In the opening scene of The Crown's Season 1 finale, Elizabeth and Margaret are shown as children, promising their father that they would never put anything or anyone before one another and they'd never let each other down. Although I certainly don't envy Elizabeth's position, it didn't make it any less heartbreaking when she told Margaret that she couldn't allow her to marry Peter Townsend and remain a part of the family. Although she assured her sister that she'd find love and happiness with another man, Margaret attempted to explain to her that Peter was the only person who understood her and helped her with her emotional struggles. And, based on what happened to Princess Margaret after The Crown finale, it seems like there was certainly merit to her words.
In an interview with Bustle, Vanessa Kirby, who plays Margaret and conducted extensive research for the role, says that it was likely a struggle for the princess to go from being equals with her sister to essentially having that taken away from her "overnight." The show depicts Elizabeth's discomfort with becoming Queen at such a young age — as she tells her uncle in Episode 3, she would have preferred to have a more private life with Philip and their two young children. Margaret, on the other hand, was much more extroverted than her sister. "[She] loved public speaking and loved traveling and representing the monarchy," Kirby says. The actor believes Margaret experienced "envy and resentment" about the situation and she channeled those feelings into her intense love for Peter. (A rep for the royals tells Bustle in a statement that "The Crown is a fictional drama. The Royal Household has had no involvement.)
As we see in the show, Margaret agrees to hold off on her engagement at the request of her sister — and she understandably feels incredibly betrayed and devastated when Elizabeth tells her she must choose between Peter and her family. Kirby tells Bustle:
You can imagine the hardening of your heart, and I think that for me was psychologically — as an actor, but also as a human being — imagining that journey, my heart was completely broken for her. She feels redundant, and to feel redundant when you also... [have] a perception of being very powerful but a very low self-worth. I think the combination of those things causes internal drama. In a way, I think that's why it's been a pleasure to play, because it's very four dimensional.
After her devastating split, Margaret was pressured to find a husband deemed suitable. By the time she was 26, the pressure had intensified and she accepted a proposal from Billy Wallace, according to The Telegraph. However, the engagement was brief and they split up before it was publicly announced. Margaret eventually married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in a televised ceremony. The outlet reports that their marriage began to fall apart after the birth of their daughter, Lady Sarah. The Telegraph reports that the couple separated in 1976 and Margaret never remarried.
When Margaret broke off her engagement with Peter, she was praised for putting duty before love, as depicted on The Crown. But, The Telegraph reports that her reputation was shattered as her marriage fell apart — public sentiment turned against Margaret and the republican MP, Willie Hamilton labeled her a "a floozy" and "a monstrous charge on the public purse."
Margaret's final years were neither healthy nor happy. According to The Guardian, she suffered from migraines, laryngitis, bronchitis, hepatitis and pneumonia. Despite a 1985 cancer scare, she continued to smoke 30 cigarettes each day (although she gave up the habit at some point before her first stroke in 1998), according to The Guardian. Margaret passed away in February 2002, shortly after her third stroke.
Her breakup with Peter was one of the most emotional moments of the Netflix series — and the fact that her life was marred by health problems and public criticism afterwards makes Margaret's real story even more tragic.
Images: Alex Bailey; Robert Viglasky/Netflix