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The Crown: Gloriana

“The end of a story of love and duty, with duty prevailing.”


This episode covers two family crises: the relationship between Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend, and the fact that Prince Philip still feels like a fifth wheel.


Princess Margaret turns 25, and believes that she is now free to marry Peter Townsend. Alas, there’s a snag; she still needs the approval of Parliament. Queen Elizabeth is surprised there’s a snag – and how on earth, given her knowledge with respect to constitutional monarchy, could she not have been aware of this snag beforehand? The Queen Mother knew, and simply hoped that her younger daughter would get over her passion for Townsend during the two-year waiting period. As we know that Queen Elizabeth did receive specific lessons in government, and that the Queen Mother did not, this stretches credulity. It’s not impossible that it happened this way, but it seems like The Crown is glossing over something to make Queen Elizabeth seem more sympathetic.

The episode is full of broken promises and hypocrisy. Elizabeth breaks promises to her sister and to their late father. The hypocritical Cabinet, which has four divorced members itself, signals that it will not approve of Princess Margaret’s marriage to a divorcĂ©. The best that can be offered is a Bill of Renunciation, in which Princess Margaret would have to basically stop being a member of the royal house and even leave the country. The delegation from the Church of England also mutters on about the sanctity of marriage – also hypocritical as the Church of England got its start in Henry VIII’s decision to end his marriage to his first wife so he could marry his second (and so he could sack many of the Catholic treasuries). Even Queen Elizabeth’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor, gives a “do as I say and not as I do” speech when she telephones to ask for advice.

Another interesting question that simmers under the surface in this episode: who leads and who follows? Theoretically, monarchs are supposed to lead, but practice is different from theory, and the episode shows how carefully those in power consider what is wanted by the people, using crowds, letters, headlines and what the news readers say in place of the polls used today. Those allegedly in power admit that times are changing – but quickly enough? Not quickly enough, alas, for the princess. In the end Townsend gives a speech to the press, speaking for Princess Margaret and himself, stating that they have decided to end their relationship. My understanding is that this is the text that he read, and it makes a case that she is putting duty and her religious beliefs before their relationship. To me it seems liked a shame, especially as Princess Margaret had several others before her with respect to the succession. On the other hand, if you are born with princess privileges, you must put up with princess restrictions, I suppose.

And with this episode the first series (or first season if you’re American) ends, along with the arc-theme that has characterized the first series. Queen Mary warned the young Queen Elizabeth in a letter that crown and self would be at odds, and that crown must always win. And it has, but the price has been paid, not just by Queen Elizabeth herself – which I think she could more easily accept – but by her sister and by her husband (and of course by Townsend, but he matters less to Elizabeth). Prince Philip and Princess Margaret also benefit from the riches and rewards of the monarchy, but Queen Elizabeth must deal with their reproaches and their pain – and the knowledge that she has placed the position of the monarchy over family loyalty. It's an interesting question, which to give priority: love or duty? Relationships often fail, which is an argument for preferring duty. On the other hand, if the duty is owed to institutions that are obsolete, misguided, hypocritical or even corrupt, then shouldn't love prevail? Alas, this is one of those questions that can only be answered by considering what happens later – which cannot be known when the decision is taken.

Prince Philip is given a mission to Australia, and the instruction to return in a better humor.

Title musings. “Gloriana” was a nickname for Queen Elizabeth I, coming from The Faerie Queen written by Edmund Spenser. Basically the word is a Latinized version of “glory.” What it shows, in my opinion, is that Queen Elizabeth II has submerged her natural self and personal feelings and is now that glorious being, the ruler of England – and much less her mortal self.

Bits and pieces

Young Princess Margaret (played by Beau Gadsdon, who was also in Rogue One) bears a remarkable resemblance to the older actress (Vanessa Kirby).

I appreciate the realistic depiction of fishing. The wriggling worm. Beating the caught fish on the head to put it out of its misery.

I like the use of newspaper headlines: “Marry Him, Margaret!” and information on the situation in Egypt. (I would have also liked more information about Egypt.)

Nice: the Queen Mother's put-down of Prince Philip’s perpetual whining, when she points out that he has an easier time of it than any other consort before him.

The new Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, is still not well. Churchill’s challenge about the rattling with pills from last episode seems apt, as we see a pale Eden in a bathroom, pausing to take a pill, and another scene in which he takes a shot of something.

Elizabeth takes Eden for a drive to get outside and to show him where Margaret and Townsend used to meet, with a cairn (a pile of rocks) showing how many times the pair met (a rock for each meeting). This also allows him to be seated for most of their meeting, as well as gives us a change of scene, and a nice reminder of how deep the love is between Princess Margaret and Captain Townsend.

Mild spoiler: from my research into their later lives, I don’t think Princess Margaret or Peter Townsend truly recovered from being forced to break up.


Duke of Windsor: Brother has turned against brother. Pay me to, and I’ll be gone forever.

Philip: No one gives a fig about my happiness.

Princess Margaret: It’s easy to be in love with someone who’s not here, isn’t it?

Queen Mother: You have more freedom than any consort in history.

Journalist: Mr. Townsend. Captain Townsend! When’s the wedding day?

Queen Elizabeth: That’s not me.
Princess Margaret: Fine. The government in your name.

Queen Elizabeth: I will be breaking my promise, not only to my sister, but to my late father.

An Archishop: You are the Fidel defensor – defender of the faith.

Prince Philip: Give the people what they want.
Queen Elizabeth: Do they really know what they want?

Duke of Windsor: I have no kingdom. You have it. And you must protect it.

Queen Elizabeth: But I realized, that as Queen, that I have no choice. I cannot allow you to marry Peter and remain a part of this family.

Princess Margaret: Without him, I’m lost.

Overall rating

Good completion of the arc; love her in her blue sash, but would have liked a little more on outside events and some of the queen’s ignorance was hard to swallow. Three and a half blue sashes out of four.

Victoria Grossack loves birds, math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.


  1. I will admit that I have little interest in Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend, although it's easy to feel badly for them. I think I tend to sympathize more with Elizabeth. It's hard to be constantly forced to be the adult in the room, and it seems unfair that a queen can't get what she wants regarding Margaret's marriage. The way her unwanted secretary Michael actually checks in with Tommy Lascelles about keeping Elizabeth from getting what she wants is infuriating. Did they do that to her father?

    I keep wondering what exactly Philip wants, too. How is Elizabeth supposed to fix things for him and make him happy? By abdicating, staying home and being only his wife?

    Congratulations on finishing the first season, Victoria. Another excellent review, too.

  2. What struck me was how different the two "marriages" are/would be and how the Church seems to have it exactly wrong.

    Yes, Peter is divorced. But, he and Margaret genuinely love each other. They made it two years apart when she was in her early twenties. Clearly, she is committed to the man. I get the impression that their lives together would have been happy, which would have made Elizabeth's life happier.

    Because, let's face it, although sanctioned by the Church, her marriage is far from happy. Philip is miserable and he makes sure that everyone around him knows it. I understand that his life is probably not what he expected, but he could make much more of it than it is. (Not unlike Albert did in the early years of his marriage.)

    What a fantastic way to close the season. The shot of Elizabeth decked out in all the trappings, but with no one who loves her anywhere in sight.

    Great reviews, Victoria. I have loved reading them as I get lost this show.

  3. Victoria, I'm so with you on the hypocrisy of the Anglican Church here given its origin. I guess Peter Townsend would have been more acceptable if he'd had his wife beheaded. Surely as head of the Church of England, Elizabeth could have pressured them to find some pretext to annul the marriage. Perhaps that, along with the dubious idea that Elizabeth didn't anticipate this snag, was intended to make Elizabeth more sympathetic. I wonder in real life how supportive she was of her sister's plans. It sure seems more likely to me that she imposed the two year delay expecting Margaret would find someone else.

    After learning a bit more about Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, I am beginning to wonder if the divorce thing was more of a pretext for cabinet to get rid of a King they didn't trust. And poor Margaret got caught because of the precedent they had set so recently.

    I enjoyed the first season of the Crown quite a bit and it was a pleasure reading your reviews I went along. One thing I find interesting is that while the show is very much about the tension between personal life and the responsibilities of the Monarch, George VI was presented as maintaining a close relationship with his wife and daughters. Elizabeth...not so much. We've hardly seen her interact with her children.


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