Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon

Antony Armstrong-Jones, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1958
Antony Armstrong-Jones, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1958

The Right Honourable Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, GCVO, FRSA, RDI, FCSD, (born March 7, 1930) is a well-known photographer, Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker, and the former husband of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, the sister of Queen Elizabeth II.

Early life

The only son of Welsh barrister Ronald Owen Lloyd Armstrong-Jones (1899 - 1966) and his first wife, socialite Anne Messel (1902 - 1992, later Countess of Rosse), Antony Armstrong-Jones was educated at Eton and Cambridge. Of Welsh and German Jewish ancestry, Snowdon comes from artistic lineage. His maternal great-grandfather was the Punch cartoonist Linley Sambourne (1844 - 1910), his great-great-uncle Alfred Messel was a well-known Berlin architect, and his maternal uncle was Oliver Messel, a noted British set and costume designer and architect.

After leaving Cambridge, he worked as a photographer, particularly in the fields of fashion, design and the theatre. His career as a portraitist began to flourish and he became known for his royal studies, amongst which were the official portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh for their 1957

tour of Canada.

First marriage

On February 26, 1960 he became engaged to Princess Margaret and they married on May 6, 1960 at Westminister Abbey. (Princess Margaret said she agreed to be Snowdon's wife on the very day that she received a letter from the love of her life, Peter Townsend, telling her he was marrying a young Belgian woman.) In1961 he was created Earl of Snowdon and Viscount Linley. The title of Earl of Snowdon, has centuries old royal associations (the name Snowdon had been borne by the Welsh Princes and the House of Gwynedd prior to 1282). With Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon had two children. David Armstong-Jones, Viscount Linley, born November 3, 1961 and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, born May 1, 1964. The marriage ended in divorce in 1978.

The Armstrong-Jones-Windsor marriage was a combustible union of personalities and began to fail early on, due to the princess's penchant for late-night partying, the earl's working schedule, and their equally combative natures.

The failing marriage was reportedly accompanied by bizarre behaviour by Snowdon. According to biographer Sarah Bradford, he once left a note for Princess Margaret that said "You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you".

Private Eye claimed that during Christmas dinner at Sandringham in 1969, Snowdon leapt on to the table and performed a striptease in front of the whole royal family, as a result of which the Queen refused to speak to him for 18 months. Margaret's footman David John Payne published a book (banned in Britain due to the intervention of the Queen Mother) that claimed Snowdon sometimes dressed in drag, and once propositioned him.

As for Princess Margaret, she was fond of pulling rank and pointing out her husband's less-than-royal origins, once correcting publicly his use of the non-U word "material" (i.e. cloth) for what U-speakers offhandedly called "stuff."

Second marriage

After his divorce from the princess, Lord Snowdon marriedLucy Mary Davies, daughter of Donald Brook Davies and former wife of film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (now Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 5th baronet), on December 15, 1978. They had their only child, Lady Frances Armstrong-Jones, seven months later, on July 17, 1979. They divorced two decades later upon the revelation that Lord Snowdon was seeing another woman, with whom he fathered a child out of wedlock.

Later life

The Earl's illegitimate son, Jasper William Oliver Cable-Alexander, was born April 30, 1998 to Melanie Cable-Alexander, an editor at Country Life magazine. The Earl's mistress of twenty years, Anne Hill, killed herself with an overdose on January 1, 1996.

In 1999 he was created Baron Armstrong-Jones. This was a life peerage given to him so that he could keep his seat in the House of Lords after the hereditary peers had been excluded. An offer of a life peerage was made to all hereditary peers of the first creation (i.e. those for whom a peerage was originally created, as opposed to those who inherited a peerage from an ancestor) at that time. However, Lord Snowdon was the only person owing his title merely to a royal connection who accepted a life peerage.

Titles and honours

Shorthand titles

  • Antony Armstrong-Jones, Esq (7 March 1930 - 6 October 1961)
    The Right Honourable The Earl of Snowdon (6 October 1961 - 7 July 1969)
    The Right Honourable The Earl of Snowdon, GCVO (7 July 1969 - )


  • Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Snowdon Succeeded by:
Current Incumbent

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