Princess Margaret auction: For sale - The Crown Jewels

They said they were selling family heirlooms. (But some seem to be official gifts.) They said the money would go to the Stroke Association. (That's news to the charity.) Jonathan Brown reports on the Linleys' controversial sell-off

The items in the Princess Margaret sale at Christie's this week were the crown jewels of a glamorous royal life defined by privilege and wealth. In death, however, their lustre has been tarnished by accusations of greed and vulgarity. Everything from Princess Margaret's diamond-studded wedding tiara to the neo-classical pelmets from her bedroom were up for grabs in a two-day sell-off of her worldly goods which sparked a bidding frenzy among royal souvenir hunters across the world.

But yesterday, the auction - which reportedly left the Princess's son, Viscount Linley, and his sister, Lady Sarah Chatto, "hoarse" with disbelief at the staggering prices achieved - was mired in controversy after her family were forced to withdraw two of the items from sale.

As proceeds reached five times the initial estimate, Christie's announced that a 1930s cast-iron balustrade, purchased from Ascot racecourse and installed in the late Princess's rose garden at Kensington Palace, would not now be sold. It had been expected to fetch up to £15,000.

The decision to withdraw the ornate railing was made after it emerged that fixtures and fittings from the royal residence were protected under strict heritage laws. Unlawful removal from a historic site is punishable by a prison sentence of up to seven years. A Christie's spokeswoman said: "The client has decided to give it to the nation. After the success of yesterday, we were told to withdraw the lot so that it could remain in situ at Kensington Palace."

The auction house also revealed that another, all together more personal item from the Princess's private estate, a Lalique crucifix and wooden stand that once belonged to the Queen Mother, had also been withdrawn. The announcement prompted speculation that the Queen had intervened to demand the object be removed from the sale. It had been valued at £800 and the lot included a handwritten note from the Queen Mother stating: "This crucifix by Lalique was given to me in my early days of marriage by Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria."

Buckingham Palace insisted yesterday that the auction was a "private" matter for Margaret's children. But Lord Linley and his sister have come under mounting criticism from friends and family - even their own father Lord Snowdon who was said to be "seething". Jewellery, paintings, furniture and trinkets presented to the Princess while on official royal business as well as wedding gifts from around the Commonwealth all went under the hammer as buyers clamoured to snap up relics from Margaret's life. The highlight was a 1957 portrait by Pietro Annigoni, which once hung in the National Museum of Wales.

It is a companion portrait to Annigoni's painting of the young Queen Elizabeth II, a commission from the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, which is probably one of the best-known images of the Queen. Earlier, a 9ct gold Cartier cigarette case with a sapphire clasp sold for £102,000, way above the estimate of £3,000 to £5,000. Other items included pieces of furniture made by Lord Linley himself.

Proceeds from the 780-lot auction, which topped £10m soon after bidding started yesterday, will go towards paying off the £3m in death duties liable on Princess Margaret's £7.6m will.

The Queen has insisted that items given to her sister while officially representing the Royal Family must be sold for charity. As a result, Christie's declared that 47 lots - ranging from a silver water jug donated by Bolton Borough Council to a cigar box from the King of Cambodia - would be sold to raise money for the Stroke Association.

The charity said yesterday that it had had no contact with the Queen's nephew or niece about the proposed donation, but its chief executive, Jon Barrick, was at pains to say: "The possible donation from this week's auction is a very kind and appreciated gesture."

A spokeswoman for Lord Linley declined to comment on how much the charity could expect, and Christie's said it hoped other charities might also benefit.

The removal of items from the Princess's former residence at 1A Kensington Palace, which charges the public £11.50 to view the Princess and Lord Snowdon's former home, sparked controversy soon after Margaret's death in 2002. English Heritage said yesterday that there were "well-established legal tests" for items falling under the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003. These would include a fixture "not easily removable". A spokeswoman said it was incumbent on the vendor to decide whether items such as mirrors, bookcases and fire grates - which made up many of the lots - fell into this category.

Lord Snowdon is now said to be happier about the sale after receiving reassurances from his son. But others are concerned the sell-off will inflict lasting damage on the Royal Family.

Princess Margaret's biographer Kenneth Rose commented: "What of the feelings of those who dutifully forked out to give birthday and wedding presents, and now see them go under the hammer to the highest bidder - all ranks of her regiments, the crew of the Royal Yacht Britannia, staff and pensioners at Balmoral, Birkhall and Sandringham? On future royal occasions, surely they will know what to do with their money."

