Princess Margaret

by Jessica Storoschuk

Princess Margaret is very often dismissed by historians, biographers, and royal watchers everywhere. Unfortunately, people see the more dramatic aspects of her personal life and write off everything to do with her. However, this is problematic for a few reasons. Firstly, it is not the historian’s role to make personal judgements about those in the past, particularly not using our own modern morals as a measuring stick. Secondly, Margaret had an incredible and profound influence on the performing arts, and this should not be underestimated. With World Ballet Day 2021 quickly approaching, this post will be looking at Princess Margaret’s relationship with and contributions to ballet.

Princess Margaret Rose

Princess Margaret Rose was born in 1930, the younger daughter of the then-Duke and Duchess of York. When her father took the throne in December 1936, her life changed drastically, and changed even further with the onset of the Second World War. Princess Margaret and her elder sister Princess Elizabeth spent the war years at Windsor Castle. 

A Dancer Herself

While Windsor Castle was not full of life in the same way as it always was during the war, the princesses found ways to keep themselves amused. This typically included performing different plays, pantomimes, and ballets, especially during the holiday season. And even prior to their late childhood and adolescence spent in Windsor, they were well-acquainted with the performing arts.  For example, English composer Sir Edgar Elgar composed several pieces for the young princesses before his death in 1934.(1) 

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret starring in wartime Aladdin, 1943.
Source: WikiCommons

Margaret lamented later in life that the princesses did not receive a “normal” education, but she was given ballet lessons, and would continue to dance throughout her life. Connected with various dancers, musicians, and performers throughout her adult life, Margaret was particularly fond of Russian dancer Rudolf Nuryev. She would see him perform frequently with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, but he would also visit her Kensington Palace. Some aides believed that he was actually giving her private lessons during these visits.(2)

Princess Margaret meeting Rudolf Nuryev in 1977.
Source: Flickr

An English Ballet Company

The Princess’ involvement with ballet did not end with dancing herself- she played a supporting role for the Royal Ballet throughout her life. The Royal Ballet was quite a young company. Founded as the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1931 out of the Old Vic Theatre, it became known as the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1939 when they permanently moved to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. 

When the company moved to the brand-new Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in 1946 and were renamed the Royal Ballet in 1956, they became the heart of English ballet. From her late teens through to the end of her life, Princess Margaret did whatever she could to support the Royal Ballet. In the 1950s and 1960s, she often attended the ballet in full evening gown and tiara. While this wasn’t entirely out of place for the time, it gave the Royal Ballet constant publicity as the press sought to report on what Margaret wore to the ballet and who she went with. 

Royal Opera House Interior
Source: Jessica Storoschuk

A Lifelong Supporter of Ballet

While she served as the first President of the Royal Ballet from 1957 to 2002, the Princess also lent her support to countless fundraising endeavors. She went on fundraising tours in North America for the Royal Ballet (though they did not always go smoothly for her), and she continued to attend the Royal Ballet’s fundraising events in the United Kingdom. 

Her Royal Highness also prioritised supporting ballet at all levels until her death in 2002. In 1993, Margaret named the Margot Fonteyn Theatre, the theatre at the Royal Ballet School at White Lodge. The Chairman of the Royal Ballet’s Board of Governors later remarked to Margaret, “Your involvement with the Royal Ballet School and your visits to White Lodge mean so much to both students and staff. Your interest is of real encouragement to the students and staff.”(3) Regardless of what was happening in her personal life, Margaret’s commitment to the ballet never faltered. 


Recommended Reading:

Princess Margaret’s Charities and Patronages: https://www.royal.uk/princess-margaret 

Heald, Tim. Princess Margaret: A Life Unravelled. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008.

Citations

(1) Anderson Zoë, The Royal Ballet: 75 Years (London: Faber & Faber, 2011), 41.

(2) Tim Heald, Princess Margaret: A Life Unravelled (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008), 257.

(3) Heald, 277. 


About the Author:

Jessica Storoschuk is the historian behind the blog An Historian About Town. While the blog includes a wide variety of history, culture, style, book recommendations, and more, her academic research focuses on the modern monarchy, the history of Christmas, and the history of ballet. You can email her at anhistorianabouttown@gmail.com or find her on: 

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