One has good reason to think that there are more people who believe in the obsoleteness of the monarchy than those who actively wish for the institution to continue for years to come. For all of the political maneuvers it engages in, the real purpose of the establishment is to serve as a benchmark of integrity, the upholding of values, and an overall ideal for the country to look up to. Sounds amazing, except for the fact that a lot of these values belong to the dark times. The British royal family, as portrayed in “The Crown” Season 5, is not exactly a progressive institution, and it cannot be contested that, more often than not, it is the women who pay the price for that. Throughout the whole thing, it must be remembered that the Queen Elizabeth was certainly the exception to the rule. She had wanted to marry Prince Philip, and she had gotten her way. We say that because we know that her father had not approved of the match right away. How she convinced her family for this alliance was not a part of the show, but from some reading of our own, we deduced that she had been extraordinarily stubborn about it. That was her defining quality during her long reign: her stubbornness and stability. The Queen’s entire code of conduct revolved around what would be best for the monarchy, as it should have. But this meant that her ideals changed with time. This meant that certain decisions that affected the members of the family were regarded as hypocritical.
While Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth always had their little dances around their issues of ego and history, it was probably Princess Margaret who first felt the full force of the monarchy’s hand under her sister’s rule. She was merely 23 years old when she decided to marry Peter Townsend. Elizabeth had known about their affair right from the beginning, and she was supportive. When they announced their intention to marry, she did not withdraw her support despite her misgivings. It was probably Philip who had been more vocal about the scandal of the whole thing. Elizabeth had gone as far as to come up with an elaborate plan for their marriage, but eventually, she was unable to fight the force of her duty as the Head of the Church of England and what it would mean to her reign and the entire monarchy itself should Margaret go ahead with her plans. It was all heartbreaking, indeed.
Let us take a moment to analyze Peter and Margaret’s perspectives in “The Crown” Season 1. Peter was a divorcee who was marrying above his station. It is highly possible that he never thought it possible that he could have a real future with Margaret. She, on the other hand, was a force of nature who believed that she could get her way. At one point, it did look like that. She was set to marry him eventually, and Peter had started having faith as well before the inevitable happened. They were both heartbroken, but maybe because of the differences in their prior dispositions, Peter was able to move on in life and get married again, whereas Margaret’s feelings remained complicated. She did eventually marry and have children. But we have reason to believe that she never got over her first love. It looks to us that Margaret was never really denied much growing up. She did not have to bear the responsibilities that Elizabeth did and was free to pursue her heart. It is anyway common enough that the youngest child is far more pampered than the elder one. Losing Peter Townsend had to be the biggest blow in her life at that point, one that had a lasting impact on her.
Princess Margaret eventually got divorced from her husband and never remarried. Maybe she never fell in love again, or she felt that she couldn’t force love again. Margaret undoubtedly blamed Elizabeth for her loss, but the sisters eventually repaired their relationship. She was an intelligent woman who understood how the monarchy would have guided her sister’s hand until one day. The privileges bought by wealth are amazing, but they can be as constricting as they are liberating. The scars of that had to accumulate over the years, through generations.
We make this statement for Anne, Princess Royal. She married as she must have as per her station, and when that did not work, she chose to part ways with her husband. Neither the church nor the establishment was happy with the divorces within the family, but that’s what happens when one is oppressed under the weight of archaic expectations for way too long—they simply stop caring, and that is exactly what Anne did. She tells as much to her mother that she would not give everything of herself to the institution. The values it sought to uphold had no place in the modern world, and she would not continue to pretend for their sake. Anne did not seek Elizabeth’s approval; she just declared that she would do whatever she wanted. At this point, the royal family had seen its fair share of divorces. Margaret, Anne, Andrew, and now Charles. The pressure of selecting a partner who would suit the monarchy more than the individual had cost the establishment dearly.
In one of the scenes in “The Crown” Season 5, Queen Elizabeth is having a discussion with someone about how she hopes that Diana and Charles will reconcile. She obviously doesn’t believe in her own words, but the need to say them makes us ask a question: what do you want them to reconcile for? Haven’t you learned that the monarchy needs to reassess what it stands for, after all?
When Princess Margaret meets Peter Townsend once again, she knows that the answer to his question is that their love is an everlasting one. She still loves him and has never forgotten what life could have been had they been together. That had never left her, and her radio interview is proof of that. Knowing that he is dying brings all of her long-repressed feelings to the surface. She confronts Elizabeth as to why she couldn’t have led a life of her choice if it was an actual possibility, as proved by Anne, Andrew, and Diana. Why did she have to pay the price that the others didn’t? The Queen doesn’t have an answer for her, and neither do we. One can argue that the situation was different, but what we know of the difference is that Elizabeth was a younger Queen with less of an edge than in her later years, and she needed to protect her station in a world that was far more conservative than it was later. At that point in time, the only example Elizabeth knew of what happens when one follows their heart was that of her uncle, Prince Edward VIII. He had faced exile from the family and a level of disgrace that never really went away. Combine that with the lack of assertiveness that comes with being new to your job, and Margaret lost the man she loved.
She was certainly resentful of it because there was literally not a single shred of difference between her and Anne’s situation, except maybe that Anne was capable of putting her foot down a lot more strongly. But ultimately, it was the Queen’s nod of approval that made her a hypocrite. We find it hard to blame Queen Elizabeth for this. She did what she knew best, and Margaret played along, albeit with a broken heart, because she herself did not know any better, unlike Anne, Charles, or Diana. It was just one of the cruel plays of fate that one had to resign to. Maybe the monarchy will be kinder to the hearts of its family members in the future because there is no other hope for its salvation and relevance if it does not do that.