Lot 468


Guide price: £8,000-15,000


As a member of a family that is passionately enthusiastic about horseracing, Princess Margaret obviously regarded this section of railing from the Duke of Norfolk's 1953 stand at Ascot racecourse as a suitable souvenir - a bit of upscale recycling, perhaps. The old balustrade was given to the Princess and re-assembled as a gazebo in the rose garden at Kensington Palace. The distinctive cast-iron work was probably made at the Lion Foundry in Kirkintilloch, near Glasgow. This lot has now been withdrawn from the auction.

Lot 414


Guide price: £1,500-2,000


Manufactured around 1910, these ornate light fittings were fashioned in the George III style. Each of the four wall-mounted candleholders measures nearly two feet tall and is surmounted by a gilt eagle. They were removed from the walls of the dining room in Princess Margaret's apartment in Kensington Palace. However, as electrical fittings, they are highly unlikely to fall foul of any regulations regarding original fittings or architectural details.

Lot 60


Guide price: £50-100


The Princess visited Bermuda on seven occasions. On her final visit in 1990, one of her official engagements was to cut the ribbon at the opening of the cruise ship terminal on the north arm of the dockyard of Ireland Island. This part of Bermuda is known as the "jungle island of cedar". The gold brooch is designed as a sprig of Bermuda Cedar, a species of juniper (Juniperus bermudiana) that is indigenous to the islands but which has been under threat since the 1970s. The brooch is set with cultured pearl berries.

Lot 855


Guide price: £300-500


These three wooden pelmets once masked the tops of the curtains at the windows of Princess Margaret's own bedroom in her apartment at Kensington Palace. Neo-classical in design and decorated with intricate acanthus-leaf mouldings, they measure just over six feet long and a foot deep (so not really suitable for your average bay window). The apartment is now open to the public - at an admission cost of £11.50. Described in the catalogue as mid-20th century, they may have been part of a refurbishment in the 1960s.

Lot 793


Guide price: The only item in the sale without an estimate.


Born in Italy, Pietro Annigoni came to the attention of the British public in 1954 following a commission from the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers to paint the young Queen Elizabeth II. The painting became his most recognised and celebrated work and was followed by a portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh (also at Fishmongers Hall) and this portrait of Princess Margaret, which once hung in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. More recently, its home was the entrance hall of her apartment at Kensington Palace where a copy can be seen by members of the public touring the palace. Prior to this sale, the highest price paid for an Annigoni at auction was £33,000.

Lot 15


Guide price: £500-700


Acquired by Princess Margaret during her first and most extensive official tour of Canada in 1958. Made by the foremost Canadian jeweller, Birks, whose flagship store is in Toronto, each pearl is set above a trefoil of brilliant-cut diamonds. A diamond-set brooch in the shape of a maple leaf, again by Birks, was presented to the princess by the city of Montreal during the same visit. It was also sold in the auction but with proceeds going to charity.

Lot 440


Guide price: £10,000-15,000


The apartheid government of South Africa gave these candlesticks as a wedding present when Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones in May 1960. Each is engraved with an inscription, two in English and two in Afrikaans. They were used regularly, along with other gold tableware, in the dining room of the Princess's accommodation in Kensington Palace. Ironically, in October of that year, the white population of South Africa voted to sever all links with the British monarchy and become a republic.

Lot 681


Guide price: £30,000-50,000


Pair of carved mirrors dating from between 1755 and 1760. Embellished in the French "picturesque" style, with a rustic arbour of entwined branches and foliage and surmounted by a ho-ho bird, the frames were thought to be originally painted but later gilded. They took pride of place in the drawing room of the late princess's Kensington Palace apartment. They measure nearly five feet high and nearly three feet across. A photograph in the catalogue shows the princess seated at her desk beneath one of the mirrors.

Lots 584 and 585


Guide price: £6,000-10,000


Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex and the fourth son of George III, lived at Kensington Palace from 1806 until 1843 and almost certainly commissioned these bookcases. They were originally fitted to house some of his collection of 50,000 books - at that time regarded as one of the most important private libraries in England. They were later dismantled and reconstructed as free-standing bookcases by Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria, who lived in Kensington Palace until 1940.

Lot 650


Guide price: £400-600


This folding screen is a design by Princess Margaret's son David Linley, who trained as a cabinet-maker. His furniture business, started in 1985, specialises in bespoke items for clients such as Sir Elton John and Lord Archer. He has two shops in Belgravia and Mayfair selling his own designs. The business is currently valued at £7.5m, £4.5m of which is held by Linley himself. The folding screen is made in his trademark marquetry style, using sycamore and magnolia, and it once had pride of place in his mother's library.

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