to Britain in the 20th century rather than just as a person living her life, and I think some of his conclusions are a bit forced as a result. I also got the impression he didn't think much of her, as a whole - somehow the tone of the whole book, especially later, is rather sour. I don't know if that's because he didn't really have much contact with her but did spend some time interviewing Lord Snowdon. Christopher Warwick's biography was a lot more gentle.

I'm not sure if I want to read this new biography of Lord Snowdon or not; it sounds rather sensational.
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  #64  
Old 07-15-2008, 10:18 PM
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ome questions to consider

1. Princess Margaret received a very limited education. Might she have benefitted from going to a boarding school rather than being taught at home?
Only insofar as she might have interracted with one or two people who might have been just slightly different than the type of people her immediate family interracted with. But this is unlikely, given the nature of such schools at that period in time.

2. The two princesses were raised to be very close - they wore the same clothes despite their age difference, and they shared a lot of activities. Do you think this exceptionally close family life was helpful to Margaret?

I think it's weird. Having no individual identity, yet one sister is destined to have the most prominent identity, so how could that not eventually have caused problems? If she was never secretly resentful of being second with nothing, I'd be surprised. Considering how much she insisted on rank, while hanging out with supposedly bohemian crowds, I think that might point to someone who is both in rebellion and still not over the fact that she isn't number one, standing on rank all the time.

3. There are many claims from people who knew the princesses as children that Elizabeth's destiny after the abdication of her uncle didn't affect her close relationship with her sister. Is this possible, or are rose-coloured glasses in play?

Rose colored is probably a mild way of putting it. What about the reported incidents of attempted suicide and the Queen's responses to those? She had become a drain and a baggage on her sister by the end of her life.

4. Princess Margaret's interests were, from fairly early on, different from those of her parents and sister. Would that have affected the family closeness in any significant way?

I doubt it. Part of being royal is the right to slum if one so wishes is it not. On the other hand, she was patronizing people more clever and accomplished than her, who had only rank to show for her inclusion in their group, not the other way around. That's the sad part of it.

I read some of Heald's book but haven't had time to finish it. I don't blame him for not liking his subject because in fact what was there at all to really like? I take "Unravelling" in the title to have a double meaning - insofar as it's an exploration and analysis of a royal life, but a royal life that also unravelled thanks to its own dysfunctions and the system that produced it.
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  #65  
Old 07-18-2008, 03:31 PM
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Perhaps they were raised like that (dressing alike, etc) to minimize the difference between them and take the edge off the whole "spare" label. As far as their education was concerned, I believe I read in their nanny's book that the DoY / QE wanted the focus on them being happy children, rather than their studies. I don't think Queen Mary was too pleased about that.
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  #66  
Old 08-17-2008, 11:18 AM
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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.
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  #67  
Old 08-19-2008, 03:25 PM
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It was quite interesting to read the details of a few of these royal duties, especially the detailed planning that went into the preparation for them, but the realisation that they were just a few highlights of a constant routine, and that this was just the beginning of a lifetime of doing the same thing, was a bit daunting to me, and I was only reading about them! I wonder how the Princess must have felt after yet another day of opening a factory, inspecting a hospital, and trying to sound interested in a pumping station, knowing she had decades of the same to look forward to.
I just got to the end of Chapter Two and I think he overdid the details of her engagements here a bit. Maybe I'm projecting but he seems to be getting bored with his subject already and its only the second chapter.

What's fascinating is that he states Princess Margaret was very much a popular draw for groups when they wanted a Royal Visit and I imagine her staff got rather tired of the Ministry of Health calling all the time for a hospital or nurses' school visit but I don't get the sense from reading the chapter the excitement that Princess Margaret obviously created when she made a visit which she obviously did in her youth. I only remember her from the Sixties but I remember the time she met the Beatles and it seemed a magical event.

I think he focuses too much on the preparatory details for each visit but leaves out interesting details on the visits themselves. One exception to that was the enthronement of Queen Juliana.

Peter Townshend's presence as one of her staff on visits certainly makes one understand how the two could have ended up a pair. I quite enjoyed the account of Townshend telling the King to shut up during the trip to South Africa when the King was backseat driving. It must have made him seem awfully brave and daring to Margaret if she was used to synchopants.
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  #68  
Old 08-22-2008, 05:33 PM
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Yes, finally managed to finish

One thing that came out of the end of the book for me, when the author describes his own impression of Margaret and his meeting with her (the interest in books) and then end up getting contrasting information back from her friends about what he's experienced (Didn't think Margaret ever finished a book). I think that this is one of the examples that stood out for me, because it sort of depicts that when/how you socialize with someone, may influence how you see that person and that Margaret seemed to have many personas to play on, depending on the situation.
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  #69  
Old 08-23-2008, 03:31 AM
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To me, the book really changed direction somewhere in the middle. In the early chapters there was a lot of detail, as Dana said, about the preparation for visits and letters to granny and so on. He almost seemed to be flaunting his access to the archives, with his descriptions of memos with Margaret's handwritten comments and so on. Later in the book we get away from that and start relying on people's impressions of her. I don't know if this has to do with the fact that the written record is really all he has of her earlier days because he doesn't have much personal recollection or what the reason was, but the post-marriage part of the book came across differently from the earlier part.

I wasn't so keen on the later part of the book because I got the impression that the author had become rather disappointed with how she'd turned out, and to me that sort of soured the last few chapters. I think you're right, Anne, that she tended to be a different person when she was among the close friends and family she could trust, but she'd been hurt so often (by the Establishment, by the press, by her husband, among others) that perhaps it's understandable that she grew a very hard shell.
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Old 08-23-2008, 05:02 AM
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Originally Posted by norwegianne View Post
Yes, finally managed to finish

One thing that came out of the end of the book for me, when the author describes his own impression of Margaret and his meeting with her (the interest in books) and then end up getting contrasting information back from her friends about what he's experienced (Didn't think Margaret ever finished a book). I think that this is one of the examples that stood out for me, because it sort of depicts that when/how you socialize with someone, may influence how you see that person and that Margaret seemed to have many personas to play on, depending on the situation.
I was very disappointed with the end of the book but there is one point that should be made about Margaret, she may not have finished a book but she loved to enter crossword puzzle competitions and really difficult ones and won many prizes. I think she felt that life had let her down and really played the Princess to the hilt, she gave up love to remain royal so she did with a vengeance.
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Old 08-23-2008, 07:59 AM
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I'm only about halway through the chapter on the sixties and it seems that he was a little underwhelmed with Margaret throughout the book. On some of her early events, if there was a difference of opinion on how Margaret was received at an event, he almost invariably placed more faith in the account that was not as flattering. Perhaps he though the favorable account was syncophantic which it may well have been but I wonder whether all the favorable opinions were truly syncophantic as he makes them out to be.

He seemed to have a great affinity with Lord Snowdon and writes very sympathetically of him; to the point one gets the sense that he rather agrees with Snowdon that the affair with Towshend wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

I couldn't help feel that the comment by Snowdon was a little self-serving. I don't think a man as proud as Snowdon would like to admit that his wife married him on the rebound because she was thwarted her other love. This time the author seems willing to accept Snowdon's accessment of the Townshend affair at face value even though Snowdon wasn't around when things were happening. I wonder if his affinity with Lord Snowdon colored his judgment on other things.
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  #72  
Old 09-02-2008, 01:20 AM
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Have you got much further through the book yet? I was wondering if you thought he was still sympathetic with Snowdon by the time the marriage broke up, because I must say that wasn't the impression I was getting.
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