The latest season of The Crown presents another series of romantic frustrations and failures among the British Royal Family. One of them involves Queen Elizabeth's sister, Princess Margaret. Following the longtime rumor, the show depicts Margaret as resenting her sister for not allowing her to marry her true love.
The year was 1953. The UK was mildly scandalized to learn that Margaret had fallen in love with Peter Townsend, a divorcé who was 16 years older and already had two sons. The wrinkle: the Church of England didn't allow divorced people to remarry if their spouses were still alive. And according to the protocol established by a 1772 law, Queen Elizabeth—head of the Church—had to grant Margaret permission to marry Townsend. She didn't.
The Crown—and decades of gossip—posits that this drove a wedge between the sisters. But the lack of permission isn't the real reason why Margaret never married Townsend, the Telegraph reported this week. Read on to find out what it was—and to explore secrets of the Royal Family, don't miss these The Biggest Royal Romance Scandals of All Time.
In the first half of the 20th century, the British Royal Family experienced a level of scandal they wouldn't see again until the last decade of the millennium. In 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne so he could marry the American divorceé Wallis Simpson. His brother, George VI, assumed the throne but died prematurely in 1952, thrusting his 25-year-old daughter into the spotlight as Queen Elizabeth.
As popular lore goes, the Royal Family was petrified at the prospect of another scandal. Queen Elizabeth sent Townsend—who had risen to the rank of equerry, a senior official in the royal household—overseas to Belgium for two years, hoping to cool the romance down.
"Too Simplistic" To Blame Queen, Expert Says
During that time, Margaret decided not to accept Townsend's offer of marriage. "The popular narrative is that Margaret didn't want to give up her regal perks and order of succession," says the Telegraph. "The myth is that she felt betrayed by her sister for preventing her from marrying her true love."
But neither were the real reason why she declined to marry Townsend. "Margaret and Townsend's love was real and enduring," says the Telegraph, however, "it's too simplistic to lay the blame for their separation at the Queen's door."
This Was Margaret's Catalyst For Not Marrying Townsend
"To understand Margaret fully, you have to consider her strongly held Christian convictions," says the Telegraph. "Quietly central to her existence was her faith. The decision which the public assumed was love or duty, was also love of God."
In 1953, when news of Margaret and Townsend's attraction broke, the Church of England said that Margaret would be unable to receive the sacrament if she and Townsend got married. Ironically, later church officials said the Church's claim was incorrect.
What She Said About Her Decision
So Margaret wasn't blocked by Queen Elizabeth. She made her decision by herself, based on her faith. In an October 1955 statement to the press, Margaret said, I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend. I have been aware that, subject to my renouncing my rights of succession, it might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage. But mindful of the Church's teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before others." Margaret added that she had "reached this decision entirely alone, and in doing so I have been strengthened by the unfailing support and devotion of Group Captain Townsend. I am deeply grateful for the concern of all those who have constantly prayed for my happiness."
Margaret went on to marry Antony Armstrong-Jones, a photographer and filmmaker, in 1960. The couple divorced in 1978, after having two children. She did not remarry before dying in 2002 of a stroke.
Townsend Gives His Own Account
In the 1978 memoir Time and Chance, Townsend gave his own account of the failed nuptials. He described breaking up with Margaret "with a chivalry and sacrifice that he seems almost to relish," the Telegraph says. "We did not feel unhappy," he wrote. "Without dishonor, we had played out our destiny. There remained only the glow of tenderness, constancy, and singleness of heart. Then we, who had been so close, parted."