Britain's Princess Margaret Ailing

L O N D O N, Jan. 1, 2000 -- Mystery surrounds the latest health problem to strike Princess Margaret, younger sister of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, after palace officials announced she was unwell but would give no details.

The 70-year-old princess, plagued by health problems since middle age — including a stroke in 1998 — was undergoing medical tests and was in bed at the Queen’s Sandringham estate in eastern England, Buckingham Palace said Sunday.

“We’re confirming that the princess has been unwell over the Christmas period,” a palace spokeswoman told Reuters.

“A doctor came to see her this weekend and is running a number of tests, the results of which should be known in the next few days.”

Not Hospitalized

The spokeswoman said Margaret had not been to hospital and was being treated at Sandringham, where the royal family has been spending the Christmas holiday period.

British media came up with differing interpretations of Margaret’s condition.

The BBC’s royal correspondent, Jennie Bond, said the tone of the palace’s comments suggested “concern rather than alarm.”

A Sunday tabloid reported the once fun-loving Margaret was suffering from chronic depression. “She really has lost the will to live,” the People quoted a senior royal source as saying.

Seen in Wheelchair in Rare Public Appearance

Margaret — a headstrong beauty whose life of privilege has been marred by ill-health, thwarted love and whiffs of scandal — was a notable absentee when the royal family made traditional public appearances at Sandringham this Christmas.

In middle age, her health was a matter of frequent concern to the royal family. Surgeons removed a section of her left lung in 1985 as newspapers speculated that her condition had been brought on by chain-smoking up to 60 cigarettes a day.

1n 1999, she was ill for several weeks after scalding her feet while taking a bath.

She was seen in a wheelchair at one of her rare public appearances last year — London’s Chelsea Flower Show in May.

A Royal of Two Worlds

Margaret has lived a life torn between royal convention and rebellion. She has been essentially a fun-loving woman forever overshadowed by her serious sister.

A divorced mother of two children, Margaret loves ballet, art and jazz, but it was her passion for the Caribbean island of Mustique, men and partying that captured the public imagination.

The often haughty Margaret was the first of the modern princesses to spurn tradition in her pursuit of pleasure, and was often attacked as a hard-smoking, hard-drinking hedonist.

Yet for all her bohemian instincts, Margaret gave up her one true love for the sake of protocol, has been her sister’s most loyal servant and has adored the stuffy trappings of royal life.

In 1955, she yielded to pressure by renouncing her love for a handsome air force officer, Group Capt. Peter Townsend, who was considered unacceptable because he was divorced.

The troubled romance had threatened a constitutional crisis before the broken-hearted princess relented and swiftly turned to a flamboyant life in high society for consolation.

She went on to wed photographer Lord Snowdon. Their 18-year marriage produced two children — Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones — but ended in 1978.

It was the first divorce in the inner circle of the royal family since the days of King Henry VIII.

It was clear that Margaret and her husband were going separate ways. The press noticed in particular that the princess was often accompanied by Roddy Llewellyn, bachelor son of a celebrated Olympic horseman and and much younger than her.

Pictures showing Margaret and Llewellyn lounging on a Caribbean beach were published, causing a royal scandal.

Margaret and the queen are reported to have remained close despite their differing lifestyles.