Townsend proposal was no threat to Margaret's royal status

Share this article

PRINCESS Margaret was promised she would be allowed to keep her title and Civil List allowance even if she had married her great love, Group Captain Peter Townsend, according to files made public today.

Papers released to the National Archives show that the prime minister, Sir Anthony Eden, was even prepared to scrap the old law requiring Royal Family members to seek the consent of the monarch.

In the event, Margaret, under intense public pressure and fierce opposition from the Church of England, announced on 31 October, 1955, that she would not marry Capt Townsend. However, the documents effectively destroy the myth that she would have been cut adrift from the Royal Family and left to survive on his RAF pay.

They suggest she was given a "categorical assurance" that not only would she keep her 6,000-a-year allowance, but she would receive the extra 9,000 a year she was entitled to on her marriage.

She would still have been called "Her Royal Highness" and would have carried out public duties. There was even a suggestion that after "some years", Capt Townsend also would get a title and an official allowance.

The disclosure of Margaret’s affair with Capt Townsend, a former equerry to her father, King George VI, and 18 years her senior, caused a sensation at the time. The controversy lay not in the age difference or in Capt Townsend’s lowly origins, but in the fact that he was a divorcee.

As speculation mounted in the summer of 1955, 300 journalists staked out the Balmoral estate where the Royal Family was staying, while headlines demanded: "Come on, Margaret! Make up your mind!"

Sir Anthony himself said it "could do the monarchy no good if the decision were held up much longer". The files also show that Downing Street had made arrangements should she have decided to go ahead with the marriage.

A series of draft statements to Parliament was drawn up announcing "legislation designed to relieve Her Royal Highness and her descendants of their rights to the succession to the Throne" - the one price she would have had to pay.

It is also clear she would have received her full Civil List allowance, although Sir Norman Brook, the Cabinet secretary, expressed concern that before he died, King George may have laid down conditions on the payments continuing.

"Before the person in question [Margaret] is given any categorical assurance that her annual income from public funds would in a certain eventuality be 6,000 plus 9,000, I think it ought to be verified that the 6,000 was not in fact made subject to any conditions material to the situation now envisaged," he wrote.

The legislation removing her right to the succession would have included a provision "to enable the marriage to be solemnised by a Registrar in London".

Sir Anthony was prepared to abolish the Royal Marriages Act 1772, passed in the reign of George III, requiring Royal Family members to seek the monarch’s consent to marry, although once they reached 25 they could wed anyway.