Monday, November 14, 2022

Princess Margaret’s True Love

 



The beautiful princess at Queen Juliana's coronation in 1947 Fotograaf Onbekend / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Princess Margaret once said that she would curse Tommy Lascelles, the Queen’s Private Secretary, until the day she died. She largely blamed the indefatigable courtier for preventing her marriage to the handsome Group Captain Peter Townsend, arguably the love of her life. This doomed romance she later said had ‘ruined her life’. Would she have been happy with the tall, good-looking Group Captain?  Her being prevented from marrying him unless she gave up her royal rights and privileges certainly seems almost unimaginable today (at least in the UK), and extremely unfair.

The romance began when Princess Margaret was very young. In one account, a woman who worked at Queen Adelaide’s Cottage where Peter Townsend and his family lived when he was equerry to King George VI used to watch Princess Margaret visit the family. This woman thought that the Princess had a ‘crush’ on Townsend, and that she wasn’t there to see his wife and two sons! The very attractive Princess used to persuade Peter to go riding with her. Once she was 17, she used to leave the top buttons of her blouse undone, and Townsend must have found thoughts of a relationship hard to resist!

The Princess became even closer to him on the family’s South African tour in 1947, walking and riding with him in the stunning countryside. No wonder Townsend’s marriage began to show signs of strain when he came back! She also insisted that he accompany her to Queen Juliana’s coronation in Holland in the same year, where people noticed the attraction between them. After Townsend became Deputy Master of the Household, Princess Margaret was only one floor above him, so they could easily meet and talk. (There is a touching scene in “The Crown” in which she rushes down to kiss him, wearing the most gorgeous dress). As the romance grew stronger, they even built cairns of stones in the countryside near Balmoral to celebrate their rides together, taking a leaf from Queen Victoria who did this to commemorate happy occasions).

Soon Townsend was granted a divorce from his wife, who married John de Lazlo (the son of the famous artist) two months later. Princess Margaret and Townsend discussed marriage as they rode together, or walked under the oaks and beeches of the Great Park at Windsor Castle. When Lascelles heard of this, he was furious, telling the Group Captain that: ‘You must be either mad or bad’. However, he also told the couple that the marriage was possible, but vowed secretly to do everything that he could to prevent it. He advised the Queen that Townsend should be sent abroad immediately.

The affair remained secret until the Princess brushed fluff off Townsend’s uniform at the Queen’s coronation in 1953. After this, gossip reached breaking point. Tommy Lascelles and Winston Churchill were both strongly against the match, and Winston Churchill told the Queen that Parliament would probably not approve the match. (Princess Margaret needed the approval of Parliament and the Dominions to marry the Group Captain because of his divorce, and because she was under 25). The couple agreed to postpone the engagement, and for Townsend to go away. The Princess thought that she would see him again after her tour, however, but he was sent to the British Embassy in Brussels for two years, while she was away! She must have been furious.

According to Noel Botham, however, Townsend saw her secretly at romantic weekends at friend’s country houses on visits to England during these years. Nobody told the Princess, however, that it was unlikely that Parliament would approve the match even after she was 25 – she later said that if she had known the position of the Church and that she would have to give up her royal advantages if they married, they would have ended the romance near the start.

When the Princess turned 25 in 1955, she and Townsend were horrified to discover the attitude of the PM (Sir Anthony Eden, who was divorced himself), Parliament and the Church. At a meeting with the Queen and Prince Philip, Margaret was told by the PM that her only option if she wanted to marry Townsend was to give up her right of succession and her Civil List income. This would require Parliament to pass a special bill, and he thought that it would cause ‘irreparable damage to the crown’. Also, any children the couple had would be regarded as illegitimate by the Church of England. Margaret did not realise this. As Princess Margaret was very religious, this may have been the deciding factor against the marriage.

A leader in The Times, stated that the Royal family should present a model of an ideal family life, and if the Princess married Townsend, this would become ‘distorted’, and that many of the Queen’s subjects would not ‘in conscience regard as a marriage’. Faced with such pressure, Margaret and her tall, handsome Group Captain decided against the match. He later wrote that they may not have enjoyed a happy marriage. She would have ‘had to give up everything –her position, her prestige, her privy purse.’ He didn’t think that he had ‘the weight…to counter-balance all she would have lost’. He also wouldn’t have wanted her ‘to become an ordinary housewife’.

However, if she had not had to give up everything, and if she had been allowed to marry Townsend, perhaps they would have been happy. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for the popular, attractive and lively Princess.

