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Readers, be sure to read my preceding posts on Princess Margaret’s October 1979 trip to America. Part One. Part Two. Part Three

Princess Margaret Is greeted by Lady (Bubbles) Rothermere at The Evening News British Film Awards In London. The Princess was the guest of honor and presented “The Major Award For The Year’s Best Film” which went To “Star Wars.” November 1978.  Photo by Evening News/Shutterstock (895422a)

Princess Margaret was in America.

On Monday, Oct. 15, 1979, Princess Margaret (1926-2001) departed Chicago and arrived in Houston, the second stop on her 1979 U.S. tour. She was in America to raise £4,000 in funds for the renovation of London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. As far as she could tell, things were going swimmingly.

But then, that Tuesday, just five days into her 16-day tour, the Chicago Sun-Times printed an article by gossip columnist, Irv Kupcinet, in which he accused the Princess of saying “The Irish; they’re pigs,” at a Chicago dinner party the previous Saturday. The Princess had been seated at a table with Mayor Jane Byrne of Chicago. According to the journalist,

Mayor Byrne, of Irish descent, “was very incensed…and left the party as soon as possible.”

The Princess was having lunch with her social secretary, Lord Nigel Napier, in Houston, when they learned of the article in the Chicago newspaper. They were aghast. Princess Margaret was scheduled to appear in public that very day and tour the space center, NASA. Lord Napier issued a statement to the press:

“There is no truth in the allegations whatsoever. I was not sitting at the same table with the Princess but she said she did not make that remark. The mayor said ‘goodbye’ to the princess in the nicest possible way. There were no ill feelings at all. We say again there is no truth to the allegations.”

 

Famed heart surgeon, Dr. Denton Cooley, right, explains the preparation of a patient for surgery to Princess Margaret. The Princess is touring the Cardiovascular Center at St. Luke’s Hospital, Houston. The patient is in the surgical suite one floor below. Fort Worth Star Telegram, Oct. 18, 1979. AP photo.

The next day, Princess Margaret toured the renowned Cardiovascular Center at St. Luke’s Hospital, Houston, in which she viewed an open heart surgery. By then, a spokesperson for Mayor Byrne had released a statement that the Princess was referring to the Irish Republican Army terrorists who killed Lord Mountbatten as “pigs.” The Mayor did say that she felt the word, “pigs,” was an unfortunate choice made by the Princess. Strangely, the Mayor speculated further that guests at the weekend party may have misinterpreted a conversation in which she and the Princess talked about dancing and “Irish jigs.”

The journalist Irv Kupcinet was livid to learn of this disingenuous explanation by the Mayor.

“I got my information from a good source right on the scene. Why the hell would they be talking about Irish jigs when they were talking about Lord Mountbatten’s assassination?”

Neither Mayor Byrne’s nor Lord Napier’s repeated statements to the press could stop the wildfire from spreading. Was Mayor Byrne truly being gracious in her many explanations or was she, in her own political way, fanning the flames while seeming to appear gracious? After all, she was Irish. Certainly Irv Kupcinet was complicit in keeping the controversy alive and painting a target on Margaret’s royal back. And Margaret was no help. She never backed down. Self-effacing was not one of her qualities. She continued to deny that she had ever used the words, “The Irish, they’re pigs.”

The issue would not die down. A certain segment of the Irish American community became infuriated. As the controversy grew, and the newspaper articles spread from sea to shining sea, the threat to the Princess’ safety escalated dramatically. Just 27 hours before the Princess landed in Los Angeles—her next stop following Houston— on Thursday, October 18, the Los Angeles Police Department uncovered a plot by a “high-ranking member of the IRA” to assassinate the Princess at the Friday, Oct. 19 dedication of a new Rolls Royce facility in Beverly Hills.

Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Edser was Princess Margaret’s bodyguard at all times. He was armed with a standard Smith and Wesson .45 revolver and had undergone extensive firearm training.

The intelligence had come from Scotland Yard through the U.S. State Department which was quickly relayed to the LAPD. The LAPD had a photo of the suspect which they did not release but there was talk that he went by the name, “The Jackal” and was suspected in the murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten. The hit man had hired a film crew as a cover. He was pretending to be making a documentary on the Princess and wanted photos of her at the caviar and champagne event at the Rolls Royce building. The LAPD conducted a search of a West Los Angeles motel where the suspect had hidden out for two weeks in advance of the Princess’ visit but the room was empty. The security to protect the Princess was heightened. On October 24, 1979, when the Princess was on her way out of the country to the island of Mustique, the Los Angeles Times broke the story in full detail. The article, that ran for several pages, began on Page One, with these headlines:

ASSASSIN SCARE IN L.A.

Protecting the Princess

Report of IRA Death Plot Triggers Massive Security

The Provisional Wing of the IRA responded to the rumor that they were planning to carry out a hit on Princess Margaret, stating coolly that while the Princess was a “legitimate target” for an assassination attempt, such an operation would not be carried out on American soil.

Despite the danger, the Princess went ahead that Friday with the Rolls Royce dedication ceremony, although the police advised her to avoid any of her characteristic side trips on the way, to which she agreed. Linda Gray, famous for portraying the alcoholic “Sue Ellen Ewing” character on the popular Friday night soap opera, “Dallas,” was to join Princess Margaret at the presentation of a plaque. Because there was no bulletproof Rolls Royce limousine in existence, the Princess arrived at the service center in a bulletproof Cadillac limousine, with presidential style security. Along the route to the location, her security detail included an armed motorcycle escort, plain-clothes State Dept. agents, and a helicopter fitted out as air ambulance. Marksmen were situated along the motorcade’s route, according to Capt. Larry Kramer, Chief of LAPD Metropolitan Squad.

For her Los Angeles October 1979 stay, Princess Margaret enjoyed presidential style security, including a motorcade escort of 13 motorcycle police. The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 24, 1979.

Disappointing the assembled crowd at the Rolls Royce plant, Princess Margaret did not linger. She neither chit chatted with the crew nor partook of the tony refreshments. She left after thirty minutes.

Her schedule in Los Angeles was tight. There was a private dinner that same evening, a charity event the next day in the afternoon (Saturday), and, at 8:30 that evening, an intimate dinner party at the Bel Air home of Sue Mengers, the super agent to the A List Hollywood stars.

Hollywood celebrity super agent, Sue Mengers, is shown here with one of her clients, Jack Nicholson. Sue Mengers was besotted with the British royal family. She longed for an invitation to Buckingham Palace.

American celebrity super agent, Sue Mengers, referred to her stars as “My Twinkles.” Shown at center, Sue is joined by actress Faye Dunaway and film producer Robert Evans.

As usual, Margaret had seen Sue’s guest list in advance and had made several changes. She requested that the singer Barry Manilow be invited. Margaret was more at home with show biz types—singers and actors—than with politicians like Mayor Jane Byrne. Plus, she liked men much better than she liked women. She wanted to talk to men, not to women. She was sure that Sue would seat her next to two gorgeous men, whom she could charm. Lord Drogheda (pronounced Droy-da), head of the Royal Opera fundraising committee, who was traveling with her U.S. entourage, thought Princess Margaret was charming. At least he had said just such a thing at the beginning of the tour and to a reporter, no less. His quote had appeared in the newspaper.  Speaking of the Princess and her fundraising tour before it was launched, he was quoted as saying that

“I think it’s rather splendid. She [Princess Margaret] has never done anything like this before in her life. But I think you’ll find that when she goes to these different receptions,the trouble she takes to shake hands with people, and to make an effort with people, is quite remarkable. She is very bright, very perceptive, and has enormous personal charm.” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Oct. 17, 1979)

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READERS: Before reading this post, please read Parts One and Two of Princess Margaret’s Trip to America, 1979.

This family portrait of Princess Margaret and her children, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, 15, and David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley, 17, was released to the press just as the Princess embarked upon her fundraising trip to America to raise money for the renovations to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. The Princess was President of the Royal Ballet. October 1979. Photo by Norman Parkinson.

On October 11, 1979, Princess Margaret (1926-2001) and her entourage landed in Chicago to begin her tour of America to raise funds for the renovation of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, London. As President of the Royal Ballet, she would appear in five cities over a course of sixteen days. She would start off with a stay of five days in Chicago’s Drake Hotel. Upon her arrival, she met with a group of journalists and made her first faux pas. She asked Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Irv Kupcinet, who wrote a syndicated column, “Kup’s Corner” a foolish question.

“Is Richard Daley still mayor of Chicago?”

Kupcinet was aghast. Not only had Daley been dead for three years, two other mayors had been elected since then. Jane Byrne was mayor now. She was the first woman to be elected mayor of a major city in the United States. Byrne was educated (bachelors’ degrees in both biology and chemistry), savvy, and powerful, having begun her political career in the Democratic Party as a volunteer in the 1960 U.S. presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy.

John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States — the youngest ever elected….But perhaps what most set him apart when he was elected was that he was Irish. And even more unthinkable: he was Catholic. His family was built on its faith. His campaign for president was almost crushed by it.

Jane Byrne, too, was Irish and Catholic. All Chicago mayors since 1933 were Irish. Jane, 46, had just returned from a trip to Ireland. She went there after her September 5, 1979, appearance in London at the funeral of Lord Louis Mountbatten, assassinated August 27 by Irish radicals of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army. Mayor Byrne was part of a ten-member U.S. delegation headed by former New York Governor W. Harriman traveling to England at the request of President Carter. While she was there, Byrne met in Ireland with the Irish Prime Minister Jack Lynch to discuss the current political situation in Ireland and the United Kingdom. She went on to County Mayo to research her family’s Irish roots.

Mayor Jane Byrne of Chicago strums an Irish harp in a Dublin pub. She stopped over in Ireland after representing the U.S. at the September 1979 funeral of “the fallen warrior,” Lord Louis Mountbatten, assassinated by IRA terrorists the previous month. Byrne is in Ireland to research her family genealogy. Chicago Tribune, Sept. 8, 1979.

Sir Nicholas Henderson, newly-appointed as the British ambassador to America by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of England, was traveling with the Princess’ party. He was puzzled as to why Chicago was one of the stops. He wrote in his diary that it was

…not to my mind, an altogether straightforward piece of fund-raising, given that we are in the heart of the Middle West.

Henderson should have been briefed. True, Chicago was in the American Midwest, but the Chicago of 1979 was no longer the cow and pig town of the early Twentieth Century of which, in 1914, American Poet Carl Sandburg immortalized in his poem, “Chicago”:

Chicago 

 

Hog Butcher for the World,

   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

   Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;

   Stormy, husky, brawling,

   City of the Big Shoulders

An even more disparaging portrayal appeared in print in 1952 in the book, Chicago: The Second City, written by A.J. Liebling, “a disgruntled and displaced New Yorker whose few months’ sojourn in Chicago provided him enough ammunition for a malicious attack on the City of Big Shoulders.”

For the cosmopolitan Mr. Liebling, Chicago consisted of an “exiguous skyscraper core and the vast, anonymous pulp of the city, plopped down by the lakeside like a piece of waterlogged fruit.” Liebling saw no cultural life in Chicago to speak of, no worthwhile theatre, no decent dining spots or nightclubs. To Liebling, the city was a conglomeration of dullards and conventioneers whose idea of a night on the town was a meal of “pig’s ribs” followed by a trip to the nearest strip joint. (1)

In 1954, with the building of its Lyric Opera House, Chicago hoped to distance itself from its former déclassé image as The Hog Butcher of the World where haute cuisine was considered a meal of pig’s ribs. The Lyric Opera House of Chicago is North America’s second-largest opera auditorium, after the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. On Sunday, October 14, Princess Margaret would attend a matinee performance of the Lyric Opera of Chicago where Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti would perform. The night before she would attend a private dinner at the private home of millionaire Abra Prentice Anderson.

Chicago was cosmopolitan now, with a vibrant social life with lots of rich, well-coiffed women raising money for good causes. Rockefeller heiress and Chicago’s No. 1 debutante in 1961, Abra Prentice Anderson (b. 1944), was one of these social tigresses, a philanthropic treasure, who lent her energy to supporting the Lincoln Zoo, Prentice Women’s Hospital, and Ethel Walker’s Boarding School.

Actress Barbara Rush and journalist Abra Prentice Anderson appear at a 1969 Prentice Women’s Hospital Board tea. The hospital is named for Abra’s parents, the Rockefeller Prentices.

