Though he would go on to become a renowned photographer whose pictures were seen by millions all over the world, it wasn’t his art that made Antony Armstrong-Jones famous. That honor, instead, goes to his first wife, Princess Margaret, who in marrying Armstrong-Jones became the first British royal to wed a non-aristocrat in 400 years. Between their headline-grabbing marriage, shocking divorce, and the salacious rumors that continued to swirl around his relationships for the rest of Armstrong-Jones’s life, he continues to be one of the most controversial royal figures of the modern age.
Who was Antony Armstrong-Jones?
Born Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones on March 7, 1930 in London, Armstrong-Jones, best known to friends and family as Tony, was the son of Welsh barrister Ronald Armstrong-Jones and Anne Messel. When he was very young, his parents divorced, and Tony and his older sister Susan went to live with their mother, who married Lawrence Parsons, Sixth Earl of Rosse, when Tony was five.
His childhood in the Earl of Rosse’s house was reportedly not a loving one. In Armstrong-Jones’s obituary, The Guardian described it as “a loveless and emotionally starved childhood,” in which Tony was “treated as distinctly inferior” to his mother’s two sons with the earl.
At age 16, he contracted polio and spent six months in recuperation, during which his only visitor was his sister Susan. He survived the illness, but the polio took a toll on one of his legs and he walked with a limp for the remainder of his life.
Tony later attended Eton College, followed by Cambridge, but he flunked out of his exams in his second year and decided to devote himself to his longtime interest in photography instead.
Even before he became involved with Princess Margaret, Tony had made a name for himself as a portrait photographer. In 1956, he put on a one-man exhibition of his work, and published two books of photography the year after that—the same year he would photograph Margaret’s sister Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and their children on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
In the 1960s, after his marriage to Margaret, Tony became a photo editor of The Sunday Times magazine, where he would work for more than 30 years. He became a highly sought-after commercial photographer, working for publications like Vanity Fair and the Daily Telegraph as well as photographing celebrities such as Dame Maggie Smith, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood. Over the years, he continued to be a favored photographer of the royal family, even after his messy divorce from Margaret, capturing many iconic images of royals.
His Marriage to Margaret
Princess Margaret first met Antony Armstrong-Jones at a dinner party in 1958, but it was far from love at first site. It took several months for romance to blossom, after Tony was commissioned to photograph Margaret, but even then things were kept very hush-hush.
“Nobody knew about their relationship, there wasn’t a whisper about it,” Anne de Courcy author of the biography Snowdon told Town & Country. “She would see him in secret at his studio and yes, he would join her at parties, but no one could pinpoint which man she was in interested in. The press focused more on the ones who were seen to be eligible. They didn’t think of Tony who was often in the background.”
They weren’t under the radar for long, though. Tony proposed to Margaret in February of 1960; that May, their royal wedding at Westminster Abbey was the first royal wedding to be televised.
Together they made a glamorous, charming picture of a royal couple. They traveled, touring America and hobnobbing with the Hollywood elite in a trip that was considered so scandalous by the Brits that Margaret wasn’t allowed to return to the country in an official capacity for years.
Tony was created the Earl of Snowdon after Margaret became pregnant with their first child, David, in 1961. A daughter, Sarah, followed in 1964. The couple gave all appearances of being happy, but cracks began to show in the relationship.
Speculation abounded that Tony was having flings with other women while away on assignment for The Sunday Times, while Margaret had her own dalliances with the liked of Anthony Barton, a college friend of Tony’s, and Roddy Llewellyn, a landscape gardener 18 years her junior. In 1969, Snowdon embarked on a protracted extramarital affair with Lady Jacqueline Rufus-Isaacs, but he and Margaret remained together until the marriage finally buckled under the strain in 1976. They separated, and in 1978 officially announced their divorce—making Margaret the first royal to divorce since King Henry VIII.
His second marriage
The same year he divorced Princess Margaret, Tony married Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, a film production assistant. Together, the two had a daughter, Frances, in 1979. The remained together for more than two decades, but infidelities and the 1998 birth of Tony’s youngest child, Jasper, with journalist Melanie Cable-Alexander, ultimately ended the marriage in 2000.
Was he attracted to men?
Tony never confirmed or denied the longstanding rumors about his sexuality during his lifetime, but that didn’t stop the speculation.
“I enjoyed his company very much, but I didn’t take a lot of notice of him because I thought he was queer,” Princess Margaret told her biographer Christopher Warwick in her later years. In her biography, de Courcy quoted a close friend of Armstrong-Jones’s referring to his preferences by saying, “If it moves, he’ll have it.” She also noted that “most of the girls” who worked with him at his studio thought that, “there seemed little doubt that Tony was gay.”
Perhaps the most persistent rumors about his sexuality came from his close relationship with then-husband and wife Jeremy and Camilla Fry. Depicted as a three-way relationship in The Crown‘s second season, Tony stayed with the couple frequently and clearly maintained some form of sexual relationship with Camilla at least—she gave birth to a daughter, Polly Fry, just weeks after Tony’s marriage to Princess Margaret; Polly confirmed via DNA test in 2004 that Armstrong-Jones was in fact her biological father.
Jeremy Fry was originally supposed to serve as best man at Tony’s royal wedding, but pulled out at the last minute, supposedly due to an illness though there are reports that it was actually because the press had discovered that he had a 1952 arrest for “a minor homosexual offense.” Armstrong-Jones was not implicated in that incident, but nonetheless, whispers about a potential liaison between the two persisted.
Interior designer Nicky Haslam at one point claimed the he too had also had a romantic relationship with with Tony shortly before his wedding to Princess Margaret, but Armstrong-Jones denied that claim.
For his part, Tony’s only response on the issue of his sexuality when asked by de Courcy was to say that, “I didn’t fall in love with boys–but a few men have been in love with me.”
Despite the unhappiness of their marriage, Tony and Margaret remained friends throughout their lives, and he continued to spend time with the royal family, including taking many official royal photos, like the first photograph of baby Prince Harry in 1984.
He became outspoken in the House of Lords and the press as an advocate for those with physical disabilities and mobility issues. He set up the Earl of Snowdon Award Scheme, using money he had made from photographs of the royal family to create funding for disabled students and helped design aids for the blind, hard-of-hearing, and those in wheelchairs.
In 1999, Lord Snowdon was awarded life peerage, which gave him the title of baron and secured his seat in the House of Lords until his retirement in 2016.
He died in his home in January 2017, at the age of 86.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io