The Story Behind The Crown‘s Queen Elizabeth & Princess Margaret Tale

Photo: Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty Images.
All siblings have their disagreements, but when your sister is the sovereign ruler of the British empire, everyday fights over who gets the remote and if you borrowed that sweater or not (you totally did and didn’t tell her) seem quite mundane. Stupid, even. Seasons 1 and 2 of The Crown depicted Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, Princess Margaret, as cool but close enough, until Elizabeth was forced to stand, allegedly for the sake of the nation, between her sister and the man she loved. In real life, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret’s feuding ebbed and flowed much like any other siblings’ would.
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According to Vanity Fair, Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth were the best of friends growing up— Princess Margaret was “Margot," and the Queen was “Lilibet.” Princess Margaret served as a bridesmaid at Queen Elizabeth’s 1947 wedding to Prince Philip, and the two sisters had a direct phone line in between their homes so they could talk to each other whenever they pleased — even after Queen Elizabeth officially became Queen in 1952. But their public lives were very different, according to Newsweek, which led to some friction behind the scenes. As monarch, Queen Elizabeth was drawn to duty — she had a purpose to serve the people then under the British Empire. There was notoriety, there was decorum, and there was a reason to get up every day, even if the public attention could be stifling at times. Princess Margaret, though, seemed to struggle to find her place, throwing parties and per VOGUE, having wild moods.
Things came especially to a head when, according to the New York Times, an early-twenties Princess Margaret fell in love with a man nearly twice her age, Group Captain Peter Townsend of the Royal Air Force. Townsend and Princess Margaret met when he served as an equerry, or assistant, to her father, King George VI. The problem? Townsend was recently divorced, and, as viewers saw in The Crown, the pain of Edward VIII’s abdication (and marriage to a divorcée, Wallis Simpson) was too raw for the royals to even consider agreeing to let Princess Margaret, then third in line to the throne, marry him. According to History, the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 decreed that all royal marriages needed to be approved by the reigning monarch. Additionally, the Church Of England looked down on divorce, and Queen Elizabeth, though the head of the church, couldn’t make an exception for her sister, or so The Crown said.
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In real life, according to the BBC, Queen Elizabeth and Sir Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister at the time, actually concocted a plan in 1955 that would have let Princess Margaret marry Townsend while keeping her royal title and a small allowance. She could live in Britain and continue in public duties if the public allowed — and they probably would, because everyone loved Princess Margaret. The Queen and Eden would also change the Royal Marriages Act so that Princess Margaret didn’t need permission, because, according to a statement by Eden, the Act was “out of harmony with modern conditions.” The only catch? Princess Margaret would have to give up her rights of succession, as well as the rights of succession of any possible children. For reasons unknown, Princess Margaret passed on marrying Townsend, and in 1960, Princess Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones, a commoner, who was then named Lord Snowdon and Viscount Linley.
According to the New York Times, Princess Margaret built a house on Mustique in the 1970s and spent a great deal of time there; presumably, the Queen was off doing her royal duties at the time, so the two were still often separated. But according to Vanity Fair, the sisters remained close confidants, and in 2002, when Princess Margaret died at the age of 71, the usually stoic Queen shed public tears over the death of her sister. In the end, though their relationship was often complicated (as any sibling relationship can be), Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret still adored and depended on each other for guidance and love no matter what was going on in the world.
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