The first time HRH Princess Margaret of the United Kingdom met Peter Townsend, he said she was, “as unremarkable as one would expect of a 14 year old girl.”
He was at the Palace applying for a position as equerry to King George VI, the princess’ father.
Their romance would not begin for another eight years when Margaret was 22 and after the King’s death the same year.
Townsend, 16 years her senior had served in the Indian Civil Service and upon returning to the UK, married one Miss Cecil Rosemary Pawle after a brief engagement. Two sons followed, and shortly after that, an affair.
Not him, her.
Peter filed for divorce in 1952 and his status as a divorcee made it impossible for the Princess to marry him.
It was a double whammy. The Parliament was against the match, and the Church of England had a rule or two about marriage being forever.
Something in the Bible, I’m sure.
So, what was the attraction?
Upon meeting her again in the year of my birth, Peter said, “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. She could make you bend double with laughing and also touch you deeply in your heart.”
Rumors of the romance were rampant, but the couple and the Palace went with the usual routine.
Deny, deny, deny.
When Margaret’s big sister, Queen Elizabeth was crowned at Westminster Abbey, Townsend as a royal hanger on was invited. The Princess flicked a piece of lint off his uniform while waiting outside.
The small gesture “confirmed” to the press that the relationship was true. Papers worldwide carried the story.
The pesky Royal Marriages Act was getting in the way of romance. You see, for the royal family, the reigning monarch, in this case, Margaret’s big sister, Queen Elizabeth II had to give her consent.
It wasn’t going to happen
Townsend was divorced, and at the time, the Church of England frowned upon divorce.
With the Queen and the government of Prime Minister Winston Churchill against them, the couple had no choice but to call it quits.
Just to make sure, Townsend was reassigned as an air attaché for the British Embassy in Brussels.
Rumor had it they were seeing one another on the sly.
In 1955, after a two year separation, they were briefly reunited.
One story tells it this way, Margaret realizing true love doesn’t always find a way, came to grips with the fact that the new PM, Anthony Eden (who was divorced) decided that should they marry, Margaret would lose her royal privileges and would be dropped from the civil list.
In other words, there would be no bowing and scraping and no income from the government.
But, documents came to light after Margaret’s death showing the Queen and Eden drew UP a plan in 1955 which would allow the Princess to marry her true love and remain a Princess, keeping her royal titles, status, income, and continue with her public duties.
Eden wrote in a letter, “…Her Majesty would not wish to stand in the way of her sister’s happiness.”
She must have remembered her Uncle David, the man who once was king. And history has shown that Her Majesty was extremely fond of Margaret. But, before this was made public, and with or without Margaret’s knowledge of it, she issued a statement on Halloween:
“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 teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have decided to put these considerations before any others.”
She was heartbroken.
She moved on.
She drank a bit.
So did he.
In 1960, Margaret married magazine photographer, Anthony Armstrong-Jones. It was big doings at Westminster Abbey. Prior to their divorce 18 years later, they had two children.
As to the jilted Captain, well Peter moved to France, married a woman from Belgium who was said to be a doppelganger for the Princess.
The former lovers did meet again briefly in 1993.
No one knows what transpired in that brief conversation.
Margaret died in February 2002 due to complications from years of alcohol and tobacco abuse.
Peter had gone on seven years before.
His opinion may have changed from “as unremarkable as one would expect” to “a girl of unusual, intense beauty,” yet, there was no happily ever after.