Heritage

7 Things to Know About Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend's Love Affair

A heart-breaking royal romance.
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The Queen's fun-loving younger sister Princess Margaret was caught in a clash of loyalty, forced to choose between royal duty and the man she wants to marry, divorced royal equerry Peter Townsend.

Here's what you need to know about one the most gripping love stories in royal history.

1. PRINCESS MARGARET WAS A TEENAGER WHEN SHE FIRST MET PETER TOWNSEND.

According to multiple reports, Peter had been interviewed by Margaret's father, George VI, for a position as his equerry, when he first met the 14-year-old princess at Buckingham Palace. Peter later recalled that she was "as unremarkable as one would expect of a 14-year-old girl." Their romance began eight years later, when 22-year-old Margaret fell in love with Peter soon after the death of her father in 1952.


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Princess Margaret pictured with her sister Elizabeth, her father George VI, and the Queen Mother in 1946.

2. PETER WAS 16-YEARS OLDER THAN MARGARET, BUT THE AGE GAP WASN'T WHAT KEPT THEM APART.

Long before they fell in love, Peter had served in the Indian Civil Service; when he returned to Britain, he married Miss Cecil Rosemary Pawle after a short engagement. The couple had two sons, but after his wife had an affair, Peter filed for divorce in November 1952. It was his divorced status which eventually made it impossible for Margaret to marry him, as both the Church of England and parliament suggested they were firmly against the match.


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Peter Townsend in 1955.

3. IT WAS MARGARET'S SENSE OF HUMOR, AND HER NATURAL BEAUTY, THAT CAUGHT PETER'S EYE.

"She was a girl of unusual, intense beauty, confined as it was in her short, slender figure and centered about large purple-blue eyes, generous, sensitive lips, and a complexion as smooth as a peach," Peter is said to have recalled. "She could make you bend double with laughing and also touch you deeply in your heart," he added.


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Princess Margaret in 1951

4. MARGARET AND PETER'S RELATIONSHIP WAS HIDDEN BY THE PALACE, ALTHOUGH A SUBTLE GESTURE GAVE THEIR SECRET AWAY.

In its obituary for the princess, The Guardian highlights the moment when the public picked up on her relationship with Peter. On the Queen's Coronation Day in 1953, the princess was seen to flick a piece of fluff from his uniform while waiting outside Westminster Abbey. That gesture was a sure sign that rumors of their romance were true. The news was soon printed in newspapers around the world.


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Princess Margaret attended the British Industries Fair in London with Captain Townsend, 1953.

5. THE COUPLE'S DESIRE TO MARRY SPARKED A BATTLE BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT AND THE PUBLIC, AND THE QUEEN WAS CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE.

As Margaret was under the age of 25, the Queen had to consent to her sister's marriage to a divorced man, but her role as Head of the Church of England made this difficult. It didn't help that Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister at the time, said it was unlikely his cabinet would approve of their marriage, despite public support for the couple. Townsend was sent away to work as an air attaché for the British Embassy in Brussels, but speculation around their relationship never died down.


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Princess Margaret pictured with her sister Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and Prince Philip after the Coronation Ceremony, 1953.

6. THE PRINCESS EVENTUALLY PUT DUTY BEFORE HERSELF.

After two years apart, the couple were reunited in 1955, and although Margaret had now turned 25, they were still denied the right to marry. The government, then led by divorced Prime Minister Anthony Eden, decided that if the princess insisted on marrying Townsend, she would be stripped of all her royal privileges as well as her income. This left Margaret in an impossible position and on October 31 of the same year, the princess made her decision clear.

"I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend," she said. "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 teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have decided to put these considerations before any others."

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Princess Margaret with her husband Lord Snowdon and son Viscount Linley shortly after the birth of her daughter, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, 1964.

7. MARGARET WAS SAID TO BE HEARTBROKEN, BUT SHE MOVED ON.

Three years later, in May 1960, Margaret married a magazine photographer, Antony Armstrong-Jones, later known as Lord Snowden, at Westminster Abbey. The couple had two children, David and Sarah, before they divorced in 1978. Peter moved to France and married a young Belgian woman who was said to have a strong resemblance to Margaret. Townsend and the princess met again in 1993, which is thought to be the last time they saw each other. Margaret died in February 2002 at the age of 71, seven years after Peter died aged 80. (Lord Snowden died in January, 2017.)

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