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The Crown: Did Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend get back in touch before his death?

The pair could not marry due to the 1772 Royal Marriages Act

Saman Javed
Friday 11 November 2022 10:03 GMT
The Crown Season 5 trailer

The latest instalment of The Crown has landed on Netflix.

The fifth season of fictional series, which looks to recount the inner happenings of the British royal family, will focus on the breakdown of King Charles III and Princess Diana’s relationship during the 1990s.

Viewers can also expect to learn more about the relationship between Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend, a Group Captain who died in 1995.

The fourth episode of the series portrays Townsend as having written a letter to Margaret in the last years of his life after having heard his former lover on Desert Island Discs. He later dies from stomach cancer.

The scene is particularly heartwarming, for it depicts Margaret choosing to play “Smile” by Hoagy Carmichael’s, an apparent “favourite” song of the pair.

However, many have raised doubts over whether Townsend and Margaret really did get back in touch before his death.

Here’s what we know to be true.

How did Margaret and Townsend meet and why didn’t they marry?

Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II and Group Captain Peter Townsend gather June 13, 1951 in the Royal Box at Ascot (Getty Images)

Princess Margaret is thought to have fallen in love with Peter Townsend, an equerry to her father, King George VI, shortly after the death of the monarch. Margaret was 23 at the time, and Townsend was 39.

However, they were unable to marry due to a clause in the 1772 Royal Marriages Act, which decreed that no descendant of George III under the age of 25 could marry without the consent of the monarch.

As Townsend had previously divorced, Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch at the time, was advised that it would be unconstitutional for her to approve of the marriage.

It was widely believed that Margaret and Townsend would announce their plans to marry after her 25th birthday in 1955.

However, in a statement issued from Clarence House, Margaret announced that the marriage would not go ahead.

“I would like it 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,” the statement said.

Princess Margaret and her husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones (AFP via Getty Images)

“But mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others.”

Writing in his 1978 autobiography, Townsend said Margaret would have “lost” too much if she had married him.

“She could have married me only if she had been prepared to give up everything – her position, her prestige, her privy purse,” Townsend said.

“I simply hadn’t the weight, I knew it, to counterbalance all she would have lost.”

Margaret went on to marry filmmaker and photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960. They divorced in 1978. Townsend married Marie-Luce Jamagne in 1959.

Did Townsend get back in touch with Margaret before her death?

Peter Townsend (Getty Images)

The depiction of Townsend and Margaret’s reunion in season five of The Crown is not supported by facts.

According to Channel 5’s 2018 series, Elizabeth: Our Queen, which interviewed members of the Royal Household, Margaret and Townsend met for lunch in 1978.

Lady Glenconner, a lady-in-waiting to Margaret, recalled a conversation she had with the royal after the meeting.

“Peter Townsend came to lunch with her and I said: ‘What was it like seeing him?’

“She said ‘charming, he hadn’t changed at all’. I looked out the window and saw him getting out of the car, he was an old man. Yet in her eyes he hadn’t changed. I thought that was very touching.”

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