Princess Margaret | British Newspaper Archive


Hot Off The Press – New Titles This Week

This week at The Archive we have added 216,287 brand new pages, as we mark the 68th anniversary of Princess Margaret’s ‘courageous decision’ not to marry divorced royal equerry Group Captain Peter Townsend. Meanwhile, we have added one brand new title this week, which covers an extreme Scottish political party, whilst we have made extensive additions this week to our existing newspapers from across the United Kingdom.

So read on to learn more about how the press in 1955 reacted to Princess Margaret’s decision to go against her heart, and also to learn about our new and updated titles of the week, which hail from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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This week’s new title is the Protestant Vanguard, which was established in Glasgow by Alexander Ratcliffe (1888-1947) in 1931 to act as the organ for his political party, the Scottish Protestant League (SPL). Ratcliffe had founded the SPL some eleven years previously on 28 September 1920 in Edinburgh, and the party was part of the militant Protestant movement that emerged during the Anglo-Irish war of 1919 to 1921.

The SPL was virulently anti-Roman Catholic, and advocated for such extreme measures as the prevention of Irish immigration to Britain, and the deportation of Irish immigrants who were receiving welfare aid from the state. The SPL also campaigned against the public funding of Roman Catholic schools.

It was after Alexander Ratcliffe’s move to Glasgow in 1930 that he and his party saw the greatest success. In 1931 Ratcliffe was elected as a councillor to the Glasgow Corporation, and in the 1933 election the party gained nearly half of the vote across 23 wards.

It was at this time that the Protestant Vanguard was established as the ‘Organ of the Scottish Protestant League.’ Published every Wednesday at the cost of two pence, the paper filled eight pages and was edited by Alexander Ratcliffe himself.

A sense of the newspaper’s militant Protestantism can be gained through Ratcliffe’s editorial of 2 January 1935, which was entitled ‘A Call to Arms!The piece explained how:

Protestantism in Scotland is on its trial, and we proclaim a Call to Arms on behalf of the cause of Scriptural Protestantism and righteousness. The enemy is at the Gate! Who will respond to the call for recruits? The warfare is spiritual, but none the less necessary. The enemies of the Bible, the despisers of Christianity, the idolaters and corruptionists are gathering their forces together in the land of Knox for a massed attack against the Protestantism of the nation.

But as the 1930s progressed, the popularity of the SPL began to decline. Ratcliffe lost his political seat in 1937, although the publication of the Protestant Vanguard continued, shifting between being a monthly, fortnightly and weekly publication. It continued to be a mouthpiece for Ratcliffe, who advocated Scottish home rule, as well as acting as a platform for his increasingly fascist and racist beliefs, which were fuelled by a visit to Nazi Germany in 1939.

Despite Ratcliffe even facing censure in British parliament during the Second World War, the Protestant Vanguard continued to be circulated. It dubbed itself the ‘Pithy Protestant Publication,’ as well as ‘the Paper that Hits Straight Out.’ Publication of the paper would cease, however, upon Ratcliffe’s death, the 1 May 1947 issue announcing the SPL founder’s passing, whilst continuing to publish its anti-Catholic rhetoric, printing a ‘Warning Against Convents.’ This appears to be the final edition of the paper.

Due to the inflammatory and incendiary nature of some of the content of this publication, readers are advised to exercise caution in accessing this material as they may find it offensive and upsetting.

This week also sees new pages joining our existing titles. The largest update of the week is to Swansea’s South Wales Daily Post, to which we have added over 61,000 brand new pages. Next up is Plymouth’s Western Evening News, which sees over 37,000 brand new pages join its ranks. Meanwhile, we continue to augment our collection of Northern Irish titles, with over 30,000 brand new pages joining both the Larne Times and the Portadown News, with new pages also joining the Belfast News-Letter.

