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

The couple shared an ill-fated love story

princess margaret
21 August 2022
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Sunday would have marked the 92nd birthday of the Queen's only sibling, her younger sister Princess Margaret, who sadly died in 2002.

There's been renewed interest in the vivacious Princess' life over the last few years, following her portrayal on the hit Netflix show The Crown and in books and other programmes about her, including the BBC documentary Elizabeth and Margaret: Love & Loyalty, which aired in 2020. 

MORE: The Queen's emotional public appearance revealed

As well as being remembered for her fun-loving nature and devotion to her family, the late royal is also remembered for her love affair with Peter Townsend, the equerry to King George VI. 

Read on to find out more...

WATCH: The Queen treats Prince George to a special birthday performance

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?

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.

READ: The Queen and Princess Margaret were the last royals to be entirely home-schooled – here’s why

SEE: Princess Margaret's historic wedding tradition adopted by Kate Middleton and more

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.

peter townsend© Photo: Getty Images

Peter was the King's equerry

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, of which the Queen is the head. 

As such, the couple were urged to wait until Margaret turned 25 and no longer needed her sister's permission to marry.

Despite waiting the allotted time, the pair 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.

peter townsend margaret© Photo: Getty Images

Princess Margaret broke off the engagement in 1955

However, Margaret went on to release 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."

READ: The Queen and Princess Margaret - the big difference between their grandchildren

SEE: Princess Margaret's creative engagement ring from Antony inspired future royals?

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. Reflecting on 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 from stomach cancer at the age of 80 in 1995.

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