Abra, tall at 5’10, with thick, dark hair, began her career in journalism in 1966 as a fledgling reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, purportedly being one of the first to cover the story of the murder of eight Chicago nurses by Richard Speck. From 1969-1972, she and her husband the impossibly-handsome Jon Anderson had a gossip column of their own in the Chicago Daily News called “Jon & Abra.” At the time, the Andersons were Chicago’s No. 1 “young couple about town.” In 1972, Abra came into her fortune of $35 million and, with Jon, launched the short-lived monthly magazine, The Chicagoan. The two divorced in 1976. Abra was still employed by the Sun-Times. In a 1979 Tribune “Lifestyle” article, Abra was listed as one of Chicago’s ten most eligible women. She wasn’t in a hurry to remarry, she said in the interview for the piece:

“Basically, I’m financially independent, I’ve had my children, so there’s no reason for me to get married again unless I meet someone I can’t live without….I’m a better person than I was before I got married the first time. I’m more secure, I’m willing to take more risks, and I don’t have zits anymore.”

When Abra’s daughter, Ashley Prentice Norton, was eight or nine years old, ca. 1978-79, Abra sent out a Christmas card with a photograph of her and her three children posing stark naked. Ashley was mercilessly teased at school and Abra was raked over the coals in the Chicago gossip columns. Abra did not regret sending out the controversial snap, saying that the nudity was tastefully done. (2)

Saturday, October 13, Princess Margaret was the guest of honor at Abra’s Drake Tower penthouse with its posh address on North Lake Shore Drive, then called “the richest block in Chicago.” Abra and her little children lived on the 29th and 30th floors in the Drake Tower penthouse. Ashley Prentice Norton, in her novel, The Chocolate Money, described the penthouse:

I venture into the living room….[I]t’s the best room in the aparthouse…[I]t is two stories high and takes up one whole half of the aparthouse. Standing in it is like being in a Lucite box that’s suspended in the sky. Instead of a solid wall, there is a huge pane of glass that goes floor to ceiling and allows for an amazing view of Lake Michigan. Besides being really big, it has cool things, like the spiral staircase that winds up to her [Abra’s] bedroom. The steps are big chunks of creamy veined marble, and the railing is a long silver tube that curves like a Krazy Straw. Straight silver bars connect the railing to the steps….

What Abra Anderson really liked to do was throw a party. Everyone wanted an invitation. As was the custom, Abra’s fifty dinner guests arrived ahead of Margaret, allowing her to make her royal entrance. She was usually late, sometimes hours, but that was to be expected.  Princess Margaret was seated at the table with Mayor Jane Byrne (1933-2014) who had arrived on the arm of her husband, former reporter, Jay McMullen, also a colorful Chicago fixture. He was known for his bawdy tales of sexual conquest and weird ties made of yarn. McMullen had appointed himself the mayor’s “tough guy,” protecting her against the press and anyone else he deemed harmful to his new bride.

Mayor Byrne remarked to Princess Margaret that she had just returned from England where she had attended the funeral of the Princess’ second cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Out of Margaret’s loose mouth rolled these words,

“The Irish; they’re pigs.”

Too late, she realized her mistake. Turning to the Mayor, she gasped.

“Uh-oh. You’re Irish.”

Irv Kupcinet, known as “Kup,” who was the first journalist to report the story in his Tuesday, October 16, 1979, column says that the Mayor was outraged and left the dinner as soon as possible. It was not revealed for three weeks who had leaked the story. Later it was determined that it was Jay McMullen, the Mayor’s husband. This revelation ran in the Chicago Sun-Times at the end of the month, now outraging the hostess, Abra Anderson, who resigned her “Click” column at the Sun-Times.

Word of Margaret’s remarks traveled fast. Newspapers hounded her social secretary, Lord Napier. He denied that Margaret had used derogatory words. At first, Mayor Byrne denied Margaret had said those words. Then her press office said that the Mayor and Princess Margaret had discussed Irish jigs. This comment was so ridiculous that a Guardian journalist in London pondered sarcastically whether or not Princess Margaret does not eat Irish figs.

Later, Mayor Byrne confirmed that Margaret had made the remark but that she was referring to Irish terrorists as pigs, not the Irish people. Then Abra Anderson confirmed that Mayor Byrne had told her of the conversation. The proverbial poopoo hit the fan. Newspapers from New Zealand to Scotland to Tyler, Texas carried the story.

On the 1980 Census, forty million Americans would declare Irish ancestry. Many people in America and globally considered Margaret’s words to be an Irish slur. They became infuriated. They planned anti-British protests at each of the next of Margaret’s planned tour events. In Irish pubs across America, patrons passed tin cups at “Irish brunches” to gather dollars for NORAID, the IRA’s money source. NORAID claimed the money was used to support widows and orphans. Prime Minister John Lynch of Ireland called that “hogwash.” The money is used to create widows and orphans. Nevertheless, Margaret had given their cause of kicking the British out of Northern Ireland through guerrilla warfare a rallying cry.

Headlines excoriated the Princess:

‘Irish are Pigs’ causes work stoppage

Meg in Irish Stew

Margaret in hot water over ‘Irish pigs’ remark

Irish ‘pig’ puts her majesty in a poke

In England, however, where the British people and the Royal Family were still in shock and mourning for Lord Louis Mountbatten, feeling ran in a different direction. From the Newcastle Journal, October 23, 1979, a letter was published from a reader to the Editor:

Had no one a kind word for Princess Margaret? She’s not on the list of my next dinner party, but if she were, I would expect her to choose a rather stronger epithet than ‘pigs’ for the terrorists who assassinated her favourite uncle.

Then there was the British writer, Auberon Waugh, writing in his Private Eye diary from England, that “all over the country people are raising their glasses to toast the Bonnie princess.” This annoyed him, writing that for Princess Margaret’s entire life,

“this woman has been flouncing around embarrassing everybody with her rudeness, self-importance, and general air of peevish boredom. Now it looks as if everything will be forgiven for the sake of one bon mot.”

Then there were the pig lovers.

Margaret had traveled to America with 27 trunks full of jewels and designer clothing, the American ambassador, a lady-in-waiting, a social secretary, a Scotland Yard bodyguard, and three others but neglected what she needed most: a press secretary to quell the furor that erupted into a major international incident of dangerous proportion. Why had Buckingham Palace and the Foreign Office given Margaret’s trip the green light when anti-British feeling was at such fever pitch? Flames kept being fanned as more and more papers picked up the story and comments continued, both in favor of and against the Princess.

Readers: For more on Princess Margaret on this blog, click here

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First, please be sure you have read this post: “Princess Margaret’s Trip to America, 1979, Part One

It was August in 1979, a time when almost every Briton took a holiday to some faraway family home or destination. Queen Elizabeth II loved to go to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. This year, as in many years, she was spending the late summer with her sister, Princess Margaret, and some of the children. Princess Margaret had celebrated her 49th birthday at Balmoral on August 21. She was resting up for her October U.S. tour. The Queen Mother stayed nearby at Birkenhall. The Queen’s husband Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburgh) was in France. Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales) was fishing in Iceland.

Every year Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom spends the summer break at Balmoral Castle, where she is joined by other members of The Royal Family. Queen Victoria bought the Castle in 1852. The original castle was built in the Fifteenth Century.

Aberdeen Press and Journal (Scotland)

Monday, August 27, 1979

Braemer’s Royal guessing game

Although Balmoral [Castle] is the holiday base for the Royal family at this time of year, individual members are constantly coming and going to attend public and private engagements. This always leads to interesting speculation on who will occupy the Royal Pavilion at the Braemar Gathering. On current information, Saturday, September 1 looks like being pretty much a ladies’ day.

At Balmoral at present are the Queen, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones. The Queen Mother has been at Castle of Mey….On the male side at Balmoral are Prince Edward, Prince Andrew, and Viscount Linley [David Armstrong-Jones].

Royal visitors are a treasured tradition at the gathering but no one knows who will be present or when. It adds an intriguing touch to an already fascinating day.

“Uncle Dickie,” Prince Philip’s uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten, 79, was at his usual summer haunt, the family’s home in Ireland, Classiebawn Castle.

Louis Mountbatten with his daughter, Lady Patricia Brabourne, and her children, from left, Joanna, Philip, Norton and Amanda, in front of Classiebawn Castle, County Sligo, Ireland. (Getty Images)

 

Lord Louis Mountbatten, white-haired and wearing a black turtleneck, is boating with his family and friends aboard his wooden cabin cruiser, Shadow V, probably in Donegal Bay, Ireland.

Lord Mountbatten was a prominent member of Britain’s Royal Family with an impressive record as a war hero and elder statesman. In 1947, as the last Viceroy of India, he negotiated that country’s independence from the United Kingdom. On September 12, 1945, he received the Japanese surrender in Singapore, signaling the end of World War II. Since the age of 16, he saw active service in the Royal Navy rising to its highest rank—Admiral of the Fleet. He was very popular and gregarious. He is credited with having brought together his nephew Prince Philip with the then-Princess Elizabeth when she was only a teen. Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth were friends of his daughters, Pamela and Patricia.

Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II) dances with Lord Louis Mountbatten during a fundraising dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London. July 3, 1951. Photo by Jimmy Sime/Central Press/Getty Images)

 

Charles, Prince of Wales and Lord Louis Mountbatten (Louis, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma)  cutting a ribbon to allow the public to enter Lord Mountbatten’s home, Broadlands in Romsey, Hampshire. May 22, 1979 (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Prince Charles considered “Uncle Dickie” to be the grandfather he never had. He served as Charles’ mentor. By 1978, Mountbatten had grown concerned with Charles’ playboy behavior. He had hoped that Charles would settle down and marry his granddaughter, Amanda Knatchbull, but she turned down Charles’ proposal. Mountbatten warned Charles that he was “beginning on the downward slope that wrecked your Uncle David’s [Edward VIII, later, Duke of Windsor’s] life and led to his disgraceful abdication and futile life ever after.”

800px-Lord_Mountbatten_Naval_in_colour_Allan_Warren

Lord Louis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma

Aberdeen Press and Journal (Scotland)

Tuesday, August 28, 1979

Anger grows over killing of Lord Louis Mountbatten

Earl Mountbatten of Burma was killed yesterday when a bomb blew apart his boat as it sailed from a quiet harbor in the Irish Republic. A grandson and a teenage boatman died with him as terrorists struck at Mullaghmore, County Sligo.

Lord Mountbatten, 79, a second cousin of the Queen and uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh, was setting off on a holiday trip on his 29 ft. motor vessel Shadow V when the blast occurred.

The former Viceroy of India and wartime leader, known affectionately as “Uncle Dickie” to the Royal Family was already dead when he was brought ashore.

His 14 year-old grandson Nicholas was dead. So was 16 year-old Paul Maxwell, who was with the family as a crew member.

Lord Mountbatten’s daughter, Lady Patricia Brabourne, her husband, Lord Brabourne, and their son, Timothy, Nicholas’ twin—and the Dowager Lady Brabourne—were all badly injured.

After the blast the I.R.A. issued a statement in which they claimed responsibility for “the execution today of Lord Mountbatten.”

As fury over the latest violence mounted, the British Prime Minister [Margaret Thatcher] said, “By their actions today, the terrorists have added yet another infamous page to their catalogue of atrocity and cowardice. 

If reports of their involvement in the death of Lord Mountbatten prove true, they will earn the condemnation and contempt of people of goodwill everywhere.”

Speculation is that Mountbatten was checking the lobster traps on his boat when the fifty-pound bomb was set off by remote control by a terrorist at a distance. He did not die instantly, as was initially reported. His legs were blown off. Locals were carrying him out of the water but he died before reaching shore.

Belfast Telegraph (Northern Ireland)

Tuesday, August 28, 1979

Murder Toll Climbs

The death toll from the bomb explosion which killed Lord Mountbatten rose to four today. The latest victim was the Dowager Lady Brabourne, 82-year-old mother-in-law of Lord Mountbatten’s daughter. It was also learned today that three medical experts from Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital went to Sligo Hospital following a personal request from Buckingham Palace to give advice on the care of the survivors of the explosion.

Flags flew at half-mast throughout India today as a mark of respect for the country’s last Viceroy.

The Royal undertakers J. H Kenyon’s today flew in a chartered plane to prepare for the removal of the bodies of Earl Mountbatten and the Dowager Lady Brabourne.  A police spokesman said: “With the tides the wreckage has been scattered. There’s still quite an amount over Donegal Bay and on the shore. It’s a difficult job.” And it was also learned today that the bomb which destroyed Earl Mountbatten’s boat may have been left on the seabed in a lobster pot he [Mountbatten] checked each day.