Daventry B J (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sources

Botham, Noel. Margaret, The Untold Story. Blake Hardbacks, England, 1994

Pimlott. Ben. The Queen. Elizabeth II and the Monarchy, Diamond Jubilee Edition, Harper Press, London, 2002.




Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The “High Life” in High Society: The Queen’s Iconic Dance in Ghana

 








Queen Elizabeth II’s iconic dance with the President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, on her 1961 tour is one of my favourite scenes in the series“The Crown”. The real Queen Elizabeth’s dance with a black African leader created headlines around the world, and she received high praise for changing the course of history by turning Nkrumah away from linking with the Soviet Union, and sending a powerful anti-racist message. However, controversy remains, especially amongst some Africans, about whether the dance really was such an important event.

The Queen wanted to visit Ghana in 1959, seeing it as her duty to the Commonwealth. However, her pregnancy with Prince Andrew put paid to that visit. Nkrumah was very upset. He told Lord Charteris that: ‘I put all my happiness into this tour. Had you told me my mother had just died you could not have given me a greater shock’.1. It was a different story in 1961. Macmillan, concerned about Nkrumah’s closeness to the Soviet Union and the possibility that he might even use her not going to leave the Commonwealth, advised her to visit Ghana. There were also concerns about anti-British feeling growing stronger if President Kennedy withdrew financial support for the Volta Dam, a huge hydro-electric project vital for Ghana’s economy, and the likelihood of the Soviets funding it. There were even fears that she ‘might throw in her hand’ if her activities were restricted.

President Kwame Nkrumah was the first black African leader to lead his country to independence, but he also installed a dictatorship, and single party rule. The Queen’s proposed trip to a dictatorship where there was much anti-British feeling caused consternation in the government. The Left was concerned about Nkrumah’s government’s lack of concern for human rights, and the Right feared that the Queen would be attacked. Winston Churchill even strongly suggested to Prime Minister Macmillan that he should advise her not to go, for both these reasons. He wrote that he had ‘the impression that there is widespread uneasiness both over the physical safety of the Queen and, perhaps more, because her visit would seem to endorse a regime which has imprisoned hundreds of opposition members without trial, and which is thoroughly authoritarian in tendency.’ 2.

Five days before the visit, there were explosions in Ghana’s capital, Accra, and a statue of Nkrumah was hit. However, even this didn’t put the Queen off the trip, and doing her duty to the Commonwealth, and she was growing impatient with the situation. According to some journalists, she had told Cabinet ‘with some vehemence, that she ‘did not know how she could carry on if they did not allow her to go’.3.  She also said: ‘How silly I should look if I was scared to visit Ghana, and Khrushchev went and had a reception’.4.

In Akkra, the Queen told Nkrumah that nations of the Commonwealth could disagree without having to leave. Looking regal and beautiful in her white gown and tiara, the Queen danced the traditional Ghanian dance, the ‘high life’ with the President, and pictures of the dance appeared in newspapers across the world. Some South African journalists were especially shocked.

Opinions differ about the effect of the dance. According to architect and historian Nat Nuno Amertiefo  the dance didn’t really change history. People were tiring of Nkrumah’s socialist government anyway because of the terrible economy, and corruption was so entrenched that there was even a state-run company set up to collect bribes from foreign businessmen. Also, the ties with the Soviet Union weren’t that close.5.

However, journalist Merriem Amellal Lalmas told France24 that ‘This image seems mundane today but, in this context, it was extremely avant-garde. It was a white woman dancing with a black man, it was the ruler of an empire dancing with a subject, as he was then considered, even if he is also the father of Pan-Africanism and Ghanian independence’.

After the Queen returned to England, Prime Minister Macmillan rang Kennedy about the Volta Dam. He said that: ‘I have risked my Queen. You must risk your money’. Funding soon came through for the dam, stymieing the Russians.6.

Arguably, the Queen’s visit did indeed play an important role in the history of Ghana



1. Lord Charteris: Interview quoted in Pimlott, Ben. Queen Elizabeth II and the Monarchy. Harper Collins, 2002. p. 305

2. (2022). Retrieved 21 September 2022, from Ghana Stories

3. Fairlie, H. (1963). Sunday Telegraph, quoted in Pimlott, Ben. Queen Elizabeth II and the Monarchy. Harper Collins, 2002. p.308

4. 2022). Retrieved 21 September 2022, from Ghana Stories

5. McDonnell, T. (2022). 'The Crown' Says One Dance Changed History. The Truth Isn't So Simple. NPR.org. Retrieved 21 September 2022, from Vetting the Crown: Did Queen Elizabeth II's Dance With Ghana's President Really Change History?

 6. (2022). Retrieved 21 September 2022, from Ghana Stories

 

 

 

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