Princess Margaret Considered Converting to Catholicism Thanks to Her Friend Derek Jennings
Poor Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) has a hard time in the new season of The Crown, especially in the seventh episode "The Hereditary Principle". In this single episode, Margaret experiences a medical fear that requires lung surgery, is demoted from royal duties, and discovers a devastating secret about her family. But before that, she suffers a great romantic disappointment in her relationship with Derek "Dazzle" Jennings (Tom Burke), a young priest she has developed feelings for. For reasons that will soon become clear, she barks at the wrong tree. Here is the real story of Dazzle and his relationship with the princess.
Who Was Derek Jennings?
Derek Jennings was born in 1946 and worked as a senior official in the UK Government's Department of Environment. In 1984 he quit his job to accept sacred orders and become a Catholic priest. He was an infamous and popular character in London with a large circle of friends including actor Alec Guinness and Princess Margaret. After completing his education in Rome, Jennings returned home and eventually became a Metro chaplain at King's College London.
After his death in 1995, The Times wrote in his obituary (according to Radio Times) that Jennings' death "robs London's religious life of one of its most eccentric comets ... he would show up at country house dinners, theater festivals, auction houses and humble student reunions that always long to argue about the throw, always ready with a warning finger, always loyal. "
Has Princess Margaret considered converting to Catholicism?
On screen, Margaret and Jennings' relationship ends dramatically when he tries to persuade her to be Catholic, and she refuses, out of loyalty to her family, before telling him she never wants to see him again. There's no evidence Margaret and Jennings ever had such an argument in real life - in fact, she was one of the last people to see him before he died in 1995.
But the rest of this story comes from the truth. According to multiple reports, Jennings really tried to convert Margaret - and in at least some versions of the story she has given it some thought. Biographer Noel Botham claimed in his 2002 book Margaret: The Last Real Princess (according to Radio Times) that Jennings believed Margaret was trying to convert, but Margaret felt unable to cope because it would be betrayal of her sister . Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Church of England, so Margaret's conversion would have been viewed as a potentially devastating nudge.
Botham also described a dinner party in 1988 at which Jennings brokered a meeting between Margaret and Catholic Cardinal George Basil Hume. According to the Catholic leader, Jennings described the evening as "one of the most rewarding, fascinating, and satisfying nights of her life".
Was Princess Margaret romantically interested in Jennings?
In The Crown, we are introduced to Jennings when he brings news to Margaret that he is about to take sacred orders. It's an intimate exchange, and Margaret clearly cares about Jennings as more than a close friend. When Jennings refuses to kiss her, she assumes it is because of the church and his vow of abstinence. But soon, in a truly indelible scene, it becomes clear that Jennings is actually gay.
The Queen watches with polite disbelief as Margaret speaks sadly that she and Jennings cannot be together because of the priesthood. "That's the second reason he was never the right man for you," nods Elizabeth. Confused, Margaret asks what the first reason the Queen gently tells her that Jennings is "a friend of Dorothy ... famous for that".
Jennings was actually gay in real life. The Reverend Richard Coles, a longtime friend of Jennings, is quoted extensively in the Radio Times: "He was, of course, gay, although he - incredibly - thought this was a secret known to few," wrote Coles in his autobiography. "He found intimate relationships impossible or very difficult, so the celibacy status that he had to assume through the discipline of the Roman Catholic Church suited him."
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