There are reports that on Sunday holiday makers saw two skin divers emerge from the water near the line of lobster pots owned by Lord Mountbatten. This has strengthened the police theory that the bomb was in a lobster pot and not attached to the boat.

Viewpoint: Mountbatten: the glory and the grief

The murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma and the killing of 18 British soldiers by the Provisional IRA in one day marks a watershed. The horror of Irish affairs and the cold ruthlessness of Republican terrorists has been shown to the people of these islands in a starker dimension than at any time during the past ten years….

The gravity of events has been such that, internationally, the busy world has had to stop and stare….The impact in Britain is literally incalculable. Lord Mountbatten was more than a mentor to the Queen and the Royal Family. He was a father figure to the nation and an embodiment of all that was best in the British character….

The British public and the public in Northern Ireland are absolutely clear about the reality of terrorist firepower within the Irish Republic. It is a firepower that must be faced and faced down.

There is no doubt that Mr. Jack Lynch and other political leaders in the Irish Republic are deeply shocked and ashamed that such evil can spring from their midst….[W]ords are not enough, messages of condolence are not enough….Terrorists should no longer be able to hide behind the lack of extradition for so-called political crimes. Extradition must become a reality.

Prince Philip flies home

The Duke of Edinburgh is flying back to Britain tonight, arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport at 8 pm. on board an Andover of the Queen’s Flight….The aircraft will go to Iceland to bring Prince Charles home from a fishing holiday….Arrangements for Lord Mountbatten’s funeral at Westminster Abbey on September 5 are being worked out by Lord Chamberlain’s office…the Queen drove from Balmoral Castle to nearby Birkenhall to tell the Queen Mother personally of the tragedy.

Reading Evening Post (England)

Friday, August 31,1979

Round Up—100 arrests in police purge on the IRA 

POLICE CELLS were bulging today as a massive round-up of IRA sympathizers continued in the Irish Republic in the wake of the “Bloody Monday” killings. More than 100 people with terrorist links have so far been arrested. But although two men have been charged with the Mountbatten murder, another two are still eluding police.

Mourners Expected in their thousands

Earl Mountbatten is home. His body lies in the marbled Sculpture Hall at Broadlands, his estate near Romsey at Hampshire….Prince Philip and Prince Charles stood in silence…as the bodies flown home by the RAF were gently carried to the hearses.

 

The Funeral Of Lord Mountbatten of Burma following his murder by the IRA (L-R), Reverend Edward Carpenter, HM Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, Prince Andrew Prince Charles, Princess Margaret (at far right, straining to see something), Princess Anne, Captain Mark Phillips, the Dowager Duchess of Gloucester, gathered outside Westminster Abbey, London, September 5, 1979. (Photo by Central Press/Hutton Archive/Getty Images)

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Princess Margaret, 1980

Hopes ran high for Princess Margaret of Great Britain‘s October 1979 fundraising tour in America. The cause was the London‘s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, a centerpiece of world opera and ballet. By 1979, backstage conditions at the 120-year-old building had become “rather grotty” said the Princess’ 30-year-old nephew, Prince Charles, and terribly cramped. Money was needed to construct an extension to contain rehearsal studios for both the Royal Opera chorus and the Royal Ballet dancers, modern dressing rooms, and improved wardrobe maintenance and storage areas. In her role as President of the Royal Ballet, Margaret was tapped to harness her star power among American “art cats” to rustle up another £4,000 to add to the £12,000 already raised by the Royal Opera House Development Appeal in the previous four years. In response, the American Friends of Covent Garden had sold advance tickets for one formal dinner at each of five stops in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Cleveland where Princess Margaret would be the guest of honor. The film, “Prince Charles Backstage at Covent Garden,” would be shown to highlight the downtrodden state of affairs at the Opera House.

Princess Margaret is to be in the Venetian Room at the Fairmont [Hotel] on Monday, October 22 for a dinner dance. $500 tickets. For tickets, write Mrs. Gordon Getty [Ann]. (1)

Princess Margaret speaks to David Wall of the Royal Ballet, 1978

As Princess Margaret (1926-2001) was not traveling as a representative of her government, the trip was semi-private and somewhat relaxed. There would be both times of pleasure and of duty. Margaret would attend the Lyric Opera of Chicago where Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti would perform. In Houston, she would visit the NASA space center, have a luncheon with former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, and witness open heart surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital. In Los Angeles, she would unveil a plaque at a new Rolls Royce Facility. She would travel outside Cleveland to a horse farm. Social doyennes jockeyed for the opportunity to throw the Princess a cocktail party, dinner, or luncheon. She would mingle with Hollywood stars. The charity, Les Dames de Champagne, in Los Angeles scored a coup when the Princess’ social secretary squeezed their charity event into Margaret’s busy schedule:

On the evening of Saturday, October 20, Les Dames will play hostesses to H.R.H. Princess Margaret who’ll attend their reception upstairs at Bullocks Wilshire Los Angeles and promenade her royal presence past some interesting “international tasting tables”…It had originally been scheduled for Sunday, October 21 but when Les Dames founder Wanda Henderson read about the Princess’ visit to L.A., she got on the phone to the British consul general’s office and the wheels began to spin…[H]alf of the money raised will go to the Princess’ cause. (2)

Yet not everyone in America was as excited about Her Royal Highness’s impending visit. One reader of the L.A. Times wrote to the paper’s editor:

I resent Princess Margaret invading our country to beg money for refurbishing and expanding…[the] Royal Opera House….Princess Margaret inherited a fortune in jewels from her grandmother, the late Queen Mary. I wonder why she and her sister, Queen Elizabeth, don’t sell some of their jewels to restore some of their famous landmarks. (3)

American gossip columnists got a lot of mileage covering Princess Margaret’s love life:

Reader: I have been fascinated with that romance between Princess Margaret and her young boyfriend Roddy Llewellyn. Is that still going on?”(M.A., Greenwood, Louisiana.)

Columnist: I wouldn’t call it a romance. The royalty grapevine insists that Roddy is amusing and keeps the Princess diverted. They still are companionable and had been vacationing at a secluded villa on Spain’s Costa del Sol. (4)

Yet American gossip columnists enjoyed trashing Margaret in print, gleefully reporting the breakdown of her unhappy marriage with her former husband, the internationally-acclaimed photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) and their bitter July 1978 divorce.

At

At left, Tony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) watches as his fiancee at the time, Princess Margaret, takes a photograph at the Badminton Horse Trials. ca. 1960

Gossip columnists were keen to report Margaret’s fashion sense in their articles, often inserting subtly-catty remarks.

On a gray day, she wore…white platform sandals that showed the heel reinforcements in her hose….Before she plunged in to shake hands with everyone there, she extracted a cigarette holder and a cigarette case from her white ostrich-patterned bag. The Princess is adept at clenching the cigarette holder between her teeth as she lights up…. (5)

Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, The Countess of Snowdon, the maverick in Britain’s royal family, will be back in L.A. Wednesday evening….[S]he is petite and inclined to plumpness….[with] startling blue eyes and a lovely British complexion. (6)

The timing of Margaret’s October arrival in America should have been favorable to her fund drive. The Royal Ballet that had just wound up its exceedingly successful North American summer tour on August 5 in Mexico City. For six days in late July, the company had performed in the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium, their repertoire including the ever-popular Shakespeare tragedy, “Romeo & Juliet.” The premiere had been at 8:30 p.m. on July 24, 1979. L.A. Times gossip columnist Jody Jacobs reviewed the premiere two days later with this headline: “Warm Hello for Royal Ballet.”

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English dancer Marguerite Porter became Senior Principal Ballerina at The Royal Ballet in 1978.

Jody Jacobs was not kidding about warmth! This was the first big event in which President Carter‘s strict temperature controls had been put in effect. Temperatures had soared into the 80s that day in L.A. with hazy sunshine predominating. The air conditioning thermostat in the Shrine had been set at the federally-mandatory 78 degrees. The Shrine, which had been “magically staged as an English Maytime tent,” became, in that summery, smoggy heat, a “giant communal steam bath.” The ballet fans were packed into their seats, wearing their best clothes, sweating profusely, mopping brows, dabbing at armpits. Middle-aged women suffered menopausal hot flashes and fanned themselves with the evening’s program. Nevertheless, aside from a few good-natured grumbles, the soggy but devoted ballet patrons and the dancers, in the spirit of the English, remembered to

Keep Calm and Carry On

Ironically, an article on menopausal health appeared in the L.A. Times alongside Jacobs’ review, with the headline,

Estrogen Useful

Later that week, Governor Jerry Brown of California would fill out the necessary paperwork to challenge President Carter in the 1980 Democratic primary. (President Carter would keep the Democratic nomination but he would not go on to win a second term.)

On August 21, 1979, just seven weeks before she disembarked for America, Princess Margaret celebrated her 49th birthday with her children, David, 17, and Sarah, 15, at Balmoral Castle, the Scottish holiday home of the British royal family. Margaret’s sister, Queen Elizabeth II, was there, as was her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. In her role as head of the British Commonwealth, the Queen had just returned from tense negotiations in Lusaka, Zambia, to discuss the Rhodesian conflict, where there was tremendous anti-British feeling.

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Queen Elizabeth II on a state visit to Botswana, summer 1979. See Prince Philip on our left and Prince Andrew on our right. SERGE LEMOINEGETTY IMAGES

Guerrilla forces were operating out of bases in Zambia and the Queen had put herself at great risk. The Queen arrived two days ahead of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of England. As was her custom, the Queen hosted a banquet and reception for all forty-two African leaders. Behind the scenes, she held private talks, bringing down the temperature so significantly in the negotiations that Thatcher called for a constitutional convention in London in September to pave the way for Rhodesian independence.

In a little over a month, Princess Margaret and six others would hop on a British Airways Concorde jet and fly from London to the U.S. to begin her fundraising swing through the States. The Princess’ lady-in-waiting, Lady Annabel Whitehead, had been steadily packing the Princess’ jewels, purses, shoes, and outfits in the 27 trunks that she would need for such a variety of appearances. Everything was falling in place and the Princess was looking forward to some good press.

Roddy Llewellyn and Princess Margaret not long after they met in 1973. Picture: SuppliedSource: News Corp Australia

Margaret had significant image problems at home. A recent poll had put her dead-last in royal family popularity, even below her niece, Princess Anne. The public disapproved of her romance with Roddy Llewellyn, an aspiring pop singer and gardener seventeen years her junior, who, just a month before Margaret turned 49, in July, had had his drivers’ license revoked for 18 months. The previous February, he had been arrested for drunk driving after he crashed his Ford van into an unmarked police car in Kensington High Street, London. Roddy had sped away and the police had given chase. Roddy’s car had skidded to a halt when it ran into a cement median in Highbridge. Roddy was fined a measly £12.25 but not being able to drive was proving to be hard on his gardening business as he needed it to haul soil, pots, and plants to landscaping sites. For months, Roddy’s drink-driving incident had been splashed across newspapers internationally. Even worse, the passenger in Roddy’s car that fateful night was a married woman whose husband later filed for divorce naming Roddy as his wife’s seducer.

Also that same July, Lord Snowdon (“Tony”) and his new wife, Lucy Lindsay Hogg, gave birth to a baby girl, garnering sweet headlines. Even worse, the baby would be christened just days before Margaret was landing in America. There would be photographs of Tony, Lucy, and the baby, Lady Frances at the ceremony, where Tony and Margaret’s daughter, Lady Sarah Armstrong, was to be named as the baby’s godmother.

lord-snowdon-former-husband-of-princess-margaret-leaves-news-photo-1574273653 shortly after dec 1978 wedding

Lord Snowdon and his second wife Lucy Lindsay Hogg shown shortly after their December 1978 marriage. She is expecting a baby.

Then, in November, when Margaret had left America, Tony would arrive in America on a book tour.

Both Margaret and Tony craved constant attention and competed for center stage. Now Tony-Cheating Tony-was getting nothing but glowing press.

A London writer was calling for Margaret’s exile to America where, the writer said, the people had the bad taste needed to appreciate her.

Princess Margaret needed to get out of England. She needed an image makeover. Photos of her relaxing at her private home on the island of Mustique in the Caribbean were making their way into the tabloids.

Princess Margaret, center. Colin Tennant in white hat, to the left. Anne Tennant, short blond hair, to the right. Roddy Llewellyn stands behind Anne. On the island of Mustique where the Princess had a home, the land of which was a gift from the Tennants.

