The Crown: Who was the real Antony Armstrong-Jones? The truth about Princess Margaret's husband Lord Snowdon

Your guide to the Queen's photographer brother-in-law and his fiery marriage to Princess Margaret, as featured in Netflix's royal drama.

By BT.com Published: 26 January 2018 - 10.20am
PA Images

If there was one relationship that stood out in the second series of Netflix’s royal drama, The Crown, it was that of Princess Margaret and photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones.

With their fiery relationship put to the limits in the confines of the royal court, it’s little wonder theirs has provided fertile ground for the TV series.

But who was the real Antony Armstrong-Jones, also known as Lord Snowdon? We recount his story - from debilitating childhood illness to becoming a member of the most famous family in the world.

The not-so-common commoner

Antony Armstrong-Jones looking down a staircase Frank E Rust/Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock

The son of a society hostess and a barrister, educated at Eton and Cambridge, Armstrong-Jones, later Lord Snowdon, was not exactly what you would call 'common' but when he married into the Royal Family in 1960, that's precisely what he was.

The world-renowned photographer was the first commoner to marry into royalty in Britain for 400 years, and their marriage also broke new ground in 1978 when the couple divorced.

After a childhood which included six months in hospital with polio, during which time neither of his parents visited him, Armstrong-Jones went to Cambridge to study architecture, only to leave when he failed his exams - but not before coxing Cambridge to success in the 1950 university boat race.

Fortunately, his family connections allowed him to pursue a career as a photographer, where he enjoyed significant success in many ways; it was at a photoshoot in 1958 that he met the young Princess Margaret.

The odd couple

Princess Margaret marries Antony Armstrong-Jones Shutterstock

Having had her very public romance with Group Captain Peter Townsend brought to an end three years earlier because he was divorced, the Queen's sister was charmed by Armstrong-Jones and thrilled by his lack of deference.

This charm also worked on the Queen Mother and the Queen herself, and on May 6, 1960, the couple were married at Westminster Abbey.

 

Princess Margaret with her children in the 1960s PA Images

Given the title of Lord Snowdon as a nod to his Welsh heritage, he soon began to find the formality of court life and the etiquette of walking behind his royal wife stifling. Indeed, it wasn't long before he took up a photographic contract with the Sunday Times which lasted for nearly three decades, covering all kinds of topics.

He was also an in-demand portrait photographer, capturing the essence of actors, politicians, authors, musicians as well as members of the Royal Family on camera. Besides this, Snowdon was a talented designer, and co-designed the aviary at London Zoo in 1963 as well as playing a major role in designing the stage and thrones for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon in 1969.

Although the couple had two children - David, Viscount Linley, born in 1961, and Sarah, in 1964 - the roaming nature of his work put a strain on their already less than solid relationship and after years of living apart and both having lovers, they divorced in 1978.

Life beyond royalty

Lucy Lindsay-Hogg with Antony Armstrong-Jones and their baby daughter Frances AP/Shutterstock

Snowdon remarried, almost immediately, to one of his former lovers Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, who gave birth to a daughter, Frances, seven months later, with that marriage lasting until 2000.

He had a succession of other relationships, fathering a son, Jasper, in 1998, and continued his photography until the end of his life. Even though he was no longer part of the Royal Family he took the official photographs of Prince Charles's wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 (showing his versatility by taking the cover shot for Queen's Greatest Hits album the same year) and went on to shoot pictures ranging from the Queen's official 80th birthday portrait to images of Big Brother winners.

He also worked as a designer and disability campaigner, starting a fund in 1980 to provide grants and scholarships for students with disabilities and sitting on the council of the Polio Research Fund.

The final secret

Vanessa Kirby and Matthew Goode during a scene in The Crown in which they play Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong Jones Alex Bailey/Netflix

While the royal couple were on their honeymoon in the Caribbean on the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1960, Camilla Fry, the wife of Armstrong-Jones's oldest friend Jeremy Fry, gave birth to a daughter, Polly.

It was not until 44 years later that a DNA test confirmed he was her father. While Fry rejected this claim, after his death in 2008, Snowdon admitted that Polly was his daughter.

He died in January 2017, aged 86.

Season 4 of The Crown is now available to watch on Netflix.

Watch The Crown seasons 1-3 on Netflix.

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