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It’s a great what-if question among royal fans. What would the late Princess Diana think about her two sons’ public rift? Now her biographer Andrew Morton, author of the New York Times best seller, Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words, is weighing in.
“What Diana would say was what she said to me,” he tells HollywoodLife. “She always saw Harry as a wingman, as a backup for William and she’d have been extremely disappointed to see this public conflict between the two brothers.”
Morton does note that it’s speculation on his part, but he’s well-versed in royal feuds and sibling rivalry, as his new book exploring the relationship between the Queen and her only sister demonstrates.
“Elizabeth and Margaret had similar rows but it wasn’t made public,” the author of Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters, says.
One parallel between the two sets of Windsor siblings, is their feelings about press coverage. While Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, are furious about the way she was portrayed by the British media and feel that they lacked support from the royals, Queen Elizabeth reportedly was not thrilled about her sister’s love affairs dominating the tabloids.
As fans of The Crown will know Margaret’s ‘70s fling with landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn ruffled more than a few feathers, for example. At the time she was still married to Antony Armstrong-Jones (aka Lord Snowdon).
“[The Queen] felt that consorting with this toy boy had helped to undercut the relationship between Snowdon and Margaret, not knowing, of course, all the details.” (Those details include Armstrong-Jones’ own infidelity and reports of tumultuous, hurtful arguments.)
Morton’s deep dive into the relationship between the two sisters also turns on its head, something that was a major storyline in The Crown and dominated the press in the 1950s. Namely, Princess Margaret’s romance with commoner, Peter Townsend. For generations royal watchers and historians alike believed that the monarchy and the British government forced her hand and that, if the royal married the divorced dad, she would have had to sacrifice her income (from the Civil List) and status.
Not so, says Morton, whose research suggests that, for the Queen, her sister’s happiness was paramount and she didn’t want to stand in Margaret’s way. “[Prime Minister Anthony] Eden came up with a resolution to the matter that suited Margaret down to the ground,” he says.
“All she had to do was give up the right of succession (and by then she was fourth in line to the throne, so it didn’t really matter that much).
“But she could still continue to undertake royal duties, get her Civil List, live in Kensington Palace, not go live in exile. Obviously she’d have to marry in a civil ceremony as opposed to a church ceremony. And, also, Peter Townsend might get himself some kind of title and an allowance himself. So it was a relatively rosy picture being painted by Eden with the connivance of the Queen.”
The reason that Princess Margaret didn’t snap up the offer, according to Morton’s book, is both simple and underwhelming. After two years of waiting until she was 25 so she could marry without her sister, the Queen’s permission, she’d just fallen out of love with Townsend.
If fans of The Crown didn’t know this, neither did her lover who died in 1995. “I think he probably went to his grave thinking that she’d have to give up everything when she didn’t have to give up very much at all,” Morton says.
One thing the author argues that Margaret never gave up – despite their clashes – was her devotion and loyalty to the Queen. In fact, after Princess Diana gave a bombshell TV interview to the BBC in 1995, Morton says the monarch’s sister froze William and Harry’s mother out and barely acknowledged her passing casket on the day of her funeral two years later.
Princess Margaret herself died nearly 20 years ago but, had she lived, the writer believes she would not have been amused by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“Don’t do it. Why have you done it? All you’ve done is hurt the institution and you’ve hurt the monarch,” Morton believes Margaret would have told her great-nephew. “She would have given them – as my father would say – a flea in their ear.”
Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters by Andrew Morton is out now.