Why Princess Margaret Gave Up Love for Royal Life and Prince Harry Didn't

Royal biographer Andrew Morton explains the difference between how Princess Margaret and Prince Harry approached love and relationships.

  • Royal experts can point to many ways in which Prince Harry (opens in new tab) has taken after his great-aunt, Princess Margaret.
  • Both Harry and Margaret were the "spare" in their families, both went through well-documented rebellious phases, and both fell in love with people who didn't fit the mold for people marrying into the royal family, Harry with Meghan Markle, a divorcee and the first person of color in the modern monarchy, and Margaret with Peter Townsend, who was divorced.
  • According to royal biographer Andrew Morton (opens in new tab), "Margaret put duty before herself. The wheel turns, 70 years later, and we have another couple having to make a decision: Do they put duty first or their own ambitions and desires first? And they put their own ambitions and desires first. That is the change we have witnessed during the Queen's reign."

Prince Harry (opens in new tab) has a lot in common with his great-aunt, Princess Margaret (opens in new tab). Both royals were considered the "spare"—that is, the second-born child in their families (after the first-born, known as the "heir") and far enough back in the line of succession to be unlikely to ever take the throne themselves. This can be a tough situation, since the "spare" is often expected to take on a lot of the responsibilities that come with being royal even though they probably won't become the monarch.

In addition to being the "spares" in their families, Margaret and Harry were also both known for their rebellious streaks in their youth and both fell in love with people who didn't fit the mold of a royal love interest, Harry with Meghan Markle (opens in new tab), and Margaret with Peter Townsend (opens in new tab), whose previous marriage and divorce made him a very unorthodox royal suitor at the time.

In a new interview with People (opens in new tab) to promote his new book Elizabeth & Margaret: the Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters (opens in new tab)royal biographer Andrew Morton discussed how Harry, who stepped back from royal duties with his Meghan last year, and Margaret, who ultimately called off her engagement to Townsend when faced with a choice between love and royal duty, came to very different decisions when it came to love.

"Margaret put duty before herself," Morton said. "The wheel turns, 70 years later, and we have another couple having to make a decision: Do they put duty first or their own ambitions and desires first? And they put their own ambitions and desires first. That is the change we have witnessed during the Queen's reign."

Morton also pointed out that Prince William and Queen Elizabeth (opens in new tab), Harry and Margaret's respective older siblings, have a lot in common as well.

"In both cases you have one sibling who pushes boundaries, while the other is more serious, more cautious," Morton added. "At one point, William and Harry were both part of the main branch of monarchy. Then William marries and has children, and his children take precedence. Whereas Harry is an ancillary branch in exactly the same way as Margaret."

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Kayleigh Roberts
Kayleigh Roberts

Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional experience. Her byline has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, Allure, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Bustle, Refinery29, Girls’ Life Magazine, Just Jared, and Tiger Beat, among other publications. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.