The Crown‘s newest season continues the show’s tradition of depicting rocky royal romances, but this time, it’s Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) and Antony Armstrong-Jones (Ben Daniels) who are in trouble. Season 2 charted the courtship and marriage of the royal couple (previously played by Vanessa Kirby and Matthew Goode), but season 3 follows Margaret and Armstrong-Jones as infidelity and vicious fights plague their marriage. Below, relive the real-life history of this unpredictable pair.
1958: Armstrong-Jones’ ties to the royal family didn’t begin with Princess Margaret. In 1957, he took portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and their children at Buckingham Palace. He would continue to take photos of the royal family even after his divorce from Margaret.
According to BBC History Extra, Margaret and Antony met in 1958 at a dinner party thrown by Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, the princess’s lady-in-waiting. However, Armstrong-Jones and Margaret would not properly connect until he was tasked with photographing her for a royal portrait, as depicted in season 2 of The Crown. The princess would later tell biographer Christopher Warwick, as recounted in Anne de Courcy’s book Snowdon, “I enjoyed his company very much, but I didn’t take a lot of notice of him because I thought he was queer.”
De Courcy told Town & Country, “Nobody knew about their relationship, there wasn’t a whisper about it,” adding, “She would see him in secret at his studio and yes, he would join her at parties, but no one could pinpoint which man she was interested in. The press focused more on the ones who were seen to be eligible. They didn’t think of Tony who was often in the background.”
Armstrong-Jones was reportedly unfaithful even before their marriage. He had multiple dalliances while still courting Margaret, most notably with Jacqueline Chan (played by Alice Hewkin on The Crown). According to de Courcy, “[Jacqui] was Tony’s first real love.” Armstrong-Jones was also dating model Gina Ward when his engagement was announced, BBC History Extra reports.
The BBC reports that the Armstrong-Jones had actually proposed to Margaret in October 1959—the same day her former fiancé, Captain Peter Townsend, informed the princess he was getting remarried. According to the BBC, Margaret later told parliament member Jonathan Aitken, “I received a letter from Peter in the morning and that evening I decided to marry Tony.” She added, “I didn’t really want to marry at all. Why did I? Because he asked me! Really, though, he was such a nice person in those days. In a way he introduced me to a new world.” Margaret had canceled her wedding to Townsend in 1955 amidst disapproval from her family and the prospect of relinquishing her rights to succession.
Margaret married Armstrong-Jones on May 6, 1960 at Westminster Abbey. She was walked down the aisle by her brother-in-law, Prince Philip, since her father King George VI died in 1952. Per Town & Country, it was the first time a commoner had wed a king’s daughter in more than 400 years. However, de Courcy told the outlet that the royal family approved of the match. “Tony had great charm, very good manners and he knew exactly how to behave,” she said. “He felt devotion to the royal family, to the queen, who he admired immensely. He got on very well with Prince Charles and he adored the Queen Mother.”
According to the BBC, the wedding marked the first royal nuptials ever televised and was watched by over 20 million viewers. The history-making ceremony was followed by the couple’s Caribbean honeymoon on the Royal Yacht Britannia. Armstrong-Jones was given the title of Earl of Snowdon shortly after his marriage.
1961: In November, the couple welcomed their first child, David Albert Charles Armstrong-Jones, 2nd Earl of Snowdon.
1964: Three years later, Margaret gave birth to Lady Sarah Frances Elizabeth Armstrong-Jones in May.
Biographer de Courcy told T&C of this time, “The first few years were wonderful. They had a lot in common, there was banter between them—he would help her with her speeches. They [were] very close in the first few years.”
However, by the time the couple made a much-lauded trip to the U.S. in 1965, dramatized in season 3 of The Crown, there was trouble in paradise. ELLE.com spoke with author Christopher Warwick, who wrote Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts, about the couple’s issues during the visit. “This was largely because they were alike as characters and personalities,” he said of the pair’s issues. “They started to rub one another the wrong way, and she had become rather possessive. She wanted to go on assignments with him, which he didn’t want, and he got rather fed up with being her consort. He didn’t want to be Mr. Princess Margaret.”
1966: