Margaret (front) with her sister Elizabeth (right) and grandmother Mary (left), May 1939
Margaret was born on 21 August 1930 at Glamis Castle in Scotland, her mother's ancestral home, and was affectionately known as Margot within the royal family. She was delivered by Sir Henry Simson, the royal obstetrician. The Home Secretary, J. R. Clynes, was present to verify the birth. The registration of her birth was delayed for several days to avoid her being numbered 13 in the parish register.
At the time of her birth, she was fourth in the line of succession to the British throne. Her father was the Duke of York (later King George VI), the second son of King George V and Queen Mary. Her mother was the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother), the youngest daughter of the 14th Earl and the Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The Duchess of York originally wanted to name her second daughter Ann Margaret, as she explained to Queen Mary in a letter: "I am very anxious to call her Ann Margaret, as I think Ann of York sounds pretty, & Elizabeth and Ann go so well together." King George V disliked the name Ann but approved of the alternative "Margaret Rose".
Margaret was baptised in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on 30 October 1930 by Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Margaret's early life was spent primarily at the Yorks' residences at 145 Piccadilly (their town house in London) and Royal Lodge in Windsor. The Yorks were perceived by the public as an ideal family: father, mother and children, but unfounded rumours that Margaret was deaf and mute were not completely dispelled until Margaret's first main public appearance at her uncle Prince George's wedding in 1934.
She was educated alongside her sister, Princess Elizabeth, by their Scottish governess Marion Crawford. Margaret's education was mainly supervised by her mother, who in the words of Randolph Churchill "never aimed at bringing her daughters up to be more than nicely behaved young ladies". When Queen Mary insisted upon the importance of education, the Duchess of York commented, "I don't know what she meant. After all I and my sisters only had governesses and we all married well—one of us very well". Margaret was resentful about her limited education, especially in later years, and aimed criticism at her mother. However, Margaret's mother told a friend that she "regretted" that her daughters did not go to school like other children, and the employment of a governess rather than sending the girls to school may have been done only at the insistence of King George V.
Elizabeth (left) and Margaret performing in a play, 1943
Margaret's grandfather, George V, died when she was five, and her uncle acceded as King Edward VIII. Less than a year later, on 11 December 1936, Edward abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American, whom neither the Church of England nor the Dominion governments would accept as queen. The Church would not recognise the marriage of a divorced woman with a living ex-husband as valid. Edward's abdication left a reluctant Duke of York in his place as King George VI, and Margaret unexpectedly became second in line to the throne, with the title The Princess Margaret to indicate her status as a child of the sovereign. The family moved into Buckingham Palace; Margaret's room overlooked The Mall.
Margaret was a Brownie in the 1st Buckingham Palace Brownie Pack, formed in 1937. She was also a Girl Guide and later a Sea Ranger. She served as President of Girlguiding UK from 1965 until her death in 2002.
At the outbreak of World War II, Margaret and her sister were at Birkhall, on the Balmoral Castle estate, where they stayed until Christmas 1939, enduring nights so cold that drinking water in carafes by their bedside froze. They spent Christmas at Sandringham House before moving to Windsor Castle, just outside London, for much of the remainder of the war. Viscount Hailsham wrote to Prime Minister Winston Churchill to advise the evacuation of the princesses to the greater safety of Canada, to which their mother famously replied, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave."
Unlike other members of the royal family, Margaret was not expected to undertake any public or official duties during the war. She developed her skills at singing and playing the piano. Her contemporaries thought she was spoiled by her parents, especially her father, who allowed her to take liberties not usually permissible, such as being allowed to stay up to dinner at the age of 13.
Crawford despaired at the attention Margaret was getting, writing to friends: "Could you this year only ask Princess Elizabeth to your party? ... Princess Margaret does draw all the attention and Princess Elizabeth lets her do that." Elizabeth, however, did not mind this, and commented, "Oh, it's so much easier when Margaret's there—everybody laughs at what Margaret says". King George described Elizabeth as his pride and Margaret as his joy.