Princess Margaret’s married lover Peter Townsend.
Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth II, when thirteen when she first saw Group Captain Peter Townsend. He had arrived at Buckingham Palace to be interviewed for the position of equerry to her father, the king.
He was twenty-nine, a war hero, good-looking … and married.
He had married a woman called Rosemary – a woman who was attractive, fun-loving and flirtatious. They had two children. But Peter Townsend served the royal family for ten years and during that time, he fell hook, line and sinker for the pretty Princess Margaret. It was mutual.
As equerry to the king, he was an important part of the royal household.
In 1947, the royal family took a trip to Africa. Peter Townsend accompanied them on the three-month visit. In his absence his wife embarked upon an affair that later allowed him to divorce her for adultery.
But in the meantime, he was falling desperately in love with the princess.
He was sixteen years older than she was, he wasn’t of royal birth or a member of the aristocracy and these factors alone – let alone the fact that he was married – made some people frown on him as a suitable suitor.
But Margaret too was smitten.
By the time Margaret’s sister became queen in 1952, Peter was divorced and indeed, the innocent party. He was a free man again and what he wanted most was to marry Margaret.
With incredibly bad timing – it was shortly before Elizabeth’s coronation which was an incredibly busy time – the couple went to the queen and told them that they wanted to be married. The queen has to give her permission to members of the royal family if they wish to marry before the age of twenty-five.
Back in those days, when the country was much more religious, divorce was seen as something rather scandalous but the queen took the news calmly. She told the couple that ‘under the circumstances’ that she would like them to wait for a year.
This seemed reasonable.Margaret was only twenty-one and there was all the fuss of the official coronation coming up.
Both the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, were sympathetic and they wanted Margaret to be happy.
The press soon got hold of the story- particularly when during the coronation Princess Margaret was seen brushing Townsend’s lapel in a way that suggested that they were more that mere acquaintances. It was described as ‘with a tender hand’.
The affair continued. As in so many other matters, the queen was pressured to ‘relieve’ Townsend of his job in the royal household and he was posted to Brussels.
However, the couple knew that once Margaret was twenty-five she would no longer need the queen’s permission to marry. But there was one fly in the ointment. Although the couple no longer needed the official approval of the queen, because of Margaret’s royal position they still needed to get permission from the government.
The government would not sanction the marriage. They could have still married but their position would have been hard to tolerate. Margaret decided that she would give him up. Peter accepted her decision. They met at Clarence House on October 22nd to say their farewells. Townsend later wrote:
We looked at each other and there was a wonderful tenderness in her eyes which reflected, I suppose, the look in mine. We had reached the end of the road.