Inside Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones' Unconventional Marriage
As fans of Netflix's hit series The Crown know well, Princess Margaret was never one to abide by the royal family's rules or expectations. The second daughter of King George VI (and Queen Elizabeth II's only sibling), Princess Margaret was often referred to as the "wild child" of the family, bucking tradition in favor of her own desires and whims. This was never truer than in her choice of partner, photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, a commoner whom Margaret met and fell in love with after he was commissioned to take a portrait of the royal.
The couple married at Westminster Abbey on May 6, 1960. Princess Margaret has since been considered a trailblazer for everything, from her simple Norman Hartnell wedding dress to how she approached her role within the British royal family to the way she and Armstrong-Jones split in 1978, becoming the first royals to divorce since King Henry VIII in 1540. But before the rumors, before the affairs, and before their six-week honeymoon to the Caribbean, there was the royal wedding and their unconventional love story.
In this article:
All about Princess Margaret's Wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones
Though much of Princess Margaret's relationship with Antony Armstrong-Jones was kept under wraps due to the fact that he was not a member of the royal family nor a member of British aristocracy, their wedding was very much-watched and scrutinized. Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, nevertheless seemed to enjoy the attention. According to the BBC, over 20 million viewers from around the globe tuned in to watch the royal wedding, and more than 2,000 guests squeezed into Westminster Abbey to witness the couple's big day.
It was the first televised royal wedding.
Princess Margaret set precedence with her televised wedding ceremony. Archival footage from the historic event shows the bride leaving Clarence House for Westminster Abbey in the Glass Coach, per tradition, accompanied by her brother-in-law Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. (Because her father, King George VI, had passed away several years earlier, Prince Phillip was the one who walked her down the aisle and gave her away.) The televised event also showed the Queen all aglow with excitement for her younger sister.
Princess Margaret's wedding dress may have inspired other royal gowns.
Princess Margaret's wedding dress has long been considered one of the most iconic royal gowns due to its simplicity and timelessness. The silk organza dress was designed by Norman Hartnell, the same designer who also made the Queen's wedding attire. It consisted of a sleek silhouette meant to showcase Margaret's enviable figure: long sleeves, a V-neckline, and a full skirt that required about 98 feet of fabric. The bride wore a cathedral-length veil to complete the look. It is believed that the Countess of Duchess's simple, elegant gown inspired her own daughter Lady Sarah Chatto's off-the-shoulder wedding dress, as well as Meghan Markle's Givenchy wedding gown. Presently, the dress is on display at Kensington Palace as part of an ongoing exhibition about royal wedding gowns.
Princess Margaret had bought her wedding tiara herself.
Bucking tradition, Princess Margaret opted to buy her own wedding tiara rather than borrow one from the extensive royal vault. And in fact, the trailblazer purchased the glittery headpiece before she even got engaged. Princess Margaret's impressive headpiece previously belonged to Lady Poltimore and was aptly called the Poltimore tiara; she reportedly bought it from Lady Poltimore's grandson in 1959 for £5,500, or around $7,500 today. Margaret was often photographed wearing the Garrard-designed bauble, though no image is quite as memorable as that of her wearing nothing but the tiara while soaking in a bathtub. The photo was taken by her husband, then known as Lord Snowdon or the Earl of Snowdon, in 1962.
The bride splurged on wedding cakes, plural.
The total cost of the royal wedding was reportedly somewhere around £26,000, or around $35,000. Princess Margaret spent a substantial portion of that budget on not just one, but 20 wedding cakes. The cakes were organized into a three-tiered extravaganza that reached a height of five feet. The confections boasted Princess Margaret's coat of arms and the couple's newly minted monogram of the English rose and the Scottish lion.
Princess Anne was a bridesmaid for Princess Margaret's wedding.
As per tradition, Princess Margaret's bridal party was comprised of a handful of young bridesmaids (Armstrong-Jones, on the other hand, had his best man, Dr. Roger Gilliatt, at his side). One of those bridesmaids was Princess Anne, the Queen's only daughter. Other members of the eight-person bridal party included her goddaughter, Marilyn Wills, and Annabel Rhodes, a cousin from her mother's side of the family. Formal portraits of the couple and their bridal party show the group posing together in Buckingham Palace, where the wedding reception was held.
The Couple's Relationship Timeline
To the public, Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones' engagement may have seemed sudden, but the reality was that the pair had eyes for each other for a while before the press picked up on it. "Nobody knew about their relationship, there wasn't a whisper about it," biographer Anne de Courcy once 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 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." Though their relationship ultimately didn't last, their love did become the focus of much media attention for its duration.
When did they meet?
Prior to meeting Armstrong-Jones, Princess Margaret was in a longtime relationship with Captain Peter Townsend. She and Antony Armstrong-Jones ultimately met during a dinner party in 1958, where they hit it off, but they didn't officially begin dating until a few months later, when the photographer was commissioned to create a portrait of Margaret.
How long did they date?
The pair dated for about two years and their relationship was met with doubts by the public, which very much hoped Princess Margaret would marry within her social class. The royal family, however, reportedly approved of the pair, with the Queen particularly cheering on their relationship. According to biographer de Courcy, "They all liked him very much—Tony had great charm, very good manners and he knew exactly how to behave." In particular, the fashion photographer got along with Prince Charles and expressed deep admiration for the Queen Mother.
When did they get engaged?
Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones announced their engagement in 1960. In official engagement announcements, the 29-year-old showed off a ruby engagement ring that Armstrong-Jones had designed himself. They wasted little time readying themselves for the wedding, especially with the support of the royal family at their backs. That same year, they got married.
When did they get married?
The happy couple exchanged vows in a grand ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London on May 6, 1960, the same venue where Prince William and Kate Middleton would get married more than 50 years later. The wedding included more than 2,000 guests and a global audience of more than 20 million viewers. As per custom, the newlyweds gathered on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following the wedding ceremony to greet the crowds of royal fans on The Mall and then held a wedding breakfast reception shortly after that.
After the Wedding
Following the hubbub surrounding their 1960 nuptials, Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and the Earl of Snowdon were popular figures in the news—though not always for positive reasons. The pair escaped to the Caribbean for a six-week honeymoon aboard the British yacht Britannia, but their marital bliss didn't last in the end. Amid rumors of infidelity and affairs, the couple decided to separate in 1976 and finalized their divorce two years after that.
Prior to their separation, Margaret met Roddy Llewellyn, a 25-year-old gardener who was 17 years her junior, and the pair began a relationship. They dated for eight years, but in the end, their relationship didn't work out. Meanwhile, Margaret and Armstrong-Jones ultimately remained strong friends despite the disintegration of their marriage; they co-parented two children, Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Chatto, reuniting for each of their weddings.
"They always maintained a solid friendship, once the bitterness of the divorce was over," biographer Anne de Courcy said. Lord Snowdon remarried in 1978, but his second marriage also ended in divorce. Princess Margaret never remarried.