princess margaret

The real story about Princess Margaret's first love Peter Townsend

The couple shared an ill-fated love story

Princess Margaret's love affair with Peter Townsend, the equerry to King George VI, has been documented many times before, whether on hit Netflix show The Crown or in books and programmes about the vivacious Princess. The Queen's younger sister, who passed away in 2002, is now the subject of BBC documentary, Princess Margaret: The Rebel Royal, which airs on Monday night.

The series focuses on Margaret's life as she redefined what it meant to be a modern princess. The synopsis reads: "This intimate two-part series profiles Princess Margaret, whose life and loves reflected the social and sexual revolution that transformed Britain during the 20th century. With sumptuous archive and revealing interviews, the series follows Margaret's life as she redefined our image of the modern princess. This deeply personal account reveals how Princess Margaret's character combined the rebellious force of modernity and respect for tradition."


Peter was the King's equerry

Before marrying Anthony Armstrong-Jones and welcoming two children with him, Margaret's first love was Peter Townsend. But what do we know about the man behind the ill-fated romance?

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Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend was a Royal Air Force officer, and was equerry to Princess Margaret's father, King George VI, until the King's death in 1952. He then held the same position with Queen Elizabeth until 1953. Peter married his first wife, Rosemary Pawle, in 1941 and the pair had two sons, Giles and Hugo. The marriage eventually fell apart due to his wife's affair with John de László, whom she married following their divorce.

Unfortunately, things were considerably more complicated with Peter, since divorcees weren't allowed to remarry in the Church of England, which Princess Margaret's sister was the head of. As such, the couple were urged to wait until Margaret turned 25 and no longer needed her sister's permission to marry.

peter townsend

Princess Margaret broke off the engagement in 1955

Despite waiting the allotted time, the pair were still met with problems within the monarchy. A new plan was proposed to allow Peter to marry the Princess by removing her from the line of succession, but keeping her royal titles and public duties. Margaret released a statement confirming that she had broken off the engagement, writing: "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 teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before others. I have reached this decision entirely alone, and in doing so I have been strengthened by the unfailing support and devotion of Group Captain Townsend."

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Following the end of their engagement in 1955, Peter went on to marry Marie-Luce Jamagne in 1959, and the pair had one daughter, Isabelle. Speaking about his relationship with Princess Margaret in his memoir, Time and Chance, he wrote: "I simply hadn't the weight, I knew it, to counterbalance all she would have lost." Peter died aged 80 from stomach cancer in 1995.