Princess Margaret’s harrowing journey through The Crown’s newest episodes comes to a boiling point in the dramatic conclusion to the third season. Throughout the show, Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister is known as a loose cannon of sorts, always finding ways to rebel against the tradition she’s expected to abide by. But in season 3, her onscreen struggles are worse than ever, and in the season finale, Princess Margaret suffers an overdose.
This development comes after a season of romantic and personal struggles, and the trigger is an explosive fight between Margaret and her husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon. Their relationship is far from perfect, and they are both depicted seeking other relationships. Margaret begins seeing Roddy Llewellyn, a much younger flame introduced to her by mutual friends, and they seem enchanted by each other. The tabloids are quick to take hold of the newfound romance, and eventually Tony confronts the new couple in Margaret’s home.
He tells Margaret he will “bring her to her knees” if she continues to see Llewellyn, despite the fact that Tony has been ignoring Margaret for some time and is carrying on affairs of his own. Roddy leaves the house when the fight between Margaret and Tony breaks out, and though she chases after him, Margaret cannot catch him. In her despair, she ultimately overdoses on medication—whether accidental or not is left vague—and the queen is soon notified.
Thankfully, Margaret survives, and tells her big sister that she’s finally decided to split from Snowdon for good. Viewers will have to wait until next season to learn about the aftermath of the tumultuous episode, but in the meantime, let’s hash out what really happened.
Did Princess Margaret really overdose?
Princess Margaret’s official royal biographer, Christopher Warwick, confirms to ELLE.com that in 1974, Margaret took a heavy dose of medication when things in her life became particularly stressful. “She’d taken a handful of Mogadon tablets, and it was difficult to rouse her on this particular morning,” Warwick says over the phone, referring to a brand of sleeping pills. He says the incident occurred while Margaret was dealing with her explosive separation from Tony, and after Roddy had flown off on a trip to clear his head after the public learned of their relationship.
Princess Margaret said she “just wanted to sleep.”
Margaret was going through an “extremely difficult time,” Warwick says, and “would have found it exhausting.” But he says her reasoning for taking the tablets wasn’t sinister. He stresses that Princess Margaret “just wanted to sleep” to get away from the overwhelming circumstances for a bit, and he waves off any notion that it might have been an attempt to end her life.
“Some people said she’d had a nervous breakdown, and there was a claim that it was attempted suicide,” he continues. “But I spoke with her, and I spoke with friends of hers, and her friends didn’t believe that it was a suicide attempt at all.” Warwick interviewed Margaret for his book, Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts, and she reinforced that story. “I was so exhausted because of everything, that all I wanted to do was sleep,” she told him. “And I did, right through to the following afternoon.”
Warwick says the idea of suicide would not have been an option in Princess Margaret’s mind. “I can well believe she found it exhausting, but I tend to think she wasn’t the sort of person who would have seriously considered suicide. I say that because she was an intensely religious woman, and suicide would have been contrary to her religious beliefs.”
Margaret recovered quickly after the incident.
Warwick says when Princess Margaret woke up the following afternoon, “she was fine.” That’s also part of the reason it didn’t become public knowledge until years later. “There was no reason for it to become public,” he continues, adding that it was “an isolated incident.”
The incident didn’t stop Tony from continuing to fight with her.
According to Warwick, Tony “still wanted to have a go” at Princess Margaret, even after the stress of the situation had caused her to take these pills. “Two of her ladies-in-waiting…took it in turns to sit outside her bedroom door, and say, ‘No, Tony, you are not going in. She needs to rest,'” Warwick says. “When the ladies-in-waiting refused him entry to Princess Margaret’s bedroom, he would then get in his car outside in the courtyard…and he would drive round and round the courtyard blaring the horn…That’s a kind of indication of the stress that the marriage had put her under.”
Princess Margaret did not die as a result of drug or alcohol abuse.
Princess Margaret lived to the age of 71, so The Crown viewers can rest easy that the onscreen overdose will not lead to her demise. She died in London in 2002, months after suffering a stroke and developing heart problems.
Princess Margaret was much more than her relationship to alcohol or drugs.
Though Princess Margaret is often depicted as a party girl who struggled with romance, there was so much more to her. Warwick warns against the creative liberties The Crown has taken, though he says he has not seen the show and only knows what he’s read in reviews and heard from friends. He said that he worries Princess Margaret is “portrayed as a lush, which is totally unfair. She liked to drink, don’t we all? But she certainly wasn’t a lush.”