As President of the Royal Ballet, Margaret would be mingling with the rich and well-connected Americans; their cachet would build up her profile. Perhaps association with cultured ballet and opera folk could erase some of the damage done to her reputation by those photos that had appeared in The Daily Mail the previous fall. She had been at the Glen, the Scottish home of Anne and Colin Tennant, at a private costume party with Bianca Jagger and Roddy. Wearing a slinky black dress and blonde wig, she had channeled American sex goddess Mae West, crooning seductively, “Come Up and See Me Some Time.” Anne, the hostess at the Glen, was one of the Princess’ ladies-in-waiting. She snapped some pictures of the fun time. Unfortunately, Anne’s oldest son, Charlie, had a serious heroin addiction and wanted money to buy drugs. He found the photos that his mother had tucked away in her drawer and stole them. Through an intermediary, they were sold to the press.

Pictured l. to r., Roddy Llewellyn, Princess Margaret, Anne Tennant, Charlie Tennant. on Mustique ca. 1979

Margaret longed to return to America, and, in particular, to Hollywood (“Tinsel Town”) where she was popular and the movie star men were so good-looking. Writer Gore Vidal, a lifelong close ally of the Princess, said of her love for Hollywood,

Like many British royals, she was fascinated by the place.

 

Read the next installment: Princess Margaret’s Trip to America, 1979, Part Two: Lord Louis Mountbatten

Readers: For more on this blog about Princess Margaret, click here

Readers: “The Queen Mother and the Rogue Kiss” tells of the 1977 visit by President Jimmy Carter to meet the Queen and family. 

Readers: For more on the British Royal Family, click here

Sources:

  1. San Francisco Examiner, October 4, 1979
  2. Jody Jacobs’ column, L.A. Times, Sept. 21, 1979
  3. Virginia Cohen, Santa Monica. LA Times, Letters to the Editor, September 22, 1979
  4. Robin Adams Sloan’s column, The Indianapolis News, September 14, 1979
  5. L. A. Times, October 22, 1979, “Party Notes,” IV, page 6
  6. L.A. Times, Oct. 16, 1979

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Princess Margaret of Britain loved to dress up. Here she is at age 34 at a Georgian ball at Mansion House, 1964. A Georgian-themed affair is a throwback to the days of French Queen Marie Antoinette: heavy on white wigs and powdered faces. Getty Images.

From a very young age, Princess Margaret of Britain (1930-2001) loved to dress up in costumes, act, sing, and dance—and she had real talent. At the age of nine months, for example, she had astounded her grandmother with her gift for music, by humming the waltz from “The Merry Widow.”

Her enchantment with the magical world of music, dance, and theatre was cultivated early, in large part, by her childhood attendance at the annual Christmas pantomimes in London prior to the outbreak of WWII in 1939. Her parents, titled at her birth as the Duke and Duchess of York and then, after 1936, titled as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, would take Margaret and her older sister, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), to the rollicking shows every winter holiday.

In the Duchess’s box at the Lyceum Theatre, London, the Duke and Duchess of York and their daughters, Princesses Margaret (l.), 4, and Elizabeth, 8, enjoy the Christmas pantomime, “Dick Whittington,” in which Dick promises that his cat will rid the realm of rats. February 1935.

 

The 1934-35 playbill for the pantomime enjoyed by Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth and their parents in February 1935. Cast: Dick Henderson, George Jackley, Naughton & Gold, Molly Vyvyan, Elsie Prince, Audrey Acland and Eric Brock.

British pantomimes are a peculiar bit of theatre. The name, “pantomime,” is misleading, as the word “mime” evokes an image of the silent French mime Marcel Marceau alone on stage, in white face makeup, leaning into an invisible wind, battling to open an invisible umbrella, a sublime and subtle entertainment. A British pantomime, on the other hand, is pure camp—loud, boisterous, ridiculous and, sometimes, a little naughty. This musical comedy stage production is loosely based on a favorite children’s story such as “Cinderella,” “Aladdin,” or “Puss and Boots” but with dramatically-altered plot lines and a motley crew of characters. An assortment of costumed performers dance and sing, belting out tunes familiar to the audience but with new and absurd lyrics designed to draw a lot of laughs. Oddly, although pantos are Christmas entertainment, there are no references to Christmas in the scripts.

The panto audience is encouraged to participate. They shout out to the actors, “Look out, he’s behind you!” they hiss at the villain, they cry, “Awwwww” to the poor victims.

An example of audience participation in the pantomime version of “Sleeping Beauty”:

Wicked Queen – “I am the fairest of them all”

Audience – “Oh no you’re not!”

Queen – “Oh yes I am!”

Audience – “Oh no you’re not!”

There are sing-a-longs. Animals are usually humans in costume like the Pantomime Horse, with one person in the front and another pulling up the rear.

Famous English animal impersonator Albert Felino in the role of the cat in “Dick Whittington.” Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, Christmas (photo: unknown, England or Scotland, probably 1908; postcard, The Philco Publishing Co, London, Philco Series 3438E)

Think of a British pantomime as a cross between “Sleeping Beauty” and a vaudeville show with slapstick humor, bawdy jokes, gender-swapping, special effects like magical transformation scenes as in “Cinderella,” and capped by celebrity appearances.

With all their color, excitement, music, costumes, bright lights, gags, and laughter, these once-a-year pantomimes made a lasting impression on the young Princess Margaret. This special time with her loving family—before the bombs began to fall—was pure joy—and formed the foundation upon which she crafted her own talents as an amateur actress, mimic, and singer and developed a lifelong taste for theater, dance, and music.

Margaret’s childhood nanny from 1932-1948, Marion “Crawfie” Crawford, recalled:

In those happy pre-war days, theatre managers always had a large box of chocolates in the royal box. But the little girls’ great ambition was to sit in the stalls or the dress circle. They had to hang over the side of the royal box, to see properly. I can still see the Duke anxiously seizing his daughters’ petticoats, afraid they would fall over altogether in their immense enthusiasm. 

The children looked forward to these pantomimes for the remaining eleven months of the year. Margaret, as soon as she could talk at all, would reenact most of the parts….”

In 1936, the Duke of York became King George VI of Great Britain and his wife became Queen Elizabeth (who, in 1952, would be styled as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother or the Queen Mum). The young family, whom the King dubbed affectionately as “Us Four,” left their stately home at 145 Piccadilly and moved three miles, as the crow flies, across London to Buckingham Palace.

“Us Four.” The British Royal Family, 1937. Getty Images.

Four years later, in May 1939, England was at war with Nazi Germany. It was not safe for children in London during the bombing so Margaret and Elizabeth moved to Windsor Castle, a medieval fortress with thick walls, just 21 miles west of London. Margaret would live at Windsor until the war’s end in May 1945, from the age of nine years old to fifteen. The girls roomed in the “nursery” in the Augusta Tower.

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an aerial view of Windsor Castle, over 900 years old (2020), a working palace and a setting for a fairy tale. Photo credit: Organic Society.

For the most part, the King and Queen stayed in London at Buckingham Palace, visiting the girls on Saturdays and Sundays. By staying in town during the Blitz, the royal couple put their lives in great jeopardy as the Palace was bombed nine times by the German Luftwaffe. In September 1940, they were almost killed when the Nazis dropped bombs on the Palace Chapel, destroying it.

At about 11 a.m. on 13 September 1940, a week after the start of the London Blitz, a German bomber ducked under the clouds, flew deliberately low across the capital [London] and dropped five high explosive bombs on Buckingham Palace. George VI and his wife, Elizabeth, were just taking tea. At the precise moment that they heard what she described as the “unmistakable whirr-whirr” of the plane, the queen was battling to take an eyelash out of his eye and they rushed out into the corridor to avoid the blast. Two bombs fell in the palace’s inner quadrangle a few yards from where the couple had been sitting, a third destroyed the chapel and the remainder caused deep craters at the front of the building. 1

Windsor Castle was near enough to the repeated shelling of London for the sisters to feel the walls of the great Windsor Castle shake and to hear the “whistle and scream” of the bombs as they fell from the skies. Although we know now that the Germans never did succeed in invading England according to their plan, during the war, expectation of an imminent invasion was an everyday worry for Britons. Windsor Castle was reinforced by barbed wire which Margaret thought rather futile, saying in a later interview that it wasn’t very capable of keeping the Germans out. Rather, it kept her IN.

(l. to r.) Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth on the grounds of Royal Lodge, Windsor, 1940. Getty Images

Windsor was a giant beehive of thirteen acres with 1,000 rooms just for the royal family. Over 350 servants lived and worked there. In addition, officials, courtiers, guardsmen, soldiers on leave, soldiers convalescing, boys from Eton buzzed in and about. Margaret remarked, “I was brought up among men,” which is no understatement. So, although life was serious: daytime lessons for the girls in academics, dance, piano, and language, and, as part of the war effort, bandage-rolling, sock-knitting, and tinfoil collection was obligatory, and Windsor was dark, with the sparkling chandeliers taken down, the state apartments cloaked in sheets, windows blacked out, and with only log fires in the sitting rooms for warmth, there were still lighthearted times for those forced to be there. The girls sang in a Madrigal Society with the soldiers and boys from Eton. There were occasional balls. The girls loved to dance and the King loved to waltz, in particular. The sisters served tea to the soldiers and, afterwards, played guessing games and charades. Crawfie and the two girls played one-man charades in which each one took a turn imitating someone they knew and the others guessed. Crawfie said that the sisters—in particular, Margaret,

had considerable talent for acting…There was never any doubt about Margaret’s efforts! They were unmistakable. She kept us in fits of laughter with this first manifestation of a talent that was one day to amuse a much larger circle…Lilibet [Elizabeth] was always a more serious child….

After dinner at night with their parents and their parents’ guests, they played more charades until midnight. (The Queen Mother would later become incensed when Crawfie wrote a book—the first of many nanny diaries to come—about her time in the royal household. Crawfie wanted to include in her tell-all about a night of charades when the Duchess of Kent imitated pulling a lavatory chain—flushing a toilet—as a clue to the phrase, “royal flush.” The Queen Mother insisted that Crawfie had violated the terms of her employment. Crawfie edited out this story, as per the Queen Mother’s wishes, but from then on, she was persona non grata.)

It was at Windsor that Margaret’s talent for acting found both a wider audience and a larger appreciation. Each Christmas from 1941 until 1945, the two princesses took the leading roles in locally-produced pantomimes for the benefit of the Royal Household Concert Wool Fund. The full-scale productions were staged in the Waterloo Chamber of the Castle. Although Princess Elizabeth did a good job at acting and tap-dancing for more than five hundred, including townspeople and soldiers, it was Princess Margaret, with her sparkle and spunk, that stole the show. Margaret’s admirers remarked on her skill in impersonating cockneys or Southern belles or shy town clerks. She had a knack for mimicking regional accents and dialects.

This “gift of fun-poking—and very clever fun-poking” as Crawfie termed it, would, in her adult life, when she had grown old, alcoholic, and sickly, be used by Margaret to craft remarks that cut people to the quick, alienating even those who loved her, and for which she would become notorious, reviled, and ostracized. Her sardonic quips were repeated, becoming legendary. Given that she was royal, she was unstoppable, as no one dared correct a woman to whom one curtseys and bows.

1941: Princess Elizabeth discusses the pantomime with her mother, Queen Elizabeth of England, while her sister, Princess Margaret, looks on. AP photo.

Sources:

Crawford, Marion. The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen’s Childhood by Her Nanny, Marion Crawford. (1950)

multiple bios of QEII, Princess Margaret

Readers, for more on Marie Antoinette, click here. For more on Princess Margaret, click here. For more on the British Royal Family, click here.

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Princess Margaret plays with Anne Glenconner’s hair. The two women had been friends since they were preschoolers. Undated photo. Anne Glenconner Collection.

Lady Anne Glenconner served as Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret from 1971 until Margaret’s death in 2002. Her husband, Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, was a member of the “Margaret Set,” a group of close friends of the Princess, almost entirely male, and completely wild. Lord Glenconner was once considered a possible husband for the Princess but that didn’t happen. Both Anne and Colin were slavishly devoted to the Princess.

Pictured: Colin Tennant (Lord Glenconner), Princess Margaret, and Anne Tennant, (Lady Glenconner) stroll onto the island of Mustique in the Caribbean. When newlyweds Tony Armstrong-Jones (later, Lord Snowdon) and Princess Margaret stopped at Mustique on their 1960 honeymoon, Colin Tennant gave them a gift of land on the island. Later, Margaret would build a home there. In the 1970s, when the Snowdons’ marriage began falling apart, Margaret would retreat to her “bolthole” on Mustique. Tony would never again return. Tony never warmed to Anne and Colin. He had been the photographer at their wedding yet had not been treated as a guest. Anne’s father referred to him derisively as “Tony Snapshot.” PA Images

The following includes excerpts from Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner.  1 The excerpts appear in a bold, purplish print. My comments appear in black.

Everybody she [Princess Margaret] had ever met had always treated her with the utmost respect. Except Tony [her husband], who was spiteful in creative ways and liked writing vile little one-liners which he hid in her glove drawer, or among her hankies or tucked into books.

The Princess had stopped opening drawers, afraid of finding nasty little notes from her husband. One said: ‘You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you.’ The marriage was on the rocks. Trading tit for tat, both Margaret and Tony became openly unfaithful. They traded insults “like gunfire.” Tony refused to speak to Princess Margaret, even when the children were present. He would spy on her through a hole in the wall. He reverted to a bachelor life, spending nights away from Kensington Palace. Margaret’s drinking picked up speed and she gained weight. The marriage had deteriorated so much by the early 1970s that the two led virtually separate lives. 2 

Princess Margaret and her husband, Tony Armstrong-Jones, Lord Snowdon, in happier times. 1963

This was the state of affairs in 1973 when we invited the princess for a long weekend at Glen, Colin’s [Anne’s husband’s] ancestral home in the Borders [Scotland].

Anne Glenconner, being the Princess’ Lady in Waiting, was hard put to keep the miserable Princess entertained, especially now that her marriage with Tony was so strained.

The Glen, an estate and country house in southern Scotland

I’d planned a huge dinner party, but a late cancellation left us one man short. Colin suggested that I should ring his ‘Aunt Nose’ — Violet Wyndham (who had a large nose) — because she was bound to come up with a suitable suggestion.

She did: she gave me the number of Roddy Llewellyn, whose equestrian father Harry had won the only gold medal for Great Britain in the 1952 Olympics.

We’d never met Roddy, but he was young and available. I remember feeling awkward ringing him up, but to my relief he accepted my invitation.

Colin drove to Edinburgh station to meet him, accompanied by our teenage son Charlie, and Princess Margaret, who was intrigued because she knew Roddy’s father. I stayed behind.

They didn’t return for hours. Forewarned by her protection officer, however, I was outside, ready to greet them, when the car pulled up. In the back, Princess Margaret and Roddy were more or less holding hands.

Colin explained that they’d met him off the train and gone for lunch at a bistro. The princess and Roddy had immediately clicked, even though he was 17 years younger. She’d then whisked him off shopping to find some tight swimming trunks — which my son described as ‘budgie smugglers’.

I said to Colin, ‘Oh, gosh, what have we done?'”

Roddy Llewellyn wears swim trunks Princess Margaret bought for him. Note the pattern is the Union Jack. ca. 1973

Roddy Llewellyn, Princess Margaret, Lady Anne Glenconner, and her son, Charlie. 1970s. Anne Glenconner Collection

According to Anne, Princess Margaret always took an interest in young men.

 

1 Glenconner, Anne. Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown. (2020)

2 Bradford, Sarah. Elizabeth: A Biography of Her Majesty the Queen. (1996)

Readers: For more on the Royal Family, click here

 

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Princess Margaret of Great Britain sits in her living room at Kensington Palace. The walls are painted Kingfisher Blue, Margaret’s favorite color.

It was a summer day in 1980 when biographer Christopher Warwick first visited Princess Margaret in her home:

The first time I had lunch with her, we were just the two of us sitting in the dining room, having lunch at Kensington Palace, the house that William and Kate now live in.”

It would be the first of many such visits for the author. Margaret had selected Warwick to write her biography. Warwick said,

I got to know Apartment 1a very well indeed. The best way to describe it, it was like walking into an English country house. It was very elegant, it had an 18th-century quality about it, it was furnished with lovely antiques.

The entrance to Prince Margaret’s Apartment 1a was through Clock Court. 1961

When you went through the front door… straight ahead of you on the wall was [Pietro] Annigoni’s fabulous portrait of her from 1957.”

Biographer Christopher Warwick poses with Princess Margaret in the spacious entryway of her home, Apartment 1a, at Kensington Palace. June 1980. Note the 1957 portrait of Princess Margaret by Annigoni.

The painting features the 27-year-old royal standing in an English rose garden, a nod by the Italian artist to Margaret’s given name, Margaret Rose.

Princess Margaret by Pietro Annigoni, 1957. Exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery courtesy of then Viscount Linley. Photo © Christie’s Images Ltd, 2006. The artist captured Margaret’s sensuous beauty.

At that point in time, Margaret desperately needed Christopher Warwick or someone like Christopher Warwick. Her well-publicized affairs and 1978 divorce from her husband of 18 years, Lord Snowdon AKA Antony Armstrong-Jones, had made for bad headlines.  Her divorce was the first for a senior British royal in four centuries-since King Henry VIII.

Princess Margaret and her husband, Lord Snowdon, stand in the Clock Court outside their home at Kensington Palace, with their two children, ca. 1964.

The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret (1930-2002) had established herself as the royal family’s ‘wild child’. She was an enthusiastic party princess – drinking a vodka and orange juice pick-me-up upon her noon awakening, wine at lunch, and guzzling Famous Grouse scotch all night long, chain-smoking Chesterfield cigarettes in a long, tortoise shell holder-even while eating, and mingling like a commoner with rock stars like Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull.

Mick Jagger parties with Princess Margaret on the island of Mustique in the Caribbean. Both Mick and Margaret had homes there.

Spoiled and pampered, she kept late hours and did and said what she pleased—infamous for her acid-tongued put-downs and perverse cruelty to her hosts and guests—only occasionally performing royal duties such as ribbon-cuttings at new schools or showing up for a tour of a British factory to earn her keep of £55,000 annually, paid by the British people.

In 1970, the film producer Robert Evans flew to London to attend the Royal Command Performance of his film Love Story, in the presence of the Queen Mother. He was later to recall their brief encounter.

All of us stood in a receiving line as Lord Somebody introduced us, one by one, to Her Majesty and her younger daughter. It was a hell of a thrill, abruptly ending when the lovely princess [Margaret] shook my hand.

Margaret spoke. ‘Tony saw Love Story in New York. Hated it.'”

Princess Margaret defying convention. Smoking in public was just not done, not by a royal and certainly not by a lady. Undated photo.

Her servants and ladies-in-waiting were required to keep her ashtrays emptied after three cigarette butts and excoriated if they let her scotch glass run out of ice. If she was invited to a party, she required the hostess to let her see the guest list in advance. She struck off and added names of new guests as she pleased. As a guest at country homes or London dinner parties, she did not allow anyone to speak in her presence until she spoke first. Guests had to stay at the party until she left first. This might be 4 a.m. Upon her arrival at movie openings or galas, a tiara balanced on her elaborate, large and lacquered updo, she was presented with bouquets by adoring children. Women curtseyed. Men bowed and scraped. Flashbulbs popped.

Princess Margaret attends the opening of the Parliament in Jamaica, 1962.

The public could not get enough stories about Margaret—of her royal appearances and, later, of her bohemian life style—and the press kept churning them out. People had been engrossed in reading and hearing about the Princess since she had been born in 1930 in Glamis Castle, Scotland, during a thunderstorm.

Princess Margaret with her father, King George VI, ca. 1930

King George VI of Great Britain holds his daughter, Margaret Rose. 1931

Their interest heightened in the 1950s when she was eligible for marriage. She was glamorous and set fashion trends.

Who would Princess Margaret marry? Intense interest and speculation

An adoring fan broke into Margaret’s hotel room while she was touring Italy just to discover what color nail polish she used. Any indiscretions she made in the 1960s were largely suppressed by the press, in deference to the Queen and the Royal Family. But the Anti-Establishment changes brought about by the Swinging Sixties changed all that. By the 1970s, tabloids featuring lurid stories of famous people had become big business. The Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, and the Sun were just some of the British tabloids paying large sums to anyone with a telescopic lens taking embarrassing pictures of famous people.

Then there were those published 1976 swimsuit photographs of Princess Margaret in the Caribbean with the drifter/sometimes landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn, a man 17 years her junior, while Margaret was still married to Lord Snowdon. To worsen matters, Roddy was offered a music contract and he became a sort of pop star, always available for interviews. He had lived at a commune in Wiltshire and Margaret had gone there. Even the townspeople of Wiltshire and the anti-Establishment hippies at the commune had a price, it turns out, as they awarded the highest bidding tabloid with interviews about the goings-on between Margaret and her toyboy lover.

Princess Margaret swims off the coast of Mustique where she kept a private home. Feb. 1, 1976.

Roddy Llewellyn, Princess Margaret’s paramour, in the surf off Mustique, with Princess Margaret. Feb. 1, 1976.

Their romance became a scandal of major proportions.

The Princess’ reputation was damaged and so was the Crown’s. At the time, the economy of Great Britain was in a free fall, and poverty was on the rise. Headlines appeared,

ROYALS: DO THEY EARN THEIR KEEP?

Give up Roddy or Quit!

The Queen was livid, asking her prime minister,

 ‘What are we going to do about my sister’s guttersnipe life?’”

For some time, there had been a steady drumbeat to get rid of the Monarchy—the cost!—and Margaret fed the flames, sparking some serious anti-monarchical threats in Parliament to cut off her allowance. A Labour Member of Parliament called on Princess Margaret to resign the Royal Family and give up her £55,000 for those in need. He called her a “parasite.”

Princess Margaret did give up Roddy. She divorced Tony, a serial philanderer who benefited from Margaret’s notoriety; the Queen Mum adored Tony. Headlines followed,

Goodbye, Roddy: Margaret Cools Romance

Then Margaret hired the biographer Christopher Warwick to revamp her image. The biography was released in 1983. Kirkus Reviews called the authorized biography “tame” and “fawning”. Warwick himself confesses to having fallen under her spell from that first luncheon meeting. When they sat down, she had turned to him and said,

‘I expect before you met me, you thought I was the sort of person the tabloids said I was.'”

She then paused and said,

‘And now you know I’m not.'”

Warwick said,

‘It was so true that the woman I was talking to, the person I was getting to know, really wasn’t the person that I had read about in the tabloid press. I suppose it’s not unfair to say the public perception of her is divided.'”

The title of Warwick’s biography is Princess Margaret: A Life in Contrast. Readers complained that there was no contrast in the supposed “tell-all”. Margaret was portrayed in a flattering light as the dutiful royal.

The book’s other emphasis is on Margaret’s busy schedule (samples are provided) in justification of her cost to the Realm. (Kirkus)

I’ll offer you some contrast.

About that painting in that entrance hallway. To truly appreciate the story I am about to tell you, it is necessary to acquaint you with the physical layout of Princess Margaret’s home at Apartment 1a, Kensington Palace, London. This is where, three years after their marriage in 1960, Margaret and Tony made their home. It is a royal residence, known as a “grace and favor” home, one that the Queen bestows on qualifying individuals. As Warwick mentions, Apartment 1a, Kensington Palace, is where the five Cambridges—Prince William, Kate, George, Charlotte, and Louis—live today. Although there are over 120 such grace and favor homes in  Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, the ones at “KP” are the most splendid.

Bird’s eye view of Kensington Palace. Find the highlighted apartment belonging to Prince William and Duchess Kate. Note the Clock Tower. The entrance to the inner courtyard known as Clock Court is under that Clock Tower. The entrance to the Cambridges’ home is through that private court.

President and Mrs. Obama visited the Cambridges and Prince Harry at Kensington Palace, Apartment 1a, in April 2016. These pictures give a better view of the entrance to the home.

The Obamas meet with the Cambridges and Prince Harry, April 2016, in Clock Court at Kensington Palace, just outside the entrance to the home of William, Kate, and their three children.

Princess Margaret dances with her husband, Lord Snowdon, 1962.

Apartment 1A is a four-story home with over 20 rooms. It is long and narrow. It is one of the homes in Kensington Palace, a grand, royal compound for many Windsors in Central London. To enter the home, one must drive under the Clock Tower into the secluded courtyard. The front door of 1A opens onto a long, wide, and spacious hall. This is where the romantic Annigoni portrait of Princess Margaret was hanging in February 1964 when Tony’s very good friend, the actor Peter Sellers, came for lunch. Tony had a brilliant career as a portrait photographer and was known widely. Sellers was famous for his “Pink Panther” role as the clumsy Inspector Clouseau.