Before we take a look at Princess Margaret’s momentous decision back in 1955, we’d be remiss not to mention the new pages that have joined our Scottish newspapers this week. We’re delighted to welcome additions to the Edinburgh Evening News, the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, the Stornoway Gazette and West Coast Advertiser, and the Dumfries and Galloway Standard.

Princess Margaret’s ‘Courageous Decision’

55 years ago this week, on 31 October 1955, Princess Margaret made public her decision not to marry her father’s equerry Group Captain Peter Townsend. New pages added to the Portadown News on 5 November 1955 provide insight into the Princess’s ‘courageous decision,’ and how it was received by the press of the day.

The Portadown News piece, which was entitled ‘A Courageous Decision,’ began by observing how:

Not since the time of the Abdication of King Edward VIII, nearly twenty years ago, has there been more intense national speculation concerning the future of a Royal personage than that which has been manifest during the past few weeks around the possibility of a marriage between Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend.

It provided the following background to the relationship between the royal and the equerry:

For more than two years there were veiled hints of a romance between the Princess and the divorced Group Captain who first went to Buckingham Palace in 1944 when, as a war hero, he was chosen by the late King George VI to be an Equerry of Honour.

But this relationship was to come to an end with the publishing of the Princess’s ‘114-word personal message,’ which was issued from her home, Clarence House. In it, the 25-year-old younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II declared how ‘I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend,’ emphasising how she had reached the decision ‘entirely alone.’

Nearly twenty years on from the abdication crisis, in which Princess Margaret’s uncle King Edward VIII gave up the crown to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, the young princess had chosen duty over love. The Portadown News, meanwhile, was full of praise for her decision:

This was a courageous action by a brave young woman who, in deference to the Church’s teaching on Christian marriage and to her duty to the Commonwealth, chose to put aside her thoughts of a union with a man who was obviously a favourite at Court and who, through no fault of his own, found himself the innocent party in the Divorce Courts of the land.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer | 3 November 1955

The newspaper highlighted the Anglican Church’s ‘clear and unambiguous’ teaching on the ‘indissolubility of marriage,’ which Princess Margaret had recognised through her decision. The Portadown News went on to comment how:

In the difficult choice she found it necessary to make the Princess has shown an unmistakable maturity of mind and intellect in an age when one’s duty to Church and State are frequently less highly regarded than they were in previous eras. Her stature has thereby increased immeasurably.

Adding how:

There is no doubt too that the Church as a whole has received a tremendous addition to its armoury in the fight for the maintenance of those moral standards for which it has stood champion in the past.

Finally, however, the newspaper alluded to the feelings and behaviour of Group Captain Peter Townsend:

At the same time there will be many who will find it possible to spare a thought also for the lonely R.A.F. hero, whose name has been blazoned across the pages of the world Press. His role, unfortunate though it was, has been at all times dignified, and the statement of the Princess lost none of its sincerity in its allusion to Group Captain Townsend’s ‘unfailing support and devotion.’

And so came to an end this doomed love story between a princess and a war hero. Find out more about the history of the monarchy, other love stories, and much more besides, in the pages of our newspaper Archive today.

New Titles
TitleYears Added
Protestant Vanguard1935-1947
Updated Titles

This week we have updated ten of our existing titles.

You can learn more about each of the titles we add to every week by clicking on their names. On each paper’s title page, you can read a FREE sample issue, learn more about our current holdings, and our plans for digitisation.

TitleYears Added
Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser1990-1992
Belfast News-Letter1993
Dumfries and Galloway Standard1872
Edinburgh Evening News1945, 1990
Larne Times1900, 1925, 1956-1984, 1993
Portadown News1956-1982
South Wales Daily Post1991, 1993, 1996, 1998
Stornoway Gazette and West Coast Advertiser1946-1947, 1954-1966
Western Evening Herald1994, 1996
Wokingham Times1977-1980

You can keep up to date with all the latest additions by visiting the recently added page.  You can even look ahead to see what we’re going to add tomorrow.


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