Millions of people have been transfixed over Netflix’s royal drama The Crown, but is the romance between Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend totally faithful to real life and historically accurate?
Captain Peter Townsend was a brilliant war hero who proposed to Princess Margaret in 1953, but in The Crown, we see England’s Prime Minister Anthony Eden voicing the cabinet’s displeasure at the idea of a union between Princess Margaret and Peter. He even went so far as to tell Margaret that she would face a very real exile for five years if she even ventured to continue her dalliance with Townsend, especially in the form of a marriage. We shudder as we see the Queen tell Margaret that not only will she be sent away in exile, but she will no longer even be a member of the family.
However, the BBC has taken an in-depth look into this matter and found that while partially true, much of it was meant for show and that Princess Margaret wouldn’t have really had to live in fear of exile, nor the severing of ties between her and the royal family.
To prove this, the BBC looked at papers in the National Archives that illuminate this matter greatly. Prime Minister Anthony Eden and the Queen actually concocted a plan in 1955 which would, in reality, allow Princess Margaret to keep living in England while carrying out her public duties. This was under the provision that the public approved of her marriage, which it seemed highly likely that it would.
As far as remaining part of the royal lineage, she would even have been allowed to keep her royal title, plus an allowance of £6,000 per year. In fact, as soon as she was married, she would have also received an extra £9,000 on top of that base allowance.
The one downside to Princess Margaret marrying Peter Townsend was that she would be forced to renounce any right of succession as well as the succession of her children. But as far as marriage between the two went, the prime minister wrote to Commonwealth prime ministers that the Queen did not wish to stand in the way of her sister’s union with Peter.
“Her Majesty would not wish to stand in the way of her sister’s happiness.”
In the beginning, though, things weren’t always so easy when it came to the idea of a marriage between this couple.
— The Crown (@TheCrownNetflix) December 12, 2016
The main problem with the marriage of Margaret and Peter originally began after Townsend had divorced his first wife. He did this because of her adultery, though, and felt certain that the public would surely understand. While his divorce was granted, as soon as he proposed to Princess Margaret, the troubles began.
The Royal Marriages Act of 1772 required that the Queen give her permission for the marriage, but she refused. This was chiefly due to the Church of England and Winston Churchill, who were not fans of divorce. There was no reason to completely give up hope, however, as Princess Margaret was told to wait until she attained the age of 25 and no longer needed permission to get married. Peter Townsend spent these years in Brussels.
Once Princess Margaret came of age, was she allowed to get married then? The short answer is no. The Queen was still insistent that she not marry Townsend. Because Margaret was now 25, she could have quite easily gone straight to Parliament and asked them to overturn the Queen’s decision. But as the public was first and foremost in the mind of the royal family and the deciding factor on many things, Margaret decided against it. If the public had reacted badly to this, it could have caused a scandal, which would have put her marriage in distinct jeopardy.
One thing was in her favor, though. As the prime minister himself, Anthony Eden, had also been granted a divorce, he said that he would personally amend the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. This is where her succession came in to play. If the Act was amended, Margaret and her future children would be removed from the succession. But she would then be allowed to marry Peter, which was the plus side.
“Exclusion from the Succession would not entail any other change in Princess Margaret’s position as a member of the Royal Family.”
So why did Princess Margaret decide in the end not to marry Peter Townsend after all, when a marriage had been granted with very few repercussions involved? No one can say for certain, but Margaret wrote to Eden after this decision and told him that she would “visit” Peter soon as “it is only by seeing him in this way that I feel I can properly decide whether I can marry him or not.”
Princess Margaret ended up marrying someone else entirely in 1960, photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. Questions still remain as to why after so much work she didn’t marry Townsend, but sometimes love is a funny thing, even amongst royalty. The Crown is a wonderful historical drama, but it is always interesting to know how much of these shows is fact versus fiction, and in the case of Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend, we now know.
[Featured Image by Staff/Getty Images]