Antony Armstrong-Jones, also known as Lord Tony Snowdon, but most famously known as Princess Margaret's husband, has an important role to play on The Crown season three. Played by Matthew Goode in seasons 1 and 2, and played by Ben Daniels in season 3, Snowdon was a...colorful figure, let's call it that. Married to Princess Margaret for 18 years and with two children together, Snowdon was unfaithful (a well-known womanizer), fathered two children out of wedlock, and had the dubious honor of being one-half of the first royal divorce since the infamous Henry VIII. TBH, the truth is stranger than fiction with this one—so what does the show get right, and what's fictionalized?
Snowdon was a photographer.
Snowdon was a highly accomplished photographer and socialite. Per his New York Times obituary, "Tony, as his friends called him, flouted conventions, flunked out of Cambridge and used his London studio for portrait sittings and parties." Margaret, who had just endured a breakup with Group Capt. Peter Townsend, met Snowdon while she was still recovering.
The two met when he took her royal photo, and they hit it off at a dinner party. According to Anne de Courcy in Snowdon: The Biography, "[Tony] was used to pretty girls, from unsophisticated debutantes to models and actresses of varying degrees of experience, and he was aware of the effect his well-honed sexual expertise had on women. But Margaret was something different. She was gilded with the mysterious, mythic aura of royalty."
Snowdon was the first commoner in four centuries to marry a royal, and royal fans at the time were delighted by what felt like a break from long, long-held tradition. Case in point—300 million people watched their televised wedding in 1960, and crowds (who generally loved Margaret) were "rapturous."
The marriage began to break down quickly.
Margaret and Snowdon were seen as a cool and modern couple, and they socialized with artists and celebrities as well as being a part of the royal family and its various duties. But the two often lived separate lives (Snowdon continued as a photographer, which was unusual, and met with disapproval from the royal family) and the two clashed with willful, stubborn personalities.
"The princess was royal, but Tony was magnetic, and wittier,” de Courcy wrote. “There were arguments and, more ominously, the beginning of the put-downs, then usually disguised as a joke, that were later so to unnerve the princess.” There was already talk of divorce before the couple hit 10 years of marriage.
They had two children.
The pair had two children: David Albert Charles (born 1961) and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones (1964). But Snowdon also had a child, Polly Fry, with Camilla Fry. Polly was born shortly after Snowdon and Margaret were married, and in 2004 Snowdon took a paternity test—which showed that he was, in fact, her father. Snowdon denied the claims initially, but later admitted it. Polly was brought up as the daughter of Camilla's husband, Jeremy.
Their divorce was scandalous.
Ironically, given that Snowdon allegedly had affairs with both men and women, it was paparazzi photos of Princess Margaret and her younger lover, Rodney Llewellyn, that officially "torpedoed" the marriage. Margaret never remarried and died in 2002.
Snowdon met Lucy Mary Lindsay-Hogg while he was still officially married to Margaret, who was apparently devastated to hear about the relationship. After the two divorced in 1978, Snowdon married Lindsay-Hogg and the two had a child, Frances Armstrong-Jones. The pair also divorced in 2002, because...Snowdon had fathered another child with his lover Melanie Cable-Alexander.
Snowdon continued his work as photographer for the rest of his life, including a 2006 Bottega Vaneta fall campaign.
He passed away in 2017 at the age of 86.
The Crown portrays him as brilliant and cruel.
Playing the older Lord Snowdon, Matthew Goode captures a man who is capable of immense empathy—when the Aberfan disaster strikes, he rushes out immediately to Wales (he has Welsh ancestry), and is in fact the first royal on the scene of the national tragedy—and, at the same time, remarkable cruelty. He and Margaret have a volatile relationship (which was true), and he's often cruel to her (also considered true), but it's also thought there was a great deal of love within the relationship, which is brought to life by Goode and Bonham Carter, too.
The characters they play are in some ways very similar—ego-driven; articulate; extroverted; vitriolic—which, it's implicitly suggested, contributes to the vast ups and downs in the landscape of their relationship. They can love each other deeply, and hate each other intensely, and both sides are brought to life in The Crown. It is, however, a marriage very clearly doomed to fail, unlike the portrayal of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth, which is largely characterized as a relationship between well-matched teammates.
You can watch season three of The Crown on Netflix from Nov. 17.
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