On Seller’s arm that winter day was his new girlfriend. She was the Swedish film actress Britt Ekland, beautiful, big-eyed, with long, blond hair ALA Brigitte Bardot. She was 21 to Peter’s 38. Sellers had only met her the day before. He had seen her photograph in the newspaper and wanted to meet her, appearing at her room at the Dorchester Hotel.

Britt Ekland and Peter Sellers, early 1960s

On the way to KP, Sellers drilled Ekland on the protocol for being in the presence of a royal princess. Say, ‘Your Royal Highness’, on first being presented and ‘Ma’am’ thereafter. A deep curtsey was mandatory.

Ekland was surprised to discover that the Princess was quite relaxed. They sat down to a lunch of consommé, roast beef, and red wine. Brandy followed. Then Snowdon pounced. Would Britt like to pose for some ‘glamour pictures’? According to Ekland, the Princess supported this idea, rallying to the cause. Tony gave her one of his shirts to wear. Ekland said:

I was in a tweed costume and once the royal couple had gone, I slipped off my jacket and blouse and bra and exchanged it for the shirt.”

As she was changing, Tony and Sellers were hunting for the perfect place for the photo shoot. They settled on the wide hallway, where the Annigoni portrait was hanging. They opened the front door to let in the sunlight. Ekland did what she was told to do: pose in such a way that the incoming sunlight would silhouette her breasts and make them clearly visible through the shirt.

Ten days later, Sellers and Ekland were married. In April, they were in Hollywood, where Sellers was filming the Billy Wilder sex comedy, “Kiss Me, Stupid.” Around noon, Sellers took the sexual stimulant amyl nitrate. Over the next three hours, he suffered 8 heart attacks. He was rushed to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital where he remained for several weeks. On hearing of Sellers’ heart attack, Billy Wilder is reputed to have said, “Heart attack? You need a heart to have a heart attack!” Wilders replaced Sellers in the movie with the actor Ray Walston.

Ekland would go on to make more movies that revolved around her looks, including her turn as a James Bond girl, in 1974, starring alongside Roger Moore in “The Man With the Golden Gun.” She and Sellers divorced after four miserable years together, Sellers exhibiting a serious jealous streak. “I was really his little toy,” she recalled in an interview on “Loose Women.”

left to right: Peter Sellers, Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret, Britt Ekland, 1965

left to right: Peter Sellers, Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret, Britt Ekland, 1965

Lord Snowdon and Britt Ekland, 1967.

 

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Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate, a property of the British Royal Family

Since retiring from public service in August 2017, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has spent most of his time at Wood Farm, a secluded cottage on the edge of the royal Sandringham Estate on the Norfolk coastline. The modest red-brick, five-bedroom property, just a few miles from the big house, allows Philip privacy and a place to indulge his many hobbies, among them, oil painting.

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Prince Philip, 1965. Credit: Rex Features

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“The Queen at Breakfast, Windsor Castle,” by H.R.H. Duke of Edinburgh. oil on canvas, 1965. This intimate view of the Queen of England, relaxing and reading the Racing Post at breakfast, is one of the pieces in Prince Philip’s private collection. Both the Queen’s reading material and the two paintings displayed on the walls of the Windsor Dining Room allude to her delight in horses.

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Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England, during her visit to HMS Ocean in Devonport to preside over a ceremony to rededicate the ship. March 2015 (courtesy wikipedia)

Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) is the only person in Britain who can drive without a license or number plate on her state car.

According to British law, the Queen does not need a driving license because driving licenses are issued in her name. She is the Sovereign.

The 92-year-old has been driving since she was 19. She was then titled Princess Elizabeth. She had not yet been crowned (that happens in 1953 at age 27), and the BBC reports that she did indeed, in 1945, have a driving license. She learned to drive at a training center at the wartime Auxiliary Territorial Service. Known as Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, she trained in London as a mechanic and military truck and ambulance driver. She is the only female member of the royal family to have entered the armed forces and is the only living head of state who served in World War II.

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Taken at the Mechanical Transport Training Section, Camberley, Surrey, Princess Elizabeth in overalls changes a tire on a military Tilly truck. March 1945

She likes to drive.

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The Queen attends a polo match at Windsor, UK, 4th August 1958. Getty Images

Nowadays, she primarily drives around her Balmoral, Sandringham, and Windsor estates rather than on the streets of London, where she is definitely chauffered, as is the protocol. Her passion for driving is well-documented in photos of her behind the wheel.

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In 1998, Queen Elizabeth had a great “Gotcha” moment. Prince Abdullah  — then the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia — was visiting Balmoral, the Queen’s estate in Scotland.

After lunch, the Queen had asked her royal guest whether he would like a tour of the estate. Abdullah agreed. The royal Land Rovers were pulled up in front of the castle. The Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the front Land Rover. His interpreter sat in the seat behind.

To Abdullah’s surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition, and drove off.  Women, at the time, were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen. Evidently, the Queen drove like the wind, navigating the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the while, and accelerating. Abdullah was terrified. He begged the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.

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Prince Philip, pictured in 2006, took up carriage driving in 1971 after retiring from playing polo

In 1971, Prince Philip of England gave up polo. He was fifty years old. Not one to sit still, he cast about trying to come up with some other exciting activity that best befit his physical abilities. In a 2017 interview, Philip said,

I was looking round to see what next, I didn’t know what there was available. And I suddenly thought, well, we’ve got horses and carriages so why don’t I have a go. So I borrowed four horses from the stables in London, took them to Norfolk and practiced and thought – why not?

The Duke was instrumental in establishing carriage driving as a sport. He gathered a committee of equestrian experts to come up with a set of international rules for the fledgling sport. It involves dressage, time trials, and a challenging obstacle course. The sport involves either two or four-wheeled carriages pulled by a single horse, a tandem or four-in-hand team.

Philip took up the reins, competing on the British team at World and European Championships, touring many countries including Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands. “It was very entertaining,” volunteered Philip.

What did Philip enjoy most about this thirty years of carriage racing?

They were all fun. I mean – it so happened, I don’t know why – but I always did rather well at dressage.* I didn’t manage the obstacles very well.

Interviewed at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, he shared that his favorite moment in carriage racing was, “Turning over here [Windsor] in the water.” Most of the carriages he raced were antiques and, in the rough and tumble of the sport, were regularly smashed up.

402895ab00000578-4494218-prince_philip_drives_the_queen_s_team_of_part_bred_cleveland_bay-a-16_1494489987479 1974

Prince Philip drives the Queen’s Team of part-bred Cleveland Bays at Home Park Windsor in 1974

*Dressage is “the highest expression of horse training” where “horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements.”

Source: The Daily Mail

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pp2-750x499On January 17, Prince Philip of England, aka the Duke of Edinburgh, was involved in a two-car collision near the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. Although he was accompanied by a female driver, Prince Philip was behind the wheel and bears the responsibility for the accident. Philip, 97, driving a black Land Rover, pulled onto the busy A149 and was T-boned by a black Kia carrying two women and a baby. The Land Rover rolled onto its side and Philip was pulled to safety through the 4 x 4’s sunroof as it lay on is side. He was shaken but conscious and unhurt. Two people in the Kia were treated for minor injuries. One witness said the Kia was smoking and looked as if it might explode. Philip explained that he was dazzled by the winter sun and, apparently, did not see the oncoming Kia.

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For photos and more, see The Daily Mail.

 

 

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Prince Philip, 97, takes a carriage ride through the grounds of Windsor Castle. ca. October 20, 2018

As I mentioned in my blog post, “Prince Philip’s Mum had a Habit,” Prince Philip of the United Kingdom, known as the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince Consort of Queen Elizabeth II, was born in 1921 on a kitchen table in Corfu, Greece, in a house that had no electricity or running water. But Philip was not of peasant stock. He was Prince Philip of Greece, born into a royal family with ties to German, British, Dutch, Russian, and Danish royal houses. Oddly enough, however, neither Philip’s parents nor his four beautiful sisters had a drop of Greek blood in them. Yet they were a branch of the Greek Royal Family.

Prince Philip’s mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg. Alice’s great grandmother, Queen Victoria of England, had been present at her birth in the Tapestry Room at Windsor Castle in England. Philip’s father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, had been born in Athens, Greece. The two married in 1903 in Germany, the native country of Princess Alice’s parents.

Princess Alice of Battenberg and Prince Andrew of Greece, ca. their wedding 1903

Head spinning yet? There’s a reason Queen Victoria of England is called “the grandmother of Europe.” Her descendants fanned across the continent. She and other royal matriarchs and patriarchs were quite the matchmakers, shoring up old alliances and creating new ones, through arranged royal marriages. This proved to be a problem both health wise (hemophilia) and when European countries found themselves warring with one another, especially during both World War I and II, pitting blood relatives against one another in deadly warfare, a confusion of loyalties.

But I digress. My goal today is to shed some light on Princess Alice (1885-1969) and her struggle with mental illness. Alice was born with a large disadvantage in life: she was deaf. She learned to lip read and speak English and German. She studied French and, after her engagement to Prince Andrew, began to learn Greek.

Her husband, Prince Andrew (1882-1944), a military man, was a polyglot. His caretakers taught him English as he grew up, but he insisted upon speaking only Greek with his parents. He also spoke Danish (his father was originally a Danish prince), French, German, and Russian (his mother was Russian—a Romanov). Alice had spent her early years between her family homes in England and Germany whereas Andrew’s roots were in Denmark and Russia. She was Lutheran, although others say she was Anglican. He was Greek Orthodox.

Andrew—known to his friends and family as “Andrea”—had hoped that he and his new bride Alice could settle down permanently in Greece. From the beginning of their marriage, though, Prince Andrew and his family’s safety within Greece waxed and waned. The Greek political situation was always unstable. Prince Andrew fell in and out of favor with the reigning political parties. One moment he was forced to resign his army post and then, in 1912 during the Balkan Wars, he was reinstated. It was during the Balkan Wars that Princess Alice—sometimes referred to as “Princess Andrew”—acted as a nurse, assisting at operations and setting up field hospitals, work for which King George V of Great Britain awarded her the Royal Red Cross in 1913.

Writing to her mother, Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven, on November 2, 1912, Alice recalled a scene at a field hospital following the arrival of wounded soldiers from a victorious battle by the Greeks at Kailar:

Our last afternoon at Kozani was spent in assisting at the amputation of a leg. I had to give chloroform at a certain moment and prevent the patient from biting his tongue and also to hand cotton wool, basins, etc. Once I got over my feeling of disgust, it was very interesting….[A]fter all was over, the leg was forgotten on the floor and I suddenly saw it there afterwards and pointed it out to Mademoiselle Agyropoulo, saying that somebody ought to take it away. She promptly picked it up herself wrapped it up in some stuff, put it under her arm and marched out of the hospital to find a place to bury it in. But she never noticed that she left the bloody end uncovered, and as she is as deaf as I, although I shouted after her, she went on unconcerned, and everybody she passed nearly retched with disgust—and, of course, I ended by laughing, when the comic part of the thing struck me.”

The next day, Alice’s mother’s lady-in-waiting, Nona Kerr, arrived in Greece. She went to see Alice. Nona then wrote a letter to Alice’s mother, telling her how Alice seemed. Nona wrote to Victoria that it “would make you proud to hear the way everyone speaks of Princess Alice. Sophie Baltazzi, Doctor Sava, everyone. She has done wonders.” She also noted that Alice was “very thin…At present she simply can’t stop doing things. Prince Andrew wants to send her back to Athens to the babies [Alice and Andrew had three daughters by then: Margarita (b. 1905), Theodora (b. 1906), Cécile (b. 1911)] soon, but I don’t think he will succeed just yet….” Alice was suffering from mania, probably triggered by sleep deprivation, hunger, cold, exposure, and PTSD.

During the war, Andrew’s father was assassinated and he inherited a villa on the island of Corfu, Mon Repos. The family moved there.

In June of 1914, Alice gave birth to a fourth daughter, Sophie.

Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie and Baby Sophie in 1914

One month later, World War I broke out across Europe. Andrew’s brother, King Constantine of Greece, declared the neutrality of his country. However, the Greek ruling party sided with the Allies. During the war, Prince Andrew, unwisely, made several visits to Great Britain, one of the Allied countries. Rumors circulated in the British House of Commons that Andrew was a German spy. This stirred up suspicions in Greece. Was Prince Andrew indeed a spy for the Central Powers?

Prince Andrew and Princess Alice of Greece, 1916. Note Prince Andrew’s right eye monocle.

