Peter Townsend – The Man Behind The Legend

We take a closer look at the life of Peter Townsend, his relationship with Princess Margaret and everything else in between.

Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend was a highly respected British Royal Air Force officer, flying ace, courtier, and author.

Peter Townsend served as equerry to both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II and gained significant attention for his romantic involvement with Princess Margaret, Elizabeth’s younger sister.

This article delves into the captivating life of Peter Townsend, exploring his military achievements, personal life, and lasting legacy.

Early Life: A Promising Beginning

Born in Rangoon, Burma, in 1914, Peter Townsend was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Copleston Townsend, an Indian Army officer, and his wife Gladys.

Hailing from a Devon family with a tradition of serving in the church or armed forces, young Townsend followed suit.

Peter Townsend was educated at Haileybury and Imperial Service College, an all-boys private school, from 1928 to 1932.

The Royal Air Force Career: A Rising Star

Peter Townsend - The Man Behind The Legend
Image: Daventry B J (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1930, Townsend joined the Royal Air Force and began training at RAF Cranwell. He was commissioned as a pilot officer in 1935 and later served in No. 1 Squadron RAF at RAF Tangmere, No. 36 Squadron RAF in Singapore, and No. 43 Squadron RAF.

During World War II, Townsend’s exceptional skills and leadership qualities quickly earned him recognition.

He played a vital role in the Battle of Britain as the commanding officer of No. 85 Squadron RAF, flying Hawker Hurricanes. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in April 1940 for his outstanding abilities in air combat and leadership.

Serving the Royal Family: From Equerry to Controversial Romance

In 1944, Townsend was appointed temporary equerry to King George VI, a position that later became permanent.

He continued in this role under Queen Elizabeth II until 1953, when he became Extra Equerry. During his time serving the royal family, Townsend met Princess Margaret, with whom he would share a tragic love story.

After divorcing his first wife, Cecil Rosemary Pawle, Townsend and Princess Margaret decided to marry. However, their relationship faced significant social disapproval, as divorcees were not permitted to remarry within the Church of England.

The controversy surrounding their romance ultimately led to Townsend’s posting as air attaché in Brussels, and the couple ultimately ended their relationship in 1955.

Later Life: A Prolific Writer and Private Family Man

Following his service as air attaché in Brussels, Townsend dedicated much of his later years to writing non-fiction books, including Earth My Friend, Duel of Eagles, The Odds Against Us, The Last Emperor, The Girl in the White Ship, The Postman of Nagasaki, and Time and Chance.

He also contributed to numerous articles and other literary works.

In 1959, Townsend married 20-year-old MarieLuce Jamagne, with whom he had three children, including Isabelle Townsend, a successful Ralph Lauren model.

The family later resided at Le Moulin de la Tuilerie in Gif-sur-Yvette, a property once occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Peter Townsend in Pop Culture: The Crown and Beyond

The captivating story of Peter Townsend has also found its way into the world of entertainment, particularly through the Netflix television series The Crown.

Actors Ben Miles and Timothy Dalton have portrayed Townsend in the critically acclaimed show, bringing his character to life and introducing his story to a new audience.

His portrayal in the series highlights the complexity of his relationships and the trials he faced while serving the British Royal Family.

Lessons from Peter Townsend’s Life

Peter Townsend’s life teaches us several valuable lessons about perseverance, integrity, and loyalty.

Despite facing significant challenges in both his military career and personal life, Townsend remained dedicated to his duties and continued to contribute meaningfully to the world through his writing.

He serves as a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of resilience in overcoming adversity.

Death and Legacy: An Enduring Inspiration

Townsend passed away in 1995 from stomach cancer, leaving behind an enduring legacy as a Royal Air Force hero and a man who bravely faced adversity in his personal life.

In 2002, a sculpture of Townsend, designed by Guy Portelli, was erected at Townsend Square, on the former site of RAF West Malling airfield. His life story continues to captivate audiences, as evidenced by his portrayal in the Netflix series The Crown.

In conclusion, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend’s life serves as a reminder of the sacrifices and challenges faced by those who serve their country and navigate complex personal relationships.

As a distinguished military officer, courtier, and author, Townsend’s story will continue to inspire future generations and remind them of the importance of courage, dedication, and resilience in the face of adversity.

*Feature Image: Daventry B J (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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