This story contains spoilers for season three of The Crown. If you do not want to be spoiled, click away now.
The young girl, bobbed and be-ribboned, is being schooled in the reality of her future as the heir apparent by a stern-faced Tommy Lascelles (Pip Torrens), private secretary to her father King George VI. “The crown is not just an ornament to be worn,” Lascelles says. “It is a privilege and a burden, which comes with formidable expectations and responsibilities.”
Outside, Princess Margaret dances a looping pirouette through the corridors of Windsor Castle. Later, the sisters convene in their bedrooms. “I don’t think I can do it,” Elizabeth says, anxiously.
“I could. I’d love every minute. To be on every coin, on every banknote, to be the most famous woman in the world. I’d be so very good at it. Wearing a big crown, giving everyone orders,” Margaret tells her sister eagerly. “Tell them. Margaret Rose can do it. Margaret Rose wants to do it. Margaret Rose was born to do it.”
Margaret offers to share the happy news with Lascelles and the rest of the amorphous mass of courtiers in suits on behalf of her sister. “Forget everything that you were told,” Margaret would tell them. “I will be Queen; Elizabeth will fade into the background.” We all know how that went.
The Crown has always approached the relationship between Elizabeth and Margaret – played in season one and two by Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby and season three by Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter respectively – through this prism. Elizabeth is the reluctant but determined servant of the crown. Margaret is the vivacious personality who can’t help but outshine her sister. This tension was evident in the first two seasons as the sisters fought over which daughter was their father’s favourite, or argued about whether Margaret’s behaviour was upstaging the crown.
Season three continues in this vein. It opens with this lesson, hard-earned by both Margaret and Elizabeth, that no matter how ill-suited they feel for their respective jobs, those are the only ones they will ever have. But, rather than the bitterness of seasons one and two, season three suggests that there was love and affection in the relationship, too. After all, they were two of the only people in the world who knew what it was like to grow up royal.
So, what is the truth about the relationship between the Queen and Princess Margaret? How close were they in real life?
Was the Queen jealous of Princess Margaret?
When the Queen and Princess Margaret were children, Margaret couldn’t help but shine. The younger sister was “spoiled terribly” by their father King George, according to The Telegraph. “She was his pet… she was always allowed to stay up to dinner at the age of 13 and to grow up too quickly.”
“We really are trying to separate them a bit because Princess Margaret does draw all the attention and Elizabeth lets her do that,” Marion Crawford, governess to the sisters once said. Elizabeth’s response, when Margaret began to command the spotlight, was to laugh. “Oh, Margo!” Elizabeth would say, as per Crawford’s recollections. “It’s so much easier when Margaret’s there,” Elizabeth added. “Everybody laughs at what Margaret says.”
Rumours of jealousy between the sisters was fuelled by certain tense moments between the pair, though. There was the fact that the Queen forbade the marriage between her sister and Group Captain Peter Townsend, on the grounds that he was divorced (and a great deal older). According to The Telegraph, the Queen once spent an entire afternoon walking her dogs at Balmoral to avoid Margaret, knowing that she had sought her out there to discuss the matter of her marriage to Townsend. Margaret, on her part, had a tendency to skip key events thrown by her sister, like the 10th wedding anniversary for the Queen and Prince Philip thrown at Balmoral.
Season three of The Crown really digs into the rumours of jealousy between the sisters. At one point in episode two, the Queen watches a television news report proclaiming her sister’s tour of America a “great success”.
Martin Charteris, the Queen’s private secretary, then proceeds to tell her the name that certain women in the US who copy Margaret’s fashion choices and follow her around the country slavishly have given themselves.
“Margaretologists?” the Queen says, a tight, rictus grin plastered to her face. “Yes, all right,” she adds, in clipped tones. “Thank you, Martin. I’m a queen, not a saint.”
Margaret, too, is shown steeped in her own jealousy. During one particularly blistering fight with her husband Lord Snowdon, Tony Armstrong-Jones (Ben Daniels) in episode two, he taunts her by calling her “second fiddle”.
