My series review is here. Or read my episode recaps: episode 1 (Gold Stick), episode 2 (The Balmoral Test), episode 3 (Fairytale), episode 4 (Favourites), episode 5 (Fagan), episode 6 (Terra Nullius), episode 8 (48:1), episode 9 (Avalanche), and episode 10 (War).
“The hereditary principle already hangs by such a precarious thread.”
Princess Margaret is smoking, coughing and doing her make up, getting ready for something while the Royal Variety Performance starts on her TV.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are attending the performance – in an institution, two middle-aged women watch the Queen arrive, standing for the national anthem. They are Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon, the daughters of the Queen Mother’s late brother Jock.
Derek “Dazzle” Jennings arrives at Margaret’s on his bicycle. They dance around the room drinking champagne. She wants to be intimate with him – they’ve been close for a while – but he has something to tell her.
Margaret explains it to the Queen later on; he’s left her to train as a Roman Catholic priest. The Queen tells her Dazzle is actually gay, and the reason he looks at Margaret the way he does is because she’s “a royal princess and he’s a raging snob.” Margaret stats coughing; there’s blood on her hankie. Margaret, by now 54, has investigative surgery in london.
It’s Edward’s 21st birthday, celebrated with a huge family meal and a massive cake. On Katherine Bowes-Lyon’s birthday she gets a plain cake with one candle. Philip makes a funny but mocking speech about Edward: his first two children were duty, the last two… “joy” interjects the Queen.
Margaret is still on oxygen. She tells the Queen she’s giving up men and cigarettes and wants to focus on royal duties. She wants more responsibility, and more work.
The Queen goes to visit her at Kensington Palace, accompanied by Martin Charteris (“Lurch”, Margaret calls him), to let Margaret know she is moving her to the outer edges. She will no longer be deputising for the Queen as it only needs six. Now Prince Edward is of age and is a child of the sovereign, he’s ahead of Margaret, who must relinquish her role as a councillor of state. Margaret is furious and devastated but her sister says they have to abide by the rules.
Margaret travels to the island of Mustique to stay with her old friends, the Tennants. Charles flies out to see his aunt. She talks of the house as gone to seed, past its heyday, and it’s unspoken that she feels she has gone the same way. Diana is pregnant again and Charles is seeing a therapist; he’s promised Anne he would suggest Margaret do the same thing.
Back in London, Margaret starts seeing a therapist, who asks her about other family members with mental health issues. She asks, she says, because she is aware of her Bowes-Lyon cousins via her contacts in the sector. Margaret has no idea about them, but does her research.
The Queen admits she knows of them but says they’re both long dead; together they check Burke’s Peerage which says the same. Margaret is unconvinced, and sends Dazzle – now training to be a priest – off to visit them in Redhill to check the veracity of the story, which he confirms. The women have pictures of the royal family “which they know is their family.” There are also other cousins there with the same condition.
Margaret travels to the Queen Mother’s Scottish home, the Castle of Mey, where she is about to have a lunch party. Mother and daughter go for a walk on the beach where the Queen Mother tries to justify the family’s actions in putting the cousins away, linking it all back to the abdication, which changed everything. Margaret is horrified and ties it to her own treatment by the family.
The Queen Mother believes the bloodline of the Royals has to be impeccable to give it legitimacy, and the conditions the women were put away for as young girls – then called “idiocy and imbecility” – would have risked making the Windsors’ right to rule untenable. The Windsor side has enough mental illness of its own: King George III, her uncle Prince John. Margaret names all the Bowes-Lyon cousins who were put away: Katherine, Nerissa, Idonea, Etheldreda and Rosemary.
Margaret’s therapist does more digging and discovers that the genetic fault came from the Clinton family (Jock’s wife Fenella’s line) so there was no chance it could affect the Royals. The princess realises they need never have been hidden, and her family’s conduct has been “unforgivable”.
For Margaret’s own depression, she is prescribed medication, psychotherapy and more exercise. Dazzle suggests she convert to Roman Catholicism; the Catholic Church demands submission, and he and Margaret both need that.
She says she can’t because of the royal family. She would lose her title and be kicked out of the family, and her happiness is wrapped up in both. When Dazzlee points out to her that the family only protects itself she retorts she’s at the centre and always will be. Then she sends Dazzle away for good, but not before asking him to pray for her.
In Mustique she thinks back to happier times though they weren’t really that happy.
The episode ends with photographs of the real Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, who died in 1986 and 2014, respectively.