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 (opens in new tab)) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), "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 (opens in new tab), "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 (opens in new tab) 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

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.