Princess Margaret gave up love for the Crown on this day, 65 years ago.
Queen Elizabeth’s sister announced on October 31, 1955, that her engagement to Captain Peter Townsend was no more.
In a statement read on BBC radio, Margaret said: “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 resolved to put these considerations before any others.”
While Townsend had divorced his wife in 1952, the Church of England’s then-strict rules about remarriage after divorce forced Margaret’s hand. Under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, the Princess required the Queen’s permission to marry before the age of 25. Although she had turned 25 that August, she still needed the Parliament’s approval and they had already made it clear they would not offer her consent.
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It was a painful chapter in the royal’s tempestuous love life, which dominated the tabloid media at the time. Townsend, equerry to the King and after George VI’s death in 1952, Controller of the Queen’s Mother’s household, spent much time with a teenage Margaret despite being twice her age and married with two children.
Rumors of a secret affair began at the Queen's coronation in 1953 when a reporter noticed the princess flick a piece of fluff off Townsend’s jacket. In fact, the relationship had likely been going on for several years prior.
In a 2017 biography, Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, author Colin Brown claimed that Townsend and Margaret were seeing each other as early as 1947, when Margaret was just 17 years old.
Accompanying Margaret to Belfast, Northern Ireland, in October of that year, paperwork relating to the visit, at which Margaret christened her first ship, shows that Townsend had asked for his room at Hillsborough Castle to be moved next door to Margaret’s room.
Earlier that year he had accompanied the royal family on their three-month royal tour to South Africa, where his official job was to look after the Queen’s 16-year-old sister. “We rose together every morning in that wonderful country, in marvelous weather,” the princess reportedly said, adding, “That’s when I really fell in love with him.”
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Following the end of their engagement in 1955, Peter went on to marry Marie-Luce Jamagne in 1959 and in May, 1960, Margaret married the society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones.
Known as Lord Snowdon post-marriage, he was the first “commoner” to marry into the royal family in over 400 years. The glamorous couple, a fixture on the social scene for many years, had two children but divorced in 1978.
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