By 1917, the whole Greek royal family was forced to flee Greece, as they were suspected of consorting with the enemy. Most of the Greek royals, including Alice and Andrew and their family, took refuge in Lucerne, Switzerland. At the end of the war, in July of 1918, Alice’s two maternal aunts, Tsarina Alexandra (Alix) and the Grand Duchess Elizabeta Feodorovna (Ella), were killed by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution.

So much suffering and tragedy, living in constant fear, doomed to exist in a world devoid of sound, living here, traveling there, led Alice to seek comfort in mystic religion. Together with her brother-in-law Christo, they performed automatic writing, a precursor to the use of a ouija board to receive supernatural messages from the spirit world. Alice was superstitious. She was often seen dealing herself cards and getting messages from this, especially when she had important decisions to make. She continued to read books on the occult.

After three years in Swiss exile, the political situation in Greece became more favorable to the Royals. In 1920, the Greek Royal family was invited to return home. Prince Andrew and Princess Alice happily re-established themselves and their family in their peaceful villa, Mon Repos. But the country was still in turmoil. Greece was embroiled in another regional military conflict, The Greco-Turkish War, AKA The Asia Minor Campaign. Prince Andrew was put in command of The II Army Corps.

All of this instability had transpired before their son Prince Philip was born on June 10, 1921, at Mon Repos. Prince Andrew was not present for his first son’s birth as he was on the battlefield.

Princess Alice of Greece holds newborn Prince Philip of Greece. June/July 1921

 

Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark holds his fifth child and only son, Prince Philip of Greece, born June 10, 1921.

Fast forward a year or so. The October 27, 1922 headlines in the New York Times read:

SEIZE PRINCE ANDREW FOR GREEK DEBACLE

Constantine’s Brother to Be Interned at Athens

New Tribunal Arrests Four Others

The Greek defeat in Asia Minor in August 1922 had led to the September 11, 1922 Revolution, during which Prince Andrew was arrested, court-martialed, and found guilty of “disobeying an order” and “acting on his own initiative” during the battle the previous year. Many defendants in the treason trials that followed the coup were shot by firing squad and their bodies dumped in holes on the plains at Goudi, below Mount Hymettus. British diplomats assumed that Andrew was also in mortal danger. They called upon King George V of England to act. However, King George V refused to risk inflaming the situation further, causing an international incident, by allowing Andrew to settle in London. In December of 1922, he sent the British cruiser, HMS Calypso, to ferry Andrew’s family to France. Andrew, though spared the death sentence, was banished from Greece for life. Eighteen month-old Philip was transported in an improvised cot made from an orange crate. The family settled at Saint-Cloud on the outskirts of Paris, in a small house loaned to them by Andrew’s generous sister-in-law, Princess Marie Bonaparte, AKA Princess George of Greece. Andrew and his family were stripped of their Greek nationality, and traveled under Danish passports.

Princesses Sophie, Cecilie, Theodora, and Margarita of Greece, sisters of Prince Philip of Greece. ca. 1922

Alice and Andrew celebrated their silver wedding anniversary on October 8, 1928. Each member of the family had made it a point to be at Saint Cloud that beautiful autumn day so they could commemorate the special event with a group photograph in the garden.

Prince Philip poses with his family for a photograph to mark his parents’ silver wedding anniversary in October of 1928. A young Philip stands to the right of his mother, Princess Alice, and father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. From left to right are Philip’s sisters, all Princesses of Greece & Denmark: Margarita, Theodora, Sophie, and Cecilie.

Five years into exile, the family of six often found themselves more apart than together, traveling a lot, scattered across the European continent, staying with relatives, enjoying the London social season, on holiday, or attending a royal funeral or wedding. It was an idle life which had no real purpose.

Two weeks after the anniversary, Alice privately gave up her Protestant faith and became a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. By May of 1929, she had become “intensely mystical,” and would lie on the floor so that she could receive divine messages. She told others that she could heal with her hands. She said she could stop her thoughts like a Buddhist. Her husband stayed away that summer and would not return until September. Alice wrote her mother that soon she would have a message to tell the world. She told Andrew’s cousin that she, Alice, was a saint. She carried sacred objects around the house with her in order to banish evil influences. She proclaimed she was the “bride of Christ.”

Andrew and Alice’s mother Victoria summoned Alice’s gynecologist who diagnosed her psychosis. Her sister-in-law the French Princess Marie Bonaparte, a great friend of the famous psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud, arranged for Alice to see one of Freud’s former co-workers, the psychoanalyst Dr. Ernst Simmel, just outside Berlin. Dr. Louros accompanied Alice in her journey and she was admitted to Simmel’s clinic. Dr. Simmel diagnosed Alice as “paranoid schizophrenic” and said she was suffering from a “neurotic-prepsychotic libidinous condition” and consulted Freud about it. Freud advised “an exposure of the gonads [ovaries] to X-rays, in order to accelerate the menopause,” presumably to calm her down. Was Alice consulted about this? Probably not. The treatment was carried out.

Alice did not improve. On May 2, 1930, she was involuntarily committed at the Bellevue private psychiatric clinic at Kleuzlingen in Switzerland. This event marked the end of their once-close family life. Though they did not divorce, Alice and Andrea’s marriage was effectively finished. Andrew closed the family home at Saint-Cloud and disappeared, moving to the South of France, where he frittered away his life drinking, gambling, and womanizing. The girls were ages 16, 19, 24, and 29, and would all be married by 1932, so they were less affected by the fallout of their mother’s breakdown and their father’s abdication of his family role. Unfortunately, two of the girls ended up marrying German Nazis. Philip, though, was only nine years old when his mother was institutionalized and his father abandoned him. Philip would have little contact with his mother for the rest of his childhood which was spent living with his mother’s relatives in England and in attending boarding schools in England, Germany, and Scotland.

Prince Philip of Greece, 1930 (AP)

Footnote: Philip’s aunt, Princess Marie Bonaparte, who had arranged for Princess Alice to be treated by Freud and his colleague, was very wealthy and influential. Her mother had owned the casino in Monte Carlo and Princess Marie had inherited this money. As you will remember, Marie had very generously provided Alice and Andrea with their house at Saint Cloud.  In 1938, Princess Marie Bonaparte paid the Nazis a ransom of 12,000 Dutch guilders to allow Dr. Sigmund Freud and his family the freedom to leave Vienna and move to London. The Nazis were rounding up and killing both Jews and psychoanalysts and Freud was a Jewish psychoanalyst.

Dr. Sigmund Freud arrives in Paris on his way to London, accompanied by Princess Marie Bonaparte and the American Ambassador In Paris William C. Bullitt. June 5, 1938

The Freud family relaxes in the garden at Princess Marie Bonaparte’s home in Saint-Cloud, France. June 5, 1938. Freud is lounging as he is deathly ill with oral cancer. He smoked 20 cigars a day.

Freud spent his first day of freedom in Marie’s gardens in Saint-Cloud before crossing the Channel to London, where he lived for his last 15 months. A few weeks later, Princess Bonaparte traveled to Vienna to discuss the fate of Freud’s four elderly sisters left behind. Her attempts to get them exit visas failed. All four of Freud’s sisters would perish in Nazi concentration camps.

Readers, for more on the European Royal Families here on Lisa’s History Room, click here. To read more about Prince Philip and Princess Alice, click here.

Sources:
Eade, Philip. Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II.
Vickers, Hugo. Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece. 
wikipedia and various Internet sites

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Prince Philip and his wife, Queen Elizabeth II of England, are both direct blood descendants of Queen Victoria of England. They are both her great great grandchildren. Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Greece, was born at Windsor Castle with her great grandmother Queen Victoria present. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II are related in four different ways. Through their connection to Queen Victoria, they are third cousins.

 

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Wonderful Readers: For more posts on the British Royal Family here on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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My husband, Tom Rogers, and I at our wedding banquet. 1986

My husband, Tom Rogers, and I smile for the camera at our wedding banquet at Green Pastures, Austin, Texas. 1986

Me 1988

I wasn’t thrilled when I learned I had to have a Caesarean section, especially in view of the fact that my doctor had not discovered my baby was breeched until I was already dilated nine centimeters and after he had already given me a spinal block. I was 33, somewhat of a late mother, maybe even a reluctant mother. I was a terrible chicken where childbirth was concerned. I had not rushed into having a child. The fear of having to have a Caesarean kept me back. Now my baby was trying to come out through my back and I had no choice but to submit to the knife.

Not only did I have to have a Caesarean that day in July 1988, but, because of the spinal block, the doctor would not give me any more anesthesia, so I had to go into the operating room wide awake. In a little freak-out, I made the doctor erect a tent over my abdomen so I could not see what he was doing in the surgery. I guess I didn’t want to see them cut me.

My husband was there. He sat on a stool beside me and, with characteristic keen intent, watched the whole thing. What I remember most is the way it felt to have those masked people putting their hands into my stomach and digging around. I felt like a giant purse that they were digging around in, looking for a cigarette or something that had drifted to the bottom among tobacco and gum wrappers and dust. After a while, they must have found what they were looking for, because, after endless tugging and pushing and clawing, they reached deep down and pulled out a little baby, my little baby, my baby girl. She had a shriveled face that looked just like my mother-in-law’s.

“Helen!” I exclaimed, calling out my mother-in-law’s name.

Katie Rogers at one month. 1988

Katie Rogers, born healthy, pictured at one month. 1988

If it had been 129 years earlier, in 1859, and not 1988, with modern medicine, there would not have been a Caesarean for me. My daughter Katie might have thrashed around inside of me until I bled to death and she suffocated.

“[A Caesarean] was long considered an extreme measure, performed only when the mother was already dead or considered to be beyond help. In Great Britain and Ireland, the mortality rate [in mothers] in 1865 was 85%.” (1)

Princess Vicky 1859

Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1819-1901) was sure that arranging marriages for her children and grandchildren in the royal houses of Europe would insure a lasting peace; after all, the countries would be tied by blood and relatives would never fight each other. Her first “power pairing” was the marriage of her eldest child, Victoria (“Vicky”), the Princess Royal, with Prince Frederick of Prussia, the cream of the German royal houses:

“As the royal couple departed London at the end of January [1858] during a heavy snowfall, the populace of that city still turned out onto the streets to cheer and chant, “God save the Prince and Bride! God keep their lands allied!”

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Twelve months later, Princess Vicky was in labor with her first child. Her mother had sent Scottish doctor Sir James Clark to Berlin to assist the German obstetrician Eduard Martin and, specifically, to administer to Vicky the “blessed chloroform,” the new miracle drug that the Queen had discovered and that had so eased the pain of her last two deliveries (children #8 and 9).

However, chloroform was not to be the solution for her daughter. For Vicky,

“The entire experience was ghastly….[D]espite the fact that she inhaled chloroform for hours on end, the birth was extremely painful….Dr. Martin had to work under her long flannel skirt so that royal decency prevailed.” (2)

The chloroform, “two-thirds of a bottle,” rendered Vicky insensible to help the doctors, who found themselves in a deadly position. The baby was coming out bottom first, in breech position, with its arms stretched over its head. The umbilical cord was being crushed by the head in the birth canal. The odds were stacked against a successful vaginal delivery: In that same year in Germany, 98% of breech births were stillborn. The doctors would not take a knife to a royal princess; besides, a Caesarean would have killed her. It would be another 40 years before that procedure would be performed in a clinic.

Dr. Martin reached into the birth canal and pulled the baby’s legs out. Then he reached deep inside to pull the left arm through and pull the body out by rotating it. The motion pulled the baby out but the “nerve complex in the neck was torn” and the baby suffered from fetal asphyxia. (3)

The baby lay motionless. The doctor’s report said that, “the baby was seemingly dead to a high degree.” Vicky was exhausted. It had been ten hours since her waters broke.

Then the baby cried.

“It’s alive and it’s a prince!” her mother-in-law wrote Queen Victoria.

The newborn boy was a royal prince and second in line to the Prussian throne. His name was Wilhelm, William in English, as he was half-English, half-German in blood.

Three days would pass before a nursemaid would mention that there was a mysterious crease between Wilhelm’s left shoulder and arm. The left arm was permanently paralyzed, caused by the pressure exerted on the shoulder during the delivery.

Treatment for Wilhelm

Vicky was devastated that her son, heir to the Prussian throne, should be handicapped. To be Prussian in 1859 was to be independent, manly, and warlike, not weak and crippled. Prussian men, like the statesman Otto von Bismarck, fought duels often with the intent to get slashed across the cheek (preferably the left one), get a clean-cut wound that gaped wide into a beautiful scar, rub salt into it to make it stand out, then boast how you got it.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

“The idea of his remaining a cripple haunts me,” Vicky wrote Queen Victoria regarding Wilhelm.