“Don’t talk to me about being a second fiddle,” Margaret spits back. “I get so little I’m light. No, it’s the price I pay for the sister I have. But if the opportunity should once arise for me to shine, I’d appreciate you putting aside the competitive little narcissist that rages within you and letting me savour it.”
During that aforementioned trip to the US in 1965, Princess Margaret was dispatched to the White House to woo new president Lyndon B Johnson. The Crown suggests that Johnson and Margaret found that they had a lot in common. “I know what it’s like to be the support act, even of someone you adore,” Margaret tells the President. “You spent three years as vice president. I’ve spent my whole life as vice queen.”
Were the Queen and Princess Margaret friends in real life?
This is the refrain trilled throughout season three by the Queen to her sister, and vice versa. The pair have a way of talking to each other in such simple, elegant shorthand, which conveys the intimacy of their relationship, no matter how difficult it could be at times.
“Hello, you,” reflects the closeness that many royal insiders have noted always existed between the two sisters. They had a special, private phone line that connected Buckingham Palace directly with Kensington Palace, upon which the pair would “gossip and laugh” with each other every day, according to Vanity Fair.
This close relationship between the sisters is shown in season three of The Crown. The season finale follows the breakdown of Margaret and Tony’s marriage, as Tony whisks his mistress Lucy Lindsay-Hogg to his bolthole in Sussex. (The house where, rumour has it, Tony wallpapered the bathroom with gossip rag articles about Margaret’s family. Charming.) At a loss as to what to do, Margaret seeks solace in the arms of Roddy Llewellyn, a gorgeous gardener several years her junior, who she romances under the golden Mustique sun.
But when the pair are not off pursuing their new lovers, Tony and Margaret are fighting – dramatically, passionately, incessantly.
“What happened here?” the Queen asks Margaret, visiting her in her house one morning. (Margaret is still in bed, looking glamorously deshabille, emerald green slip slipping right off her perfect shoulder, nursing a vodka tonic. “It’s a quarter to 12,” the Queen says, exasperatedly.)
“Exchange of views,” Margaret shrugs. The Queen steps over broken glass and torn paper to sit on the bed next to Margaret, tenderly placing her hand on top of her sister’s. “Oh Margaret,” she says, concern written across her face.
Royal insiders have always said that the Queen, so good at containing her emotions, only let the mask slip once: at her sister’s funeral. “Never explaining anything to the world – what she feels, or why she does what she does – is part of her greatness,” Reinaldo Herrera, close friend of Princess Margaret, wrote for Vanity Fair. “But for a few minutes that day, as she stood by the steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, watching her sister’s coffin being borne away, her eyes betrayed her.”
Is the season finale of The Crown a true representation of the Queen and Princess Margaret’s relationship?
The Crown ends with a remarkable supposition: that, at one point in the late 70s, Princess Margaret tried to end her own life. This has always been a rumour regarding the royal family; in the season three finale of The Crown it is taken as fact.
The suicide attempt comes after a tense few months for Margaret that involves the disintegration of her marriage and the end of her affair with Llewellyn. When Elizabeth comes to visit her sister at Kensington Palace as she recouperates, the Queen’s face is drawn.
“Did you mean it?” she asks, jaw clenched.
“I don’t know,” Margaret replies. “Possibly.”
“How do you feel now?”
“Tired. A bit sore,” Margaret winces. “There were tubes. A little bit foolish.”
Elizabeth makes to leave, but before she goes she turns back to her sister, tears in her eyes. “For the record, I think there are many things you’re good at,” she says.
“Name one that’s actually meaningful,” Margaret responds.
“Being a sister,” Elizabeth says. “Of all the people everywhere, you’re the closest and most important to me. And if by doing this you wanted to let me imagine for one minute what life would be like without you… You succeeded. It would be unbearable.”
The Crown season three streams on Netflix now.