Princess Margaret and photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones were married for nearly two decades before separating in 1976 and announcing their divorce two years later. Their royal split was the first since 1901, when Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh divorced first husband Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. For the princess and Armstrong-Jones, who had two children, their relationship was anything but conventional. For starters, he became the first commoner in 400 years to marry into the royal family. Their wedding was also the first televised royal wedding, paving the way for Princess Diana and Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate Middleton, and soon, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
In the beginning of the courtship, the princess and Armstrong-Jones were able to avoid the press. As Anne de Courcy explained in her 2008 book Snowdon: The Biography (via Vanity Fair), he began joining her group outings to the theater or dinner. (Armstrong-Jones became the 1st Earl of Snowdon one year after marrying the princess.) “As he was not a known escort, no one paid any attention to the appearance of an extra man in her wide and varied acquaintance,” she wrote. In 2017, Princess Margaret and Armstrong-Jones are back in the spotlight thanks to the release of season two of Netflix’s The Crown, which offers one take on their relationship through the talents of Vanessa Kirby and Matthew Goode. While it might be tempting to blur the lines between fact and TV entertainment, The Crown does offer some elements of truth to their relationship.
Below, more mind-blowing details about the princess and her photographer husband for you to obsess over.
1. The couple became engaged while secretly staying at a friend’s place.
In season two of The Crown, Armstrong-Jones proposes in the most elaborate of presentations as he makes the princess unbox and unwrap in his apartment for what seems like forever before her giant engagement ring finally pops up. According to de Courcy, the proposal happened at a “safe house” belonging to Armstrong-Jones’s friends, Jeremy and Camilla Fry:
By Christmas, the lovers had decided on marriage. Only a few people knew of this, in particular Jeremy and Camilla Fry, who had offered a “safe house” where they could be alone together during this last part of their courtship. “Was the second weekend you stayed much easier than the first?” wrote Camilla to Tony after one visit. “I am sure PM enjoyed it more this time. She seemed so much easier to talk to.” It was, in fact, while staying at Widcombe Manor with the Frys that they became engaged.
2. He was not her rebound.
This, according to Princess Margaret’s biographer Christopher Warwick, who wrote Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts. In 2017, Warwick told PEOPLE that it was “utter nonsense” to deduce that her relationship with Armstrong-Jones was a pure reaction to move on from her ex, Group Capt. Peter Townsend. “I married Tony five years after the end of Peter Townsend” was all princess had to say about the matter when Warwick asked about it.
3. About that photo.
In season two episode four, “Beryl,” Armstrong-Jones photographs the princess during a moment of vulnerability, capturing her reaction to whether or not she misses Townsend. The photo later ends up on the front page of British newspapers for Princess Margaret’s 29th birthday, much to the horror of Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy).
In real life, Armstrong-Jones took this photo for Margaret’s 29th birthday.
It wasn’t until 1967 that Armstrong-Jones took the famous photo that likely inspired The Crown’s version. And that was well after they were married.
4. They really had to delay their engagement announcement.
In The Crown season two, Princess Margaret’s love life is once again thwarted by the Queen, but the latter has good reason this time: she’s expecting her third child. This happened in real life, as de Courcy writes in her book:
The Queen’s consent naturally had to be sought, and during the royal family’s Christmas sojourn at Sandringham, their country estate, Tony went down to visit—he had not been asked to stay, as this might have given the game away. After giving her consent, the Queen, who was pregnant with Prince Andrew, asked if they would refrain from announcing their engagement until after the birth of her child.
The princess’ announcement was made six days after the birth of Prince Andrew.
5. Before Margaret, there was Jacqui.
As depicted in The Crown, Armstrong-Jones was once romantically involved with actress and dancer Jacqui Chan. In her book, de Courcy described Jacqui as “Tony’s first real love” and “longtime girlfriend,” and she was even invited to his wedding to Princess Margaret. De Courcy also writes about the actress Gina Ward, with whom Armstrong-Jones also had an affair with before things got serious with the princess.
6. Before his wedding to the princess, Armstrong-Jones fathered an illegitimate child.
In 2004, Polly Fry, whose mother was Camilla Fry, took a DNA test to prove Armstrong-Jones’s paternity. Polly was born in May 1960, just weeks after the royal wedding. In an op-ed for The Daily Mail in 2008, Polly wrote, “Although we may like to think of our own generation as being wild and wonderful, in comparison to what our parents got up to in the swinging 60s we are mere innocents caught up in the aftermath of the postwar free-love era.” The pregnancy is mentioned during Princess Margaret and Armstrong-Jones’s engagement party in season two of The Crown.
7. There was infidelity on both sides.
The Evening Standard detailed the couple’s relationships with other people in 2007, describing their marriage “clearly in disarray.” While Armstrong-Jones “indulged in a series of casual liaisons” when he was away on assignment, the princess had a “brief fling” with her husband’s old schoolmate, Anthony Barton, who was also the godfather to the couple’s daughter, Lady Sarah. In 1969, Armstrong-Jones began a “serious affair” with one Lady Jacqueline Rufus-Isaacs. According to ES, the princess also had “a brief but passionate liaison” with Robin Douglas-Home, an aristocratic nightclub pianist, but it wasn’t until her relationship with Roddy Llewellyn, who was 17 years her junior, that the affairs reached a peak. As ES recalls, one tabloid eventually caught up with the princess and Llewellyn, who were photographed being “intimate” enough in their swimwear while on the Caribbean island of Mustique.
8. A note about his rumored bisexuality.
While it’s hinted in season two of The Crown that the TV version of Armstrong-Jones enjoyed threesomes with friends, his sexuality in real life was a constant mystery. In her book, de Courcy quoted a close friend summing up Armstrong-Jones’s sex life: “If it moves, he’ll have it.” And according to “most of the girls” who worked with him at his studio, “there seemed little doubt that Tony was gay.” Armstrong-Jones, who cooperated with de Courcy for the biography, only had this to offer at the time: “I didn’t fall in love with boys – but a few men have been in love with me.” The princess, on the other hand, held nothing back: “I enjoyed his company very much, but I didn’t take a lot of notice of him because I thought he was queer,” she told her biographer Christopher Warwick, according to de Courcy in her book.
9. They remained close friends after their divorce and until the princess’ death in 2002.
Armstrong-Jones also continued to take official portraits of the royal family despite no longer being a member of it, according to The Daily Mail. Not long after finalizing his divorce with Princess Margaret, he wed fellow divorcée Lucy Lindsay-Hogg in 1978. They divorced in 2000 after it was revealed that Armstrong-Jones, who was in his 60s at the time, had fathered a son with a magazine editor. He died at the age of 86 in January 2017.
Peggy is Cosmopolitan.com’s entertainment writer, specializing in Leonardo DiCaprio, This Is Us, and the royals. She’s also a proud Canadian and pug lover. When Peggy’s not obsessing over Leo’s latest lover or gut size, she can be found watching old episodes of Friends or Gilmore Girls. Her dream is to one day live on a pug farm and write children’s books, with illustrations by her very talented husband Greg.
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