The romance between Peter Townsend and Princess Margaret captured the public's attention in the 1950s. Details of their relationship are chronicled in early seasons of Netflix's "The Crown," and revisited in Season Five.
Though they got engaged, a royal wedding wasn't in the cards for the Royal Air Force pilot and the princess, 16 years his junior.
The pair never made it to the altar in part due to the intervention of Margaret's older sister, Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away at 96 on Sept. 8. However, there were other factors that kept them apart, according to Julie Taddeo, research history professor at the University of Maryland.
“There were the objections of the Church of England and Parliament to a marriage between them, as (Townsend) was divorced,” Taddeo said.
What happened to Peter Townsend and Princess Margaret? Why didn't they ever marry? And did the once-engaged couple ever reunite, as shows in Season Five?
TODAY breaks down the timeline of their relationship and if the couple ever found their happily-ever-after.
How did Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend meet?
A decorated pilot in the Royal Air force, Group Capt. Peter Townsend was appointed to the royal household in 1944 by King George VI after serving in World War II.
An equerry, Townsend worked as an aide to the king.
Married with two young boys, 29-year-old Townsend grew close to the family through the years, including George's two daughters Elizabeth and her sister, 14-year-old Margaret.
Upon King George's death in 1952, Elizabeth became queen and Margaret turned to her father's former equerry for support and comfort. The two grew close, often riding and spending time together, according the 2005 BBC documentary "Princess Margaret: A Love Story.”
Townsend and his wife, Rosemary Pratt, Marchioness Camden, were divorced in 1952 after 11 years of marriage.
According to Townsend, he and Margaret confessed their feelings to one another in the period that followed.
In his book "Time and Chance," Townsend wrote, "It was then that we made the mutual discovery of how much we meant to one another. She listened, without uttering a word, as I told her, very quietly, of my feelings. Then she simply said: 'That is exactly how I feel, too.'"
Why didn't Princess Margaret marry Peter Townsend?
Townsend and the princess made plans to marry, according to the BBC, but the public was unaware of the relationship until the queen’s coronation in June 1953, when the two were photographed in an “intimate” position: Margaret was capturing removing fluff from Townsend’s uniform.
When the news broke, there was intense scrutiny of a royal — who, at the time was third in line for the throne — having a relationship with a divorced commoner.
"It was a different time, the 1950s, and the shadow of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson likely had a part," said Taddeo, referring to Margaret's uncle, the former king who abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Simpson, a twice-divorced American.
"At the time, divorcees weren’t allowed to remarry in the Church of England and Margaret required her sister’s permission to wed before the age of 25," Taddeo said.
Conflicted, Queen Elizabeth II asked Margaret to pause her nuptials before making any final decisions. "Elizabeth must have felt very torn: loyalty and love for her sister but having to appease Parliament and the Church," said Taddeo.
Margaret put 'duty to the Commonwealth' before marriage
In the mean time, Townsend was sent away to Brussels to serve as an air attaché in Belgium for a two-year term, per his obituary.
Despite the separation, Margaret and Townsend continued their correspondence and when his service ended 1955, he returned to London and the couple reunited.
Amid increasing public support for the union, it was agreed that the two could marry, but the consequences were steep: Margaret would have to relinquish her position and status as a royal, along with all the associated benefits.
When time came for Townsend and Margaret to move ahead with the nuptials, the couple broke up instead.
“She could have married me only if she had been prepared to give up everything — her position, her prestige, her privy purse,” he wrote in his memoir. “I simply hadn’t the weight, I knew it, to counterbalance all she would have lost.”
On Oct. 31, 1955, the princess issued a statement that said while "it might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage," that "conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others," effectively ending the relationship.
Did Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend ever reunite?
In 1959, four years after their breakup, Townsend wrote Margaret a letter saying he was marrying a 19-year-old named Marie-Luce Jamagne, his Belgian secretary. Margaret got engaged to fashion photographer, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, in 1960.
The princess' union was ill-fated. Armstrong-Jones and Margaret filed for divorce in 1978, the first divorce in the royal family since Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon in the 16th century.
After the divorce, Margaret engaged in several high-profile relationships, including a romance with Roddy Llewellyn, a gardener and aspiring musician 17 years her junior that ended after almost a decade.
Yes, Margaret and Townsend really reunited in the '90s
According to the New York Times, the former couple "corresponded from time to time but did not see each other" until meeting by chance at an official function.
The following year, Princess Margaret met with Townsend at a luncheon at Kensington Palace in 1992. At 61 and 77, respectively, the pair shared a meal.
Afterward, Margaret is said have noted that other than his grey hair, Townsend was exactly the same as she remembered, according to Christopher Warwick, Princess Margaret's authorized biographer who spoke about the meeting in "Princess Margaret: A Love Story."
"There was something in the way she said it that made me think that she hadn't lost feelings altogether," Warwick said.
It was the last time they saw one another.
Three years later, in 1995, Townsend died from cancer. According to Associated Press, the queen is said to have sent a message of condolence, but Margaret did not attend his funeral.
In the years after Townsend's death, Margaret's health declined. After a series of strokes left the princess wheelchair-bound, she died in her sleep on February 9, 2002.
"It does seem like the Queen always regretted not siding with her sister," according to Taddeo, who said that after seeing Margaret's unhappy marriage to Armstrong-Jones (and subsequent divorce), the monarch changed her opinion on royal unions.
"I think it was this experience with her sister that prompted the Queen to allow Charles and Diana to divorce in 1996," she said.
"Times had changed, there was so much unhappiness on all sides, and the tabloids had become so powerful that there was no keeping anything private."