Poor Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) has a rough time of it in the new season of The Crown, in particular in the seventh episode, “The Hereditary Principle.” In the space of that single episode, Margaret has a medical scare that requires lung surgery, is demoted from her royal duties, and discovers a devastating secret about her family. But before any of that, she endures a major romantic disappointment in her relationship with Derek “Dazzle” Jennings (Tom Burke), a young priest she’s developed feelings for. For reasons that soon become clear, she’s barking up the wrong tree. Here’s the true story of Dazzle and his relationship with the princess.
Who was Derek Jennings?
Derek Jennings was born in 1946 and worked as a senior civil servant in the British Government’s Department of the Environment. In 1984, he quit his job to take the Holy Orders and become a Catholic priest. He was a notorious and popular figure in London, with a wide circle of friends including the actor Alec Guinness and Princess Margaret. After completing his training in Rome, Jennings returned home and ultimately became the chaplain at King’s College London, per Metro.
Upon his death in 1995, The Times wrote in its obituary (per Radio Times) that Jennings’ death “deprives London’s religious life of one of its most eccentric comets…he would turn up at country house dinners, theatre festivals, auction houses and modest student gatherings, always yearning to argue the toss, always with an admonitory finger at the ready, always loyal.”
Did Princess Margaret consider converting to Catholicism?
Onscreen, Margaret and Jennings’ relationship comes to a dramatic close when he tries to convince her to convert to Catholicism, and she refuses out of loyalty to her family, before telling him she never wants to see him again. There’s no evidence that Margaret and Jennings ever had such a falling out 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 storyline comes from the truth. According to several reports, Jennings really did try to convert Margaret—and in at least some versions of the story, she considered it. Biographer Noel Botham claimed in his 2002 book Margaret: The Last Real Princess (per Radio Times) that Jennings believed Margaret wanted to convert, but Margaret felt unable to go through with it because it would be a betrayal of her sister. Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Church of England, so Margaret converting would have been seen as a potentially devastating snub.
Botham also described a dinner party in 1988 where Jennings brokered a meeting between Margaret and the Catholic Cardinal George Basil Hume. Per the Catholic Leader, Jennings said Margaret 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’re introduced to Jennings as he breaks the news to Margaret that he’s about to take Holy Orders. It’s an intimate exchange, and Margaret is clearly interested in Jennings as more than a close friend. When Jennings declines to kiss her, she assumes it’s because of the church and his vow of abstinence. But soon, in a truly indelible scene, it’s made clear that Jennings is, in fact, gay.
The queen watches with an expression of polite incredulity as Margaret talks mournfully about how she and Jennings can’t be together because of the priesthood. “That’s the second reason he was never the right man for you,” Elizabeth nods. Confused, Margaret asks what the first reason is, to which the Queen gently tells her that Jennings is “a friend of Dorothy…famously so.”
Jennings was indeed gay in real life. The Reverend Richard Coles, a longtime friend of Jennings, is quoted at length in the Radio Times: “He was of course gay, although—incredibly—he thought this was a secret known only to a few,” Coles wrote in his autobiography. “He found intimate relationships impossible or very difficult, so the celibate status he was obliged to adopt by the discipline of the Roman Catholic Church suited him.”
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