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Last Updated: Friday, 2 January, 2004, 17:01 GMT
Margaret was offered marriage deal
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online

Princess Margaret would have been allowed to keep her royal title if she had married Group Captain Peter Townsend, official papers reveal.

The then Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was more sympathetic to the marriage than previously thought, according to papers just released by the National Archives.

Only days before she herself announced, on 31 October 1955, she would not be marrying the divorced former Battle of Britain pilot, the government had drawn up a statement to Parliament announcing a marriage.

The only conditions set, the documents indicate, were that she should give up her rights to succeed to the throne and that she would be married in a register office.

There was no suggestion she would have to go abroad, give up the title of Her Royal Highness or her Civil List allowance.
Princess Margaret

This gave her 6,000 a year, to which would be added another 9,000 upon marriage.

There was even an opinion from the Lord Chancellor that the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, under which the rights of the Royal family to marry are restricted, did not apply to her.

The implication is the princess, who was 25 at the time, might have been able to marry Gp Capt Townsend anyway if she had forced the issue.

The government was ready, at first to repeal the Act, and then to amend it to apply to a sovereign's children only.

'Free hand'

The file has been released by the National Archives following the death of the princess in 2002.

Cliff Edwards, an official at the National Archives, commented: "Princess Margaret seems to have been given a free hand. The government was looking for ways of enabling her to marry."
Peter Townsend
Margaret wanted to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend

On 28 October 1955, the government included in a secret "Summary of Procedure" for a marriage the text of a letter the princess would send to the Queen reads:

"I have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances the best course for me to follow is to marry Peter Townsend and to give up my rights to the succession.

"I recognise this will not be possible unless legislation can be passed to facilitate it, but I earnestly hope that Your Majesty and Parliament may be pleased to take whatever steps are necessary to enable my wishes to be realised."

An earlier version would have had her say: "I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary for my future happiness that I should marry Peter Townsend."

'Queen would not stand in her way'

In a letter prepared for transmission to senior Commonwealth prime ministers, Eden (himself remarried after a divorce) said even though the Queen would not give formal permission for the marriage because of Townsend's divorce, "Her Majesty would not want to stand in the way of her sister's happiness".

The files have been unsealed following the princess's death in 2002
The letter notes: "It is Princess Margaret's wish that she should continue to be live in the United Kingdom and to carry out her public duties as a member of the Royal Family."

It does not offer objections in principle to that wish but does add that it would "depend on the reaction of public opinion, throughout the Commonwealth, to her marriage".

In 1960, Princess Margaret married photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, who became the Earl of Snowdon. The couple later divorced.

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