The new series charts the life of a young Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) as she ascends to the throne after the death of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris)
As Elizabeth and her new husband Prince Philip (Matt Smith) battle with the pressures of the Crown, a lonely and grief-stricken Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) finds solace in Captain Townsend (Ben Miles), who had served her father since she was 14 years old.
In real life, the affair had begun some years before Elizabeth’s ascension. Anne de Courcy wrote of the couple's doomed romance in Snowdon, the biography of Margaret’s eventual husband.
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“When Townsend accompanied the royal family on a tour of South Africa in 1947, the two were in each other’s company every day. ‘We rode together every morning in that wonderful country, in marvelous weather,’ the Princess told a confidante. ‘That’s when I really fell in love with him.’”
After the death of King George, Townsend was given the role of comptroller of the Queen Mother’s household, and moved with the family to Clarence House.
“It was far easier for Margaret and Townsend to conduct a full-blown love affair within Clarence House, where the Princess had her own apartment, although at that stage the affair was still known only to a few,” de Courcy continued.
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Princess Margaret's affair with Peter Townsend is based on a true story
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As well as being 15 years her senior, Townsend was married when he moved in to Clarence House. But by the time of the Queen’s coronation in 1953, he had divorced his wife and asked Margaret to marry him.
When news broke of the romance – after Margaret was pictured affectionally sweeping fluff off Townsend’s lapel at the coronation – it almost sparked a constitutional crisis much like the one that led to Margaret’s uncle Edward abdicating the throne to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson.
At the time, it was “unthinkable” that a royal could marry someone who was divorced. Under the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the 22-year-old Princess also needed the permission of the Queen before proceeding with the wedding.
The Crown shows the lovers embarking on an affair after the death of King George
In real life, the affair began in 1947
Winston Churchill, who was resolutely against the union, arranged for Townsend to be posted to Brussels.
As reenacted in The Crown, Margaret discovered the news while on a tour of Rhodesia – a trip which her lover was supposed to have accompanied her on.
Meanwhile, the Queen reportedly tried to amend the Regency Act to allow for Margaret to marry the captain, who was beloved by the family.
After a two year wait, the lovers were reunited in October 1955. Margaret, then third-in-line, had been told that she would have to renounce her claim to the throne and all royal allowances in order to proceed with the wedding.
Margaret was told she would have to renounce her claim to the throne to marry the divorcee
Townsend went on to remarry a woman half his age
She eventually released a statement, announcing: “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.”
In his autobiography, Townsend admitted: “ “I simply hadn't the weight, I knew it, to counterbalance all she would have lost.”
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The Queen pictured in December 2016
The Princess eventually moved on and married photographer Antony Armstong-Jones, who would become the Earl of Snowdon, in 1960.
Lord Snowdon recently passed away aged 86.
She reportedly accepted his proposal a day after learning that Townsend would marry a young Belgian woman, Marie-Luce Jamagne, who was half his age and resembled the Princess.
The Snowdons had two children – David and Sarah, but their marriage ended in divorce in 1978 amid reports that Margaret had cheated.
Though there were reports of romantic involvements with a string of men, Margaret remained unmarried until her death in 2002.