GREAT BRITAIN: The Princess & the Hero

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GREAT BRITAIN The Princess & the Hero Britons were touched and some were shocked by the news: their favorite princess, Margaret, is in love.

This time the news had the ring of authenticity. It was not the story of a glittering princess who had found her Prince Charming in the fairyland of Mayfair, but of a girl whose increasingly sober face in the newspictures seemed to reflect a deeply troubled heart. The fact was that 22-year-old Margaret was in love with a Battle-of-Britain hero of the R.A.F., a divorced commoner of 38. Family loyalty, religious responsibility, the duty of royalty—all seemed warring with the romantic impulse in the pretty princess' heart.

Unnoticeable. It was understandable that the gossips had overlooked slim, personable Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, D.S.O., D.F.C., even though his picture had been appearing in the papers alongside Margaret for years. The gossip columnists who had long sought to probe the secrets of the princess' heart simply forgot the Holmesian precept that the most easily overlooked clue is often the most obvious one. As a royal equerry and deputy master of King George VI's household (appointed in 1944 when Margaret was only 14), he had the constant duty of accompanying the royal family in all its lighter moments. Group Captain Townsend rode with the princesses, escorted Margaret to parties, flew her planes in air races, played canasta with the Queen, and by royal command enlivened many a gathering at Sandringham or Balmoral with his quick wit and boyish charm. He was, moreover, a securely married man who lived with his wife and two sons (the youngest of whom is the late King George's godson) in a "by grace and favor" cottage on the grounds of Windsor Castle. If the younger princess found him delightful, so too did her mother and her sister. Elizabeth, Margaret and Philip were frequent and informal guests at the Townsend cottage. Even after Townsend last year brought the breath of scandal close to Windsor by divorcing his wife for adultery, the Queen Mother let it be known that she would soon make him head of her private household at Clarence House.

Early this summer, Princess Margaret told her sister, the Queen, that she wanted to marry the airman. Soon afterward, Elizabeth II began to sound out her ministers on the possibility of amending the Regency Act in such a way as to ease the restrictions on Margaret's marriage.* Meanwhile, the true state of the young princess' heart remained a family secret. Last June, when U.S. newsmen descended on London for the coronation, the secret popped out with a bang in the tabloid New York Daily News.

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