Did Queen Elizabeth II Want Princess Margaret to Be Queen Instead?

The Crown suggests she did.

Princesses Elizabeth And Margaret
(Image credit: Lisa Sheridan)

Spoilers for The CrownOne of the most intriguing story lines in The Crown season 3 is that of Princess Margaret asking Queen Elizabeth II of a share of the royal duties. In one particularly riveting scene, there's a conversation between the two sisters when they're young in which Elizabeth admits that she'd rather not be queen and would love to hand it off to Margaret if she could.

In adulthood, The Crown's Elizabeth also toys with the idea of handing off queenly duties to Margaret, before rejecting the idea once more (and disappointing Margaret yet again). If this is true, it's a pretty revolutionary idea: Did the Queen not really want to be Queen? Did she hope her sister would take the role instead, behind closed doors? Here's what we know.

The show alleges that Elizabeth considered sharing duties.

Both in seasons 1-2, and in season 3, there are scenes that indicate that Margaret longed for more responsibility and hoped to even share duties with Elizabeth (she seemed to think of it as though they would be co-queens). The pair were brought up very closely, as if there was no age difference between the two, and Margaret was a bit spoiled, apparently, because she was never going to be queen.

Portrait of Princess Margaret and Elizabeth Cuddled Together

Elizabeth and Margaret.

(Image credit: Bettmann)

Season 3 goes as far as to suggest that Margaret may have asked Elizabeth when they were young if she could be queen instead, and Elizabeth agreed. Margaret was, of course, shut down—birthright is super important in the monarchy—but the question remains: Did this actually happen? The show also dives into Margaret's royal engagement with President Lyndon B. Johnson (although much of that, too, is false) and how that interaction caused Margaret to (yet again) bring up the subject of sharing duties with Elizabeth. Margaret is, no surprise, shut down once more, thanks in part to Prince Philip convincing Elizabeth it's not a good idea.

But the reality is less clear.

Anything on the subject is bound to be speculation, because Buckingham Palace would never comment officially on something like that—even if it were true. However, journalists have noted that Elizabeth was (and potentially still is) shy, and that she may rely on others like her husband to help her through large-scale public events like state trips and overseas tours. Margaret, much bubblier and social, likely enjoyed fame much more. She was even said to try and steal the spotlight from her older sister when the two were young.

However, The Telegraph wrote that, contrary to rumors, Elizabeth wasn't, in fact, jealous of Margaret—but Margaret may have been "subconsciously jealous" of Elizabeth. So at least there's some validity to Margaret's longing to be something more than she was. When she was young, she allegedly said, "Now that Papa is king, I am nothing." So this may be where The Crown drew inspiration from its scene. 

Nevertheless, the sisters remained close. Apparently, "Even after Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952 the sisters were understood to speak almost every day and had a direct phone line between their two homes." As befitting a royal, Margaret did, in fact, undertake royal duties like events and even stood in place of the Queen on occasions when Elizabeth couldn't attend.

Queen And Margaret

(Image credit: Pool/Tim Graham Picture Library)

So it's not as though Margaret was totally pushed to the side in the family—although the Queen, allegedly, didn't approve of Margaret's wilder life. Behind the scenes, that may have influenced Elizabeth's willingness to send Margaret on public duties and the level of trust between the two. What went on behind closed doors, though, we can only guess.

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Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.