In season two of The Crown we meet Princess Margaret’s new man, Antony Armstrong-Jones (played by Matthew Goode).
in the Netflix series, it’s clear that the British photographer isn’t exactly top royal marriage material, and (as the Queen is reliably informed by Tommy Lascelles) he has a reputation for liaisons with both men and women.
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But Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) is determined to marry him – and at least he’s not a divorcee like Group Captain Townsend. So the engagement goes ahead, the date is set and the Queen’s sister ties the knot.
But who was the real Antony “Tony” Armstrong-Jones? Here’s what you need to know…
Who was Princess Margaret’s husband Antony Armstrong-Jones, and what did he look like in real life?
Antony Armstrong-Jones, later known as Lord Snowdon, was a British photographer who married the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret in 1960.
In The Crown we see his futile attempts to impress his mother, who shows him no love and refuses to be impressed with his career as a photographer or any of his achievements. The rejection hurts him and leaves him bitter, but still he keeps on trying to show he is worthy of the affection she never gave him.
Tony’s childhood does seem to provide the key to his personality. He was the second child from the marriage of barrister Ronald Armstrong-Jones and society hostess Anne Messel, but his parents divorced when he was five years old. Each parent re-married and started a new family. His mother moved to Ireland, married an Earl, became the Countess of Rosse, and had two more sons.
When living with his mother, he was “treated as distinctly inferior to the earl’s children,” his obituary in The Guardian claims. “It was a loveless and emotionally starved childhood.”
One incident serves to illustrate the point. As a boy, Tony contracted polio while on holiday in Wales and was sent to Liverpool Royal Infirmary for six months of treatment and recuperation. Neither his father nor his mother ever came to visit him in hospital – only his older sister Susan put in an appearance. The disease left him with a limp for the rest of his life.
Tony was educated at Eton College and then Cambridge, where he studied architecture but failed his second-year exams. He did, at least, excel in boxing and served as a cox in the 1950 Boat Race. After leaving university he began his career as a photographer in fashion, design and theatre.
His stepmother had a friend who knew the society photographer Baron Nahum (played by Julius D’Silva in The Crown), and with the connection he joined Baron as a studio assistant.
In The Crown, Tony first sees Margaret while working as a wedding photographer for a friend. Reports disagree about how the pair met in real life, but they appear to have known each other by the time he took her birthday portrait in 1959.
What was Princess Margaret’s portrait sitting with Antony Armstrong-Jones really like?
The Crown episode five features a highly charged scene between Princess Margaret and Tony Armstrong Jones in his photography studio. He sits her down, adjusts her pose, leaves her waiting around before finally taking the perfect shot.
This confident lack of deference does seem to chime with reports of the encounter.
“With the utmost politeness, he made her change her clothes, her jewelry, and her pose as if she were any other sitter, at the same time chatting away with his mixture of jokes, gossip about mutual friends, and stories of the theatrical luminaries he had photographed,” an excerpt from Lord Snowden’s biography in Vanity Fair reads.
“Margaret, accustomed to unquestioning deference, had never met anyone like him.”
Did Margaret marry Tony to get back at Group Captain Townsend?
The Crown shows Margaret suggesting the idea of marriage after receiving a letter from her former lover Peter Townsend.
While we cannot know the truth of this, a report does claim how Princess Margaret accepted his proposal the day after a “thunderbolt” message from Townsend revealing that he was engaged to a 19-year-old Belgian woman, Marie-Luce Jamagne. It is said that he wrote her a letter; she persuaded him to delay his announcement, and then got in first with the news that she herself was getting married.
The Palace announced the engagement on 26th February 1960. Antony Armstrong-Jones would become the first non-aristocrat to marry into the royal family in 400 years.
Was Princess Margaret’s marriage unhappy?
Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones married with great fanfare on 6th May at Westminster Abbey. Prince Philip escorted her down the aisle in place of her late father; the newlyweds promptly set off on a Caribbean honeymoon aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.
They moved into apartments in Kensington Palace and very soon after had their son David, followed by Sarah three years later. Their first couple of years together seem to have been happy, loving and passionate.
However, the marriage quickly and very publicly went wrong.
Tony – now Lord Snowdon – was not willing to settle down into the respectable life of a royal husband, and continued his career as a photographer, which often took him away.
According to biographers he could be extremely cruel, belittling her in front of friends and leaving nasty notes between the pages of Margaret’s books: “You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you,” one note reportedly read.
Finally Snowdon and Margaret announced in 1978 that their marriage was irrevocably broken. A controversial royal divorce quickly followed.
Was Antony Armstrong-Jones bisexual – and did he get another woman pregnant?
In Netflix’s The Crown, a particularly ‘Swinging Sixties’ scene sees Tony enjoying a post-sex chat with friend Jeremy Fry and his wife Camilla as they lie naked in bed.
Unfortunately he’s not been very careful about it. the drama sees Camilla sidling up at his and Margaret’s engagement party to deliver some news: she’s pregnant – and it’s probably his.
Jeremy and Camilla Fry were in fact good friends with Tony and he often stayed with them in Bath. Jeremy also seems to have been attracted to men. Snowdon: The Biography, written by Anne de Courcy, claims that Jeremy had been due to be best man at Tony and Princess Margaret’s wedding, but he had to stand down due to a “minor” homosexual offence.
And Camilla was pregnant at the time – she gave birth to her daughter Polly Fry on 28th May 1960, three weeks after the royal wedding.
But is Polly Fry a lovechild of Lord Snowdon? De Courcy’s biography claims that a DNA test proved Lord Snowdon was her father, and Polly Hill herself wrote in the Daily Mail that, “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.”
Lord Snowdon remarried in 1978 shortly after his divorce from Margaret was finalised, but he and his second wife Lucy Lindsay-Hogg separated in 2000 when it emerged that he had fathered a son out of wedlock.
Lord Snowdon died in January 2017 at the age of 86.
The Crown season 2 is available on Netflix now