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Princess Margaret Rose, the Countess of Snowdon, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, died peacefully in her sleep at 6.30 this morning, Buckingham Palace has announced. She had been taken to the King Edward VII Hospital in London after a stroke yesterday, one of a number that had weakened her in recent years.

Born on 21 August 1930 to the then Duke of York, later George VI, she was fourth in line to the throne at birth. She was born in Glamis Castle, her mother's ancestral home; this was the first royal birth in Scotland since the seventeenth century.

In 1953 she met and fell in love with Group Captain Peter Townsend, who was unfortunately divorced. In those days it was considered impossible to marry a divorcee while retaining the privileges of a princess. Group Captain Townsend was posted as air attaché at the British Embassy in Belgium, and returned to Britain once Margaret was 25 and old enough to marry without her sister's permission. But she decided to stay being a princess instead.

In 1960 she married Antony Armstrong-Jones, a photographer, who was created Earl of Snowdon. They had two children, David Albert Charles, styled Viscount Linley, born 3 November 1961; and Sarah Frances Elizabeth, now Lady Sarah Chatto, born 1 May 1964. They separated in 1976 and divorced in 1978, ironically being one of the first public hints that there could be unhappiness in a royal marriage.

After that she had an affair (allegedly) with a young man about town called Roddy Llewelyn, or rather a young man about the private Caribbean island of Mustique, which is where they spent a lot of their time.

Always a heavy smoker and drinker, she began to suffer the effects of this with age. Part of a lung was removed; she had strokes; and she scalded herself very seriously in the bath, presumably by being drunk at the time, though the Royal Family website doesn't carry this sort of detail.

Although she had the usual bunch of royal presidencies of charities, such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Royal Ballet, she was not in later years a significant or loved personality in the country, and was remembered for her glamorous early life and her drinking.

There is a condolence book at the royal website: www.royal.gov.uk

HRH The Princess Margaret was said to be a woman of contrasts. During the 1960's, she and her husband, Lord Snowdon, were part of a sort of upper-class fast set, carousing with international playboys and pop musicians. She was reputed to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and at one time was the poster child for anti-monarchists (though not by choice, I'm sure).

On the other hand, she was said to be a bigger snob than The Queen. Whereas The Queen supposedly tends to let breaches of etiquette go unremarked, such as someone addressing her as "Your Royal Highness" instead of "Your Majesty," royal watchers claim that Margaret was always exacting in what she felt was the deference owed to her. Maybe The Queen just has more important things to do.

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