Vicky was determined to fix Wilhelm’s left arm, to make it work, to make him fit to be a king, in the Prussian way. Of course, she and the doctors didn’t know that his arm was permanently maimed and useless and that nothing could be done to change that. The nerves were so damaged that the muscles didn’t work. At adulthood, his left arm would be six inches shorter than his right and his hand smaller. His left arm locked stiff at the elbow. The condition is known as Erb’s Palsy.

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm's paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm’s paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

In Germany in 1859, there was a lot of alternative medical experimentation. When Wilhelm was six months old, his doctors began applying an odd poultice to his left arm. In his presence, they slaughtered a live hare (big rabbit) and tied the flesh of the dead animal, still warm, to the baby’s left arm, hoping that the vitality of the animal would transfer to Wilhelm. This they did twice a week for years.

Later, they discovered that Wilhelm’s head was tilting, so they created “Wilhelm’s Machine,” as his mother called it: a barbaric, head stretching device that consisted of a metal rod run up his back, attached at the waist by a belt with a harness that strapped across his head. At the back of his head was a screw they tightened to stretch the head up straight.

The "head stretching machine" was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm's torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

The “head stretching machine” was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm’s torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

They galvanized his left arm periodically with electric jolts. They cut muscles in his neck. They applied stretching machines to his arm.

They tied his good arm behind him to try to force the left one to work. Of course it didn’t.

His mother made him ride a pony a lot. He would fall off because he had a poor sense of balance, maybe due to the ear infections he had frequently, or because of brain damage at birth.

While his mother’s intent was to prepare Wilhelm to be fit for the throne, these barbaric and medieval procedures had only served to traumatize and depress Wilhelm.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

The camera had just been invented and photographs were the rage. The public wanted to see its future king. But Wilhelm’s disability was an embarrassment, something to hide. In photographs, props such as capes, swords, gloves, books, and guns were used to disguise the withered arm. Sometimes he held the left arm up with the right hand.

 Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved "Granny" (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved “Granny” (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

By the age of 12, Vicky stopped trying to find a cure.As Vicky had more children, she showered her love on her new children, rejecting her damaged son. He suffered deeply. He became filled with rage and prone to violent tantrums.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one coy remained.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one copy remained.

Wilhelm began to hate the English. His mother was English. An English doctor had crippled him. As he grew up, he would become more and more Prussianized. He would reject the liberal democratic principles favored by his parents and fall under the influence of his German tutor and Otto von Bismarck in favor of aggressive, autocratic rule finding power in military force.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

In 1914, he would have his revenge on his mother and England because, by then, he would be the world leader, Kaiser (Emperor, King) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany (1859-1941), whose bellicose (bellicose: demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight) policies would help to bring about World War I.  Three royal cousins –  the leaders of Russia, England, and Germany – would be at terrible war with one another.

Queen Victoria, called “the Grandmother of Europe,” had not lived to see her matchmaking plan to unite Europe through royal marriages fall far afield of its mark. Tens of millions of people would die because of Kaiser Wilhelm and Europe would be devastated. Relatives, history has shown, do fight against one another.

(1) wiki: Caesarean Delivery

(2) Rohl, John. The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 .

(3) Rohl, John. Kaiser Wilhelm: A Concise Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

 

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Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) was willing to do almost anything to get her seventh husband, Virginia lawyer John Warner, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978.  To woo voters and the Republican Party leaders, Elizabeth had to prove to be an asset to the campaign. She had to make the transformation from movie queen to political wife. (Readers: For how they got together, read the previous post.)

During their brief courtship, Warner was given cause to worry that she could not make the leap. He recalled inviting Elizabeth to lunch with him in Washington, D.C.. Looking forward to showing her off, he was embarrassed when she appeared at the Bicentennial office (where he was director)

wearing a flowing black silk pajama outfit with a low-cut neckline.” (1)

Then there were her showy jewels, for example, an “eye-popping necklace of…egg-sized canary diamonds and amethysts as big as her fist.” Elizabeth promised her husband she would dress down, cutting down on the diamonds and the décolletage, opulence that would not go over big with plain Southern Virginia folk.

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor's famous jewels: the Bulgari Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor’s famous jewels: the Bulgari Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

Besides sacrificing her fashion sense, Elizabeth would set her career aside during this period, appearing in only a handful of films and, then, mostly in cameo roles, requiring only a short stint away from the campaign.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Then there were her friends of the moment, the hard-partying, cocaine-sniffing crowd of the notorious New York disco Studio 54: Liza Minnelli, fashion designer Halston, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger. Warner steered her away from hanging out with them at the club (although she did install a discotheque at the farm for entertaining them).

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Self-restraint, too, was called into play, if Elizabeth was going to help Warner hit a home run, for Elizabeth was a hot-blooded woman, prone to hard-drinking, cursing, and screaming at photographers trying to shoot her from uncomplimentary angles.

In January, 1977, weeks after returning from honeymooning in Switzerland, Elizabeth and John hit the campaign trail with an appearance at the Hearts of Gold Ball in Richmond, which they reached by Greyhound bus. From here on out, for Elizabeth, it would be a 23-month slog of kissing babies, speechifying, ribbon-cutting, riding in parades, chairing galas, raising funds, eating corn-on-the cob at county fairs, signing autographs, hurling cream pies, and pinning Warner buttons on Democrats. If a college campus had a drama department, she held a seminar for the students and allowed friendly question and answer sessions, unscripted, with no retakes, to which she was accustomed on a movie set. Toward the end of the race, she and Warner put in 12-15 hour days, riding in planes, buses, cars, and trains to reach their destinations.

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

Large, enthusiastic crowds turned out to see Elizabeth, accessible to them, no longer protected by bodyguards, as  in her movie stardom days. She shook so many hands that, one day, two blood vessels broke in her hand. That did not slow her down. She continued to shake hands, though her hand was swollen and protected by an elastic bandage. Elizabeth’s bursitis flared up in her shoulder from such rigorous handshaking. She received cortisone injections to help with the pain. Sometimes she campaigned in a wheelchair. But she kept going. She did it because

‘They come to see my wrinkles and pimples, and I don’t disappoint them, do I?’ she laughed. ‘This face has been around a lot of years. People want to see if my eyes really are violet or bloodshot or both. Once they check me out, they can go home and say, ‘I saw Liz Taylor and you know what? She ain’t so hot!'” (1)

At almost every campaign stop, Elizabeth Taylor look-alikes would show up, in big wigs and evening gowns.

Unfortunately, a lot of the people who showed up at rallies came to see if Elizabeth was as obese as it was being reported in the press. The strain of the campaign was beginning to take its toll on her. Her weight had ballooned and she was drinking booze in excess and eating way too much. Joan Rivers was regularly lampooning her with fat jokes on  “The Tonight Show“:

Every time Liz Taylor goes into McDonald’s, the numbers on the sign outside start changing. When she looks up and see five billion, she thinks it’s her weight.”

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

Elizabeth was affected by such cruel commentary. Nevertheless, she continued eating and drinking herself into oblivion. Dinner guests reported seeing her eat, in one sitting, mounds of mashed potatoes drowned in gravy, followed by five rich desserts and countless bottles of champagne. (2) In her defense, she remarked:

‘I am not a monument that pigeons can doo-doo on. I am a living human being, and if I want to eat fried chicken six times a day and can still function, that’s up to me!'” (1)

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner campaign for the U.S. Senate seat. June 2, 1978

In August, 1978, John Warner became the Republic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia, when the original nominee was suddenly killed.

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain's funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain’s funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

The general election was on November 7; there were three months to go. The strain of the long and grueling campaign trail was apparent in both of them; tempers frayed and Elizabeth kept eating, eating, and then eating some more. Some campaign leaders worried that Elizabeth’s star appeal was overshadowing the candidate. They considered removing her from the campaign.

On October 12, 1978, three weeks before the election, Elizabeth was to suffer one of the many freak accidents for which she was known. She appeared at a rally at Big Stone Gap, Virginia. The whole countryside was in a dither to see her.

Elizabeth Taylor wore her purple silk Halston pantsuit accessorized with a sumptuous gold necklace studded with amethyst stones the size of cookies and matching drop earrings encrusted with pearls. She had tucked a small bouquet of fresh violets behind one ear. She posed for photo after photo with a smile that was genuine.

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978. Note the purple Halston pantsuit Elizabeth is wearing.

Later that evening, John and Elizabeth stopped for a chicken dinner at Fraley’s Coach House, where Elizabeth took a bite of a fried chicken breast and accidentally swallowed a two-and-a-half inch bone. The bone lodged in her throat. She clutched her neck, barely able to breathe. She tried to cough it up, but in vain. She stuffed some rolls into her mouth to try to push the bone down her throat but it didn’t work. It was clear that she was choking to death. (3) She was rushed to Lonesome Pine Hospital, where a thoracic surgeon inserted a rubber hose down her throat and stuffed the bone down where it dissolved in digestion. She was overnight in the hospital. The next day, she made the headlines:

‘ACTRESS NEARLY CHOKES AT CAMPAIGN RALLY,’ screamed The Washington Star.

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted from an airplane by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Strangely, it was about this time that a delegation of women who ran the Warner campaign chose to approach Elizabeth and inform her that she could no longer wear purple to John’s rallies. Everyone knows that purple was her signature color. Her legendary eyes were violet. In a 1997 interview with Kevin Sessums, Elizabeth recalled:

‘If the woman is the politician, then it might be quite different. But if you’re wedded to the politician, it’s like your lips are sealed. You are a robot. They even tell you what you can wear. You can imagine how that sat with me! I was told that I—me!—was not allowed to wear purple because it smacked of royalty.’ 

She told Harper’s Bazaar:

‘The Republican women told me, ‘You simply cannot wear the purple pantsuit you’ve been campaigning in anymore.’ I ended up in a tweed suit. Me. Little tweed suits. What I won’t do for love.'”

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va.  Oct. 26, 1978.

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va. Oct. 26, 1978.

On November 7, John Warner squeaked to victory. Out of 1.2 million votes, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Virginia by only 4,271 votes.  He could not have done it without Elizabeth. Some say that the chicken bone incident moved the public to sympathy for her, swinging the vote in Warner’s favor. Elizabeth joked later

‘I seem to have at least 4, 271 fans in Virginia, so at least I know I pulled my own weight!'” (2)

After the election, the Republican women threw Elizabeth a luncheon in her honor, for all she had done in the campaign. In her Kevin Sessums interview, Elizabeth said she

…put on my purplest Halston pantsuit. I told them the story that the women who ran John Warner’s campaign had forbid me to wear purple. I got up and pointed out one specific woman. I said, ‘That one! Right there!'”

The subjugation of her own ego to John’s for two full years damaged Elizabeth’s self-esteem. There were few movie roles for an aging beauty, especially a puffy one. Elizabeth Taylor, movie star, had lost her self-identity.

John and Elizabeth moved to Washington, D.C., where, on January 16, 1979 in the gallery of the U.S. Senate, John was sworn in with Elizabeth and her mother in attendance. Things looked rosy for the couple at that moment. John and Elizabeth threw each other big Hollywood kisses, but John immediately became consumed by his new job, declaring he would never miss a roll call. Elizabeth was left alone for long stretches of time in their Washington home or Virginia farmhouse, consoling herself with massive quantities of Jack Daniels and chili dogs. She resorted to trips to New York to hang out at Studio 54. Elizabeth liked to have a man around and John wasn’t there for her. Whereas John may have loved Elizabeth, he loved work more.

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth had married John Warner in the hopes that he would give her the roots (and a private life) that she had longed for so much in her hurried life. Instead, she had spent the first two years of their marriage on the campaign trail and in the public eye more than before, if that is possible. Her life was more stressful than ever. As a star, she was used to crushingly cruel movie reviews but nothing could have been as brutal as the punishing ridicule she had received from the media for her weight gain.

Though these years were painful for Elizabeth – she and John Warner would divorce after six years of marriage – her worsening addiction to alcohol, pain pills and food would put her feet firmly on a path that led, in 1983, to a life-changing stay at the Betty Ford Clinic. A new Elizabeth Taylor would emerge from the famous rehab: a savvy and respected politician who would use her high profile celebrity to raise mega millions to combat the deadly disease, AIDS, by creating AMFAR.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

(2) Heymann, C. David. Liz: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth Taylor. New York; Simon & Schuster, 1995.

(3) Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Elizabeth. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2006.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

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