When Princess Margaret married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in May 1960, it was one of the most scandalous royal weddings in history — mostly because Armstrong-Jones was a little-known commoner. Even worse, he was only a photographer. Surely a Princess could get herself a wealthy aristocrat at the very least?

In fact, Armstrong-Jones was the first commoner in 400 years to marry into the royal family and, on top of his lack of status in royal circles, he was initially perceived as being 'not good enough' for the Queen's fun-loving sister.

Antony Armstrong-Jones was a little known Photographer when he met Princess Margaret. Photo / Supplied
Antony Armstrong-Jones was a little known Photographer when he met Princess Margaret. Photo / Supplied

It all started happily enough but it didn't take long before their tumultuous relationship was plagued with rumours which included multiple affairs on both sides, a love child, bisexuality and all-round bickering about palace staff and infidelities.

The marriage finally ended in divorce 46 years ago this month. But what really lead to the death knell of the royal marriage — was it the Earl's disdain for servants and the royal lifestyle? His affairs and rumoured bisexuality? Or, like many marriages, was 18 years together deemed simply 'long enough?'

Advertisement

The Earl

The royal wedding of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones was the very first to be televised, leading the way for Prince Charles and Princess Diana 21 years later.

Queen Elizabeth gave her sister's husband the title Earl of Snowden and the photogenic couple enjoyed ruling London's party scene. They were said to epitomise the iconic 'swinging 60s.'

The pair were married in May 1960. Photo / Getty Images
The pair were married in May 1960. Photo / Getty Images

The relationship was questioned from the start because it was perceived as a classic 'rebound' relationship, after Margaret was forced to end her affair with her 'true love' Peter Townsend.

Much of the first season of Netflix drama 'The Crown' is devoted to the rocky road that relationship followed, which was always doomed due to Townsend being divorced: a big 'no-no' when you're the Queen's sister.

The British public had great empathy for Margaret who, in October 1955, was trapped in a clash of loyalty, forced to choose between the man she wished to marry and her royal duty to her sister.

In the end, Margaret had to release a public statement, telling the world she had ended the relationship. She was said to be broken hearted. And yet, she managed to move on.

Margaret met Antony in 1958 at a dinner party where he stood out among the other male guests who were wearing perfectly starched shirts: Tony arrived without a tie, wore a pair of work boots and managed to knock back a huge amount of alcohol.

Advertisement

The Princess commissioned him to take a series of photographs of her and the friendship quickly grew into a love affair. When his photographs of Margaret were released, they were both praised and criticised because, while they were rather 'unroyal' in style, it was also the first time the public had really been allowed to see the Princess's natural beauty.

The Princess commissioned Anotny to take a series of photographs of her. Photo / Supplied
The Princess commissioned Anotny to take a series of photographs of her. Photo / Supplied

When the couple first started dating, they were able to avoid the media spotlight. According to author Anne de Courcy in her book 'Snowden: the biography,' Antony joined Margaret's circle of friends on outings to dinner parties and the theatre.

Anne de Courcy writes: "Nobody knew about their relationship, there wasn't a whisper about it. She would see him in secret at his studio and 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."

Keen to show the world that she'd moved on from her heartbreak over Townsend, Princess Margaret gained the approval of her sister before the palace announced her engagement to Armstrong-Jones on February 26, 1960.

Anne de Courcy, (who was given unlimited access to Armstrong-Jones' diaries and letters) believes most of the royal family approved of the match.

"They all liked him very much — Tony had great charm, very good manners and he knew exactly how to behave. He felt devotion to the royal family, to the Queen, who he admired immensely. He got on very well with Prince Charles and he adored the Queen Mother," de Courcy said.

"They were both pretty strong-willed and accustomed to having their own way, so there were bound to be collisions."

In 1961, the Princess Margaret gave birth to their first child, David. A daughter, Sarah, was born in 1964 and the couple appeared to be going through a happy phase in their relationship. They were both said to enjoy being in the spotlight and were well suited to the celebrity lifestyle. But in 1962, when Snowdon accepted a new role as the artistic advisor to The Sunday Times, everything changed, and Margaret wasn't happy that he started to live a life quite separate from hers.

In 1961 the Princess gave birth to their first child. Photo / Getty Images
In 1961 the Princess gave birth to their first child. Photo / Getty Images

It's not that easy being royal

Snowdon was said to have a variety of issues with life at Kensington Palace, mostly to do with the Princess's staff. Margaret's official dresser, Ruby MacDonald, was the source of major irritation for him.

