Skip to main content

Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters

Review

Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters

Andrew Morton, a noted biographer of the British royals, delves deeply into the shared histories of England’s Queen and her only sibling, Princess Margaret, in ELIZABETH & MARGARET. The two were opposites in many ways yet always mindful of one another.

They were born in the relatively calm patch following the First World War, and in only a few years moved from being granddaughters to nieces to daughters of the King. Their father, George IV, assumed the monarchy after the abdication of his brother, Edward, to marry a divorced woman. Suddenly the girls’ roles changed: Elizabeth was now first in succession to the throne and had to be treated as such. Margaret, who had always been more outgoing, had to accede in many areas to her more thoughtful older sister, though the affection between them survived the alteration.

"[Morton] has gleaned snippets about these two remarkable subjects from private records and insightful insiders. The dual portrait that emerges is of powerful women who cared for one another as best they could in the roles that fate assigned."

Then another war hit, and for most of that time, they were sequestered in Windsor Castle with widely differing routines. Elizabeth was being taught the responsibilities of a future monarch, while Margaret was treated, rather boringly, as a typical private school student. Still the two persisted in doing things as sisters --- they made a garden and, befitting Margaret’s dramatic leanings, put on plays to entertain the family. In their teens, though, Margaret began to realize that “she would play second fiddle to her sister” --- and curtsy to her --- for the rest of their lives.

Morton’s book traces the separate skeins of these two complex personalities, who in public always acted in character. Margaret became a cigarette-smoking bon vivant with many love affairs to her name, while Elizabeth maintained the dignity of the crown and calmly studied the proper etiquette. After marrying the man of her choice, the handsome and respectable Philip, she would assume her role in office. Margaret pursued but never managed to marry divorcée Peter Townsend; the complications of the laws of succession to the throne and Elizabeth’s plotting --- sometimes with Margaret’s collusion --- kept the two from tying the knot. Even after Margaret finally married --- and then divorced --- a commoner, rumors of her indiscretions kept the presses rolling. But in private, the Queen generally sympathized with her sister, knowing that Margaret was far less self-confident than she appeared to be in front of the paparazzi.

Morton has mined related materials before, with his bestselling biography, DIANA: HER TRUE STORY, winning international kudos. He has gleaned snippets about these two remarkable subjects from private records and insightful insiders. The dual portrait that emerges is of powerful women who cared for one another as best they could in the roles that fate assigned. One was a self-contained monarch toeing the line, and the other a frustrated drama queen drawing larger boundaries, each setting new standards for what females could and should aspire to.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on April 2, 2021

Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters
by Andrew Morton

  • Publication Date: March 30, 2021
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538700468
  • ISBN-13: 9781538700464