In 1947 the Royal family travelled to South Africa for a three month tour, Margaret's first trip abroad. Her chaperone was Peter Townsend, equerry to George VI, and later, to Elizabeth. Townsend was born in November, 1914, sixteen years older than Margaret. She was captivated by him, but he was already married to Rosemary with whom he had two children.
1952 was a year of change in Margaret's life. Her beloved father died, her sister became Queen, and Peter Townsend divorced his wife. Margaret was devastated by her father's death, "He was such a wonderful person, the very heart and centre of our happy family." Margaret and her mother moved into Clarence House and Townsend was appointed comptroller of the Queen Mother's household.
At Elizabeth's coronation in 1953, it became obvious from their attitudes that Margaret and Townsend were in love. He proposed to her later that year. Margaret accepted and informed her sister of her wishes, as royal assent would be required for Margaret to marry. But, although Townsend was now divorced, marriage between them was still regarded by many as impossible. The Church of England would not allow marriage to a divorced man. The government was also strongly against the marriage, still conscious of the recent crisis when Edward VIII renounced his throne to marry the divorced Wallis Simpson. Margaret was at this time third in line for the throne behind Charles and Anne.
Elizabeth was about to begin her first royal tour abroad and asked Margaret to wait until her return for her decision. Then she transferred Townsend from her Mother's household to her own. The British Cabinet refused to sanction the marriage and Churchill reported to the Queen that the Prime Ministers of the Dominion countries were against it as well. Churchill posted Townsend to Brussels and said Parliament would only agree to the marriage if Margaret renounced her claim to the throne.
For two years the controversy raged. The choice was ultimately up to Margaret. Her statement read, " I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend. I have been aware that, subject to my renouncing my rights of succession, it might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage. But mindful of the Church's teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before others. I have reached this decision entirely alone, and in doing so I have been strengthened by the unfailing support and devotion of Group Captain Townsend."
In 1960 Margaret married Anthony Armstrong-Jones, accepting his proposal the day after learning Townsend was about to marry a Belgian woman. Margaret and Jones, Earl of Snowdon, divorced in 1978, the first divorce in the royal family in four hundred years. She never remarried but was often seen in the company of eligible men. In the last years of her life her health became poor. She had lung operations, pneumonia and several strokes. She died in 2002.
Margaret's romantic woes may have made it easier for those who followed. Elizabeth felt sympathy for the way her sister's life unfolded and this may have played a part in her reluctance to interfere in the romances of her children.