Every morning, Ruby would bring a breakfast tray into the royal bedroom, with a cup of tea and a glass of orange juice. Both drinks were for Margaret; there was never anything for Snowden. (Most non-royal husbands might also find that a bit irritating too.)

Following a spate of arguments about the breakfast tray, Ruby was dismissed and there was resentment in the palace among staff towards Snowden. Ruby's sister was the Queen's dresser so there was that to consider. Also, as a commoner, Snowden wasn't used to dealing with servants, because he's never been in a position to have any of his own.

Rumours and infidelities

There were rumours that Antony was bisexual; something he had never denied outright. He came close to revealing more about his love life when he apparently said, "I didn't fall in love with boys, but a few men have been in love with me."

Margaret, who was well-known for being outspoken and witty, when asked at a New York society party in the mid 1970s, "How is the Queen keeping?", replied, "Which one? My sister, my mother or my husband?"

In his role at the Sunday Times, Snowdon was often away on photographic assignments, where he apparently indulged in several affairs. Not to be outdone, Margaret had a fling with her husband's friend Anthony Barton, followed by another affair with nightclub pianist Robin Douglas-Home. Her most scandalous affair was with Roddy Llewellyn, who was 18 years her junior.

The most upsetting affair

In 1969, Snowdon embarked on an affair that was said to have upset Margaret greatly, despite her own infidelities. His fling with Lady Jacqueline Rufus-Isaacs was said to be the beginning of the end for the royal couple.

Here's a complicated story that revolves around Snowden's affair with Lady Jacqueline and the official royal car: Margaret's private secretary was Freddy Burnaby-Atkins, who would often represent Margaret at official events when the Princess was away.

One day, Burnaby-Atkins needed to use the official royal car as he was required to go to St Pauls Cathedral to represent the Princess at a function. But he was told the car was being used by Snowden, who was visiting his girlfriend, Jacqueline.

Snowden was asked to return the car right away. But by the time the car was returned to Kensington Palace, it was covered in mud. There was no time to have it cleaned, so what does one do? Burnaby-Atkins was forced to take a taxi to St Paul's Cathedral which probably wasn't a terribly good look when one is supposed to be representing a Princess. (If you'd like to read more about Burnaby-Atkins, this is a great read, as he was a war hero who had a very colourful life.)

On his return, he wrote a furious note to Snowden. But Snowden, who apparently didn't take kindly to receiving notes from the staff had Burnaby-Atkins fired, much to Margaret's horror.

This incident was said to bring to light Snowden's affair with Jacqueline and it was that revelation that tipped the Princess over the edge.

"The flings used to upset her a lot. She had some too, but never as long as his. They weren't revenge affairs, she just wanted to feel desired," de Coursey said.

Splitsville

The couple separated in 1976 and, on March 19 1978, Kensington Palace announced that the royal couple were divorcing; the first royal divorce since King Henry VIII's in 1540.

"Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and the Earl of Snowdon, after two years of separation, have agreed that their marriage should be formally ended. Accordingly, Her Royal Highness will start the necessary legal proceedings," the statement said.

The couple were said to have stayed 'good friends' following their divorce, mostly for the sake of their children. Snowden continued to take official photographs of the royal family and remained on good terms with his ex-wife's family even after he remarried. (In 1978, he married his assistant Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, divorcing in 2000.)

Margaret never remarried and died of a stroke in 2002, aged 71.

The Love Child

Before Snowdon married Margaret, he had an affair with his close friend Jeremy Fry's wife Camilla, who gave birth to Polly Fry in May 1960. At that time, Snowden and Margaret were on their honeymoon.

According to Newsweek, Polly grew up believing Jeremy Fry was her biological father, although she'd been aware of rumours over the years, that she was the biological daughter of Snowden. In 2004, Polly asked Snowden if he would undergo a DNA test, which he agreed to do (at the age of 74).

Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden had two children together, a son David and a daughter Sarah. Photo / Getty Images
Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden had two children together, a son David and a daughter Sarah. Photo / Getty Images

The test results came back positive that Snowden was her biological father. It was a case of mixed blessings for Polly. She finally knew the truth but she was also devastated that she'd gone through so much of her life believing Fry was her father.

"Finding out at the age of 45 that the man I had idolised and put on a pedestal higher than Nelson's Column since I was a small child was not in fact my father was a hard burden to bear," Polly Fry said.

It's not known whether Margaret knew that Snowden was Fry's biological father because she had already died by the time of the DNA test.

Interestingly, Snowdon had meant for Jeremy Fry to be his 'best man' at the wedding, but pulled out shortly before the wedding due to illness. Perhaps there were other reasons why he didn't fulfil his duties at the wedding. We'll never know. Snowden died at the age of 86 in January 2017.