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Britain Reflects on Princess Margaret - 2002-02-10


Prayers were said Sunday in churches across Britain for Princess Margaret. Queen Elizabeth's younger sister died at the age of 71 Saturday as a result of a stroke and heart complications. The royal family has begun a week of mourning and contemplation.

It is a quiet, reflective day in Britain. At St. James's Palace in London, books of condolence have been set up and admirers of Princess Margaret have been trickling in to express their sympathies. "Well, there is obviously sadness. We have lost a great friend and supporter and a lady who cared," one man said. "The least I can to is write a few words. She is a lovely lady," remarked another.

Among those signing the books was Nick Booth, from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, one of the charities the princess long supported. "She was very engaging," he said. "Always very concerned to hear from NSPCC staff who were doing difficult work protecting and keeping children safe, and was always up to speed on the different developments. She was president of the NSPCC for nearly 50 years and yet throughout that time was very aware of the need of the NSPCC to change and to adapt."

The outpouring of emotions are much more low-key compared to the scenes of 1997 when Princess Diana died. That in part is a reflection of the gap in generations. In the 1950s and '60s, a young Princess Margaret was portrayed in the press like Diana. But with frail health in her latter years, Margaret was rarely seen in public and therefore young Britons did not feel they knew her very well.

Christopher Warwick was one of her biographers. "The public did not really know her," he explained. "But having said that and I think the response from members of the public to the princess' death here and abroad has proved that there was a residual affection for her. She was, after all, universally adored, ,certainly in the 1950s as a young woman."

On Friday, 50 years after her father King George VI was laid to rest at Windsor, west of London, Margaret will be buried beside him. The funeral service in St. George's Chapel will be a strictly private, family affair - something that Mr. Warwick says is exactly what the princess would have wanted.

The heir-apparent to the throne, Prince Charles, spent Saturday consoling his grandmother, the queen mother, who at 101 is battling a cold. Questions remain about whether she will be well enough to attend her daughter's funeral.

Meanwhile, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth's only daughter, is in New Zealand. She plans to leave early to get back in time for her aunt's funeral.

Although saddened by the loss, Prince Charles spoke for the entire royal family when he said Princess Margaret's death may have really been merciful relief from the suffering of a vital and free spirit who endured years of ill health.

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