In Royal Sisters, Anne Edwards, author of the bestselling Vivien Leigh: A Biography and Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor, has written the first dual biography of Elizabeth, the princess who was to become Queen, and her younger sister, Margaret, who was to be her subject. From birth to maturity, they were the stuff of which dreams are made. I’m three and you’re four, the future Queen, then a child, imperiously informed her sister. The younger girl, not understanding this reference to their position in the succession, proudly countered, No, you’re not. I’m three, you’re seven. The royal sisters had no choice in their historic positions, but behind the palace gates and within the all-too-human confines of their personalities, they displayed tremendous individuality and suffered the usual symptoms of sibling rivalry. Royal Sisters provides an unprecedented and intimate portrait of these most famous siblings during their formative and dramatic youthful years. It is also one of the twentieth century’s most fascinating stories of sisterly loyalty.
Royal Sisters (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible) (AbeBooks) was first published in 1990 and re-released in 2017 when the audiobook I got through Audible was made. It tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, Princess Margaret, from birth through the crisis of Captain Peter Townsend and Margaret’s love affair. The author knew and interviewed Townsend, which is why I consider this an important, if dated book.
But therein lies the major problem with this book. After covering Elizabeth and Margaret’s grandparents and parents and uncle David, the future Duke of Windsor, there’s little about the ladies’ early lives that wasn’t already covered by Marion Crawford’s biography of the girls. (If you’re unfamiliar, Crawford was the girls’ governess and was a much-beloved member of the family until she wrote a book about her experiences. Despite it being a glowingly positive book, the royal family was pissed off and cut “Crawfie” out of their lives). Edwards doesn’t add anything new to the girls’ early lives that wasn’t already known.
Much time is spent comparing and contrasting Queen Elizabeth’s love affair with Prince Philip to Margaret’s love affair with Group Captain Peter Townsend, a member of the royal household after a well-distinguished career during World War II. And since the author knew Townsend personally, he comes off a bit saint-like, which means that Philip does not. The book is worth it to get Townsend’s take on the whole situation, but should also be taken with a grain of salt. The fact that he ended up marrying a young woman who looked a lot like Margaret and was younger than her says a lot about the man.
And then, when Margaret decides not to marry Townsend, the book just ends. There’s nothing about her eventual marriage to Lord Snowden, her children, her affair with Roddy, her children, the queen’s other children and growth in relationship to Philip. Nothing. As mentioned, this book was published in 1990, while both Margaret and the queen were still alive, so you think you’d write it up to what was then present-day. That’s the biggest complaint for the book.
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