Eden drew up plan to let Margaret marry lover Townsend

The Government made secret plans to allow Princess Margaret to marry her divorced lover, Group Captain Peter Townsend, and retain the trappings of the royal lifestyle, including the use of her title and civil list payment, documents released yesterday show.

The classified files chronicling the constitutional crisis sparked in 1955 by the relationship between the Queen's sister and the former royal equerry show that the Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, was ready for the marriage to go ahead as long as Princess Margaret renounced any right to the throne for both herself and her children.

In the event, Princess Margaret, under intense public pressure and facing fierce opposition from the Church of England, announced that she would not marry the decorated wartime fighter pilot, who was 16 years her senior.

Public and media speculation that the story of forbidden love was about to end in marriage reached fever pitch shortly before the Princess's 25th birthday in August that year, after which she no longer needed to seek the monarch's approval and could have defied a refusal by the Queen to give the wedding her blessing.

When the Princess announced on 31 October that, "mindful of the church's teahing that Christian marriage is indissoluble", she had decided to put her "duty to the Queen and Commonwealth" before her love for Townsend, it was assumed that the threat of "alienation" from the Royal Family, including the loss of her HRH title and annual allowance of £15,000, had swayed her.

But documents released at the National Archives in Kew, west London, show that the Cabinet believed in the months before the announcement that Margaret was going to marry and in effect offered her a deal under which she could keep her allowance and title and continue to live in Britain and carry out her public duties as long as "public opinion" supported it.

The government also made plans to repeal the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 under which the monarch had to approve all marriages for members of the Royal Family under the age of 25.

Downing Street drew up a blueprint for the announcement of the marriage in the weeks before 31 October, including a statement from the Princess of her intention to marry Gp Capt Townsend. Marked "Draft A Top Secret", it read: "I have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances the best course for me to follow is to marry PT and to give up my rights to the succession, both for myself and for my descendants."

A separate letter, to be sent by Sir Anthony to the prime ministers of the Commonwealth nations, made clear that the government believed Princess Margaret could not be dissuaded from her chosen course of action. It read: "It is only after long and anxious consideration that Her Royal Highness has reached this conclusion. There is no question of her changing her mind...

"Her Majesty [the Queen] would not wish to stand in the way of her sister's happiness." The letter added that, in contrast to the events which followed the abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, to marry the divorcée Wallis Simpson, the Princess would be kept within the royal fold: "The government are advised that neither her proposed marriage nor her renunciation of her rights to the succession need in themselves affect either her style and title as 'Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret' or the provision made for her under the Civil List."

The documents, which had been subject to the 100-year rule governing papers relating to the Royal Family, were released early as part of a policy of greater transparency. But some files, notably correspondence between Downing Street and the Royal Household, have been retained.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'