They were the Romeo and Juliet of the royal household. It was a love deep and passionate and doomed from the beginning.
Princess Margaret, the Queen’s younger more controversial sister, and Group Captain Peter Townsend – who’d been the right-hand-man to the former king, Margaret’s father King George VI – captured the hearts of the English public via the press and (likely) caused utter chaos for Queen Elizabeth.
The pair wanted to marry and Captain Townsend proposed in 1953, when Princess Margaret was 22.
But the then-38-year-old’s status as a divorcee with two children, 16 years Margaret’s senior, made it impossible for the Queen (who is also the head of the Church of England) to give the couple her blessing.
Their affair was played out again and again in the press and, more recently, in the Netflix drama The Crown. But, with all this media attention, it’s possible one, quite major, detail might have gone unnoticed: Was Princess Margaret as young as 17 when the affair began?
Author and columnist Craig Brown, who recently published a biography about Princess Margaret, wrote for the Daily Mail that someone reached out to him after reading his book with new information.
It's popular belief that the pair fell in love in the years after the Second World War. However, according to Brown, there is (some) evidence of a romance that was already ongoing as early as 1947 - when Margaret was 17.
He says there's proof that Princess Margaret and Captain Townsend requested adjoining bedrooms at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast in October 1947. (Scandalous!)
LISTEN: Laura Brodnik interviews actress Vanessa Kirby, who played Princess Margaret, about everything that happened in The Crown Season 2. Post continues after.
Princess Margaret was there to launch a ship, the 28,700-ton liner called 'Edinburgh Castle', on October 16 at Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyard.
She was 17 at the time. It was her first solo royal engagement. And Captain Townsend was 32.
Of course, the suggestion that the affair started so early must be taken lightly, as neither Princess Margaret nor Captain Townsend are here to tell their own story.
After their marriage was deemed impossible by the Queen, Princess Margaret went onto marry photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (of the same age) in 1960. They were divorced 18 years later.
Captain Townsend, on the other hand, remarried when he was 44 in 1959. He wed a Belgian woman, Marie-Luce Jamagne, who was 20 at the time.
Princess Margaret passed away in 2002, age 71. While Townsend died in 1995, age 80.