As the royal family marks the 15th anniversary of Princess Margaret’s death, here is a look back at the ill-fated love affair between the tempestuous royal and Group Capt. Peter Townsend (at the heart of the Netflix series The Crown) – and the effect it has on her relationship with her sister Queen Elizabeth.
As head of the Church of England, which frowns upon remarriages for those who have been divorced, the young Queen Elizabeth was torn between duty and loyalty to her sister.
“She was a sovereign above everything else,” royal cousin and lifestyle entrepreneur India Hicks tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
But Margaret’s biographer, Christopher Warwick, rejects the thesis put forward by the show. He believes that the affair – admittedly strained by the distance caused by his posting to Brussels – fizzled on its own accord.
“Margaret told me that when she went to the Queen and she and Townsend were in love and wanted to marry, the Queen said, ‘It’s not unreasonable for me to ask you to wait a year.’ After a year, Margaret returned and the Queen – undoubtedly on ministerial advice – asked her to wait another year,” the author of Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts, tells PEOPLE. “She had to step back and let Margaret make the decision.”
For more on the real stories behind The Crown, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
“Margaret said, ‘It is only by seeing him will I know if I can marry him.’ Although they retained a lot of affection for each other, I think the love had gone. At least it wasn’t strong enough and they decided not to marry.”
Crown executive producer Suzanne Mackie explains, “The story we wanted to tell was as Townsend came into her life and her father was dying. One can imagine how adrift Margaret would have been, and being vulnerable and her sister being Queen, and possibly feeling marooned. You can see why she might turn to the dashing war hero who was her father’s confidante.”
One person who isn’t surprised at the renewed excitement and interest in the glamorous princess is the creator of the series, Peter Morgan.
“By looking five degrees to the left or the right of the Queen, there are these extraordinarily complex and interesting human beings, each of whom have more colorful stories to tell in many ways,” he says. “As soon as you start telling those stories, it’s a real eye-opener for people.”
“Margaret is a very vivid character and a very strong flavor,” notes, “and she divided people the older she got.”
He adds, “It always helps if you have a wonderful actor and Vanessa Kirby did us proud.”