Royal 'Friends and Rivals': An Inside Look at Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret's Complex Relationship

queen elizabeth ii and princess margaret
Source: MEGA

Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret had a sometimes volatile but loving relationship.

Nov. 23 2023, Published 2:00 p.m. ET

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Through their happy childhood years together, Elizabeth and Margaret, though born four years apart, were equals. To Margaret, her big sister was Lilibet. Elizabeth's nickname for Margaret was Margo. But the incredible closeness of the devoted siblings would face a life-changing test after the 1953 coronation.

Now Elizabeth was queen to 130 million across the globe and Margaret was one of her subjects. Still, she retained a unique role in the monarch's life. With her vibrant, unruly sister, Elizabeth — who was naturally more buttoned-down, as well as restrained by her role as queen — could let her hair down in a way that was impossible with anyone else, even her husband and children.

Here is a look back at their fascinating sisterly relationship.

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queen elizabeth ii and princess margaret
Source: MEGA

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret pictured in the early 1940s.

The sisters stayed as connected as ever, literally once Elizabeth took their late father, King George VI’s, place and acceded to the throne. Margaret had a telephone in her Kensington Palace apartment with a direct line to the queen in Buckingham Palace. It wasn't for matters of state or even for family emergencies; it was so the two could gossip together.

These daily chats quickly became a highlight of the queen's day, a few brief moments when she could truly be herself. While Elizabeth envied the freedom her sister enjoyed, Margaret was not so secretly jealous of her one-time playmate's new status, not to mention her happy marriage and her growing family. The younger daughter had been their father's favorite.

Margaret was "spoiled terribly" by her father, a royal insider once told The Telegraph. "She was his pet… She was always allowed to stay up to dinner at the age of 13 and to grow up too quickly."

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queen elizabeth ii and princess margaret
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Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were 'very close while growing up together at Windsor Castle.

Elizabeth, the king said, was his "pride," but Margaret was his "joy." If Elizabeth did, indeed, feel aggrieved at her father's favoritism, she never let it show. She enjoyed her sister taking the pressure off her socially. "Oh, Margo!" was an oft-heard refrain. "Oh, it's so much easier when Margaret's there everybody laughs at what Margaret says," the queen would say.

The sisters' relationship was at times strained and nearly reached a breaking point in 1953 when Margaret planned to marry the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. The power imbalance between the siblings was underlined when Elizabeth was forced to tell her sister she could not wed the divorcé without facing the most severe of penalties: She would have to effectively give up her title and life as a princess and renounce her rights to the throne.

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queen elizabeth ii and princess margaret
Source: MEGA

Queen Elizabeth II wither her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and sister, Princess Margaret, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on the 50th anniversary of VE Day in 1995.

Nevertheless, the bond between them, while frayed for a while, remained strong to the end. And when Princess Margaret died, at age 71, in 2002, the queen lost her most intimate companion. A friend of the princess, Reinaldo Herrera, the Fifth Marqués of Torre Casa, once disclosed that her Windsor Castle funeral was "the only time anyone ever saw the queen show her emotions in public.

"Never explaining anything to the world, what she feels, or why she does what she does is part of her greatness," he wrote. "But for a few minutes that day, as she stood by the steps of St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, watching her sister's coffin being borne away, her eyes betrayed her."

Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, after a record-breaking reign of 70.5 years. She was interred in the King George VI Memorial Chapel next to her father, mother, husband, Prince Philip, and the ashes of her sister.

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queen elizabeth ii and princess margaret
Source: MEGA

Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret alongside Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1990.

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