Two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, were yanked from relative obscurity into the world spotlight when their uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated his throne and their father became Gorge VI. The close knit family (“we four”, as the king called them) were to undergo enormous challenges, not least of which were roles that the king and his oldest daughter were ill equipped to handle. What became abundantly clear is that the king, his wife, and his oldest daughter had serious responsibilities to prepare for, while Margaret was left adrift without a real purpose or role but with plenty of money and connections that her mischievous personality put to good use. Then when George VI died and Elizabeth, already married and a mother of two, became queen, Margaret was thrust even more into the background. When she fell in love with her father’s equerry Group Captain Peter Townsend – a man who helped her grieve for her late father, a worldly war hero who stabilized her and cherished her – Margaret was also to learn the harshest sides of being a senior royal. More than a decade her senior, divorced, and a loyal employee of the innermost royal circles, Peter was not a bad choice for the wayward Margaret. But the Church of England, the Royal Marriages Act, and the British government saw otherwise, envisioning shades of the controversy that surrounded the Duke of Windsor. Eventually, the government told Margaret she could marry Townsend only if she agreed to marry him outside England, renounce her position in the succession, agree to stop all her civil list payments, and live outside the country for a prolonged period of time. Peter and Margaret split, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Watchers of the Netflix program “The Crown” will enjoy this slightly more intimate look into the lives of Queen Elizabeth II and her younger sister Princess Margaret, primarily in regards to Princess Margaret’s ill-fated romance with Peter Townsend. The author got to know Mr. Townsend personally, years later, and so much of her descriptions are allegedly supported with his first-hand recollections. The hypocrisy of the church and government in those times was astonishing, as many within the government were already divorced and remarried, something specifically forbidden by the church. (Apparently this was fine for them, but not OK for a royal.) With Charles and Anne in place (and eventually Andrew and Edward to follow), Margaret had no realistic chance of ever becoming monarch, and so her marrying a divorcé was not remotely similar to her uncle abdicating his throne to marry a divorced woman. And yet, Margaret never got her man, and it’s interesting to wonder if her life would have turned out differently if she had.
This book is a nice companion to “The Crown” program for a more intimate, personal view inside the tensions between Elizabeth and her younger sister. The bizarre part is that the book abruptly ends with Margaret and Peter calling off their engagement. As we know, Margaret’s colorful story continued for many decades to come, and I’m sure the relationship between the sisters evolved, but that is not to be seen here. Nothing earth shattering or revealing, but a good source to learn more if you are still interested after your holiday Netflix binge watching sessions.
Amazon link is here.