British Royal Wedding Look-Back: Margaret and Antony

  April 27, 2011 at 6:00 am by

In the second-last instalment of our ‘British Royal Wedding Look-Back’, we present to our readers the marriage of Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret and Mr Antony Armstrong-Jones. The previous instalments looked at the marriages of Edward VII and Alexandra, George V and Mary, George VI and Elizabeth, Edward VIII and Wallis and Elizabeth II and Philip.

Princess Margaret Rose, the younger ‘party-girl’ daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, met Antony Armstrong-Jones at a dinner party held by Lady Elizabeth Cavendish in May 1958. This was three years after the Townsend Affair. The Princess had fallen in love with her father’s Equerry, Group Captain Peter Townsend, in the aftermath of her father’s death. Townsend was sixteen years Margaret’s senior, and married at the time. He divorced his wife in 1953, and he and the Princess were unofficially engaged, but their relationship was doomed from the start – opposition came from both the British government and the Royal Family. They parted ways in 1955, and Townsend married a young Belgian woman in 1960 – an event which some say was the catalyst for the engagement of Margaret Rose and Antony.

Mr Armstrong-Jones was the photographer son of Ronald Armstrong-Jones and Anne Messel, who later became the Countess of Rosse. He attended Eton College and Cambridge University. The couple’s engagement was announced on February 26th, 1960 at Windsor Castle. There was some opposition to their union from the British press and some parts of society, as Antony was deemed ‘unsuitable’ due to his commoner background. However, everyone knows how much the Brits love a royal wedding and the crowd turnout for their May 6th wedding was enormous.

View a gallery of royal wedding images at LIFE

Margaret Rose and Antony were wed at Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher. The Princess arrived at the Abbey on the arm of her brother-in-law, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the stately Glass Coach. Their wedding was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on television, with an audience of millions watching worldwide. Princess Margaret wore a white satin wedding gown designed by Norman Hartnell, the same man who designed the wedding gown of her sister, Queen Elizabeth II. The gown’s simple design was to assist in making the Princess appear taller by avoiding unnecessary clutter, and was typical of the time period. Atop the bride’s head was the famous Poltimore Tiara, purchased for the Princess prior to the wedding, and dating back to the 1870s. Antony wore traditional morning dress.

A reception for 120 guests was hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace following the wedding and procession from the Abbey, where the bridal couple and the immediate royal family stepped out on to the balcony to greet the crowds. The couple later honeymooned in the Caribbean on the royal yacht Britannia.

In 1961, the Queen granted Antony the title ‘Earl of Snowdon’. Two children, David and Sarah, were welcomed into the family in 1961 and 1964, respectively. Margaret and Antony’s marriage was decidedly not a happy one; it began to deteriorate almost immediately after the wedding. Several affairs, by the Princess and the Earl, plus later clashes of personality and Antony’s travelling for his photography led to the couple’s 1978 divorce – the first divorce in the British Royal Family since that of Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh at the turn of the century. It appears the straw which broke the camel’s back – in this case, the marriage – was the Princess’ affair with Roddy Llewellyn which began in 1973.

Margaret and Antony parted ways, with Antony remarrying in December 1978, several months after his divorce from the Princess. Princess Margaret Rose never remarried. Her health in the 1980s and 1990s was not good; she suffered several strokes before a final stroke in February 2002 claimed her life on the 9th. Lord Snowdon separated from his second wife in 2000, and currently lives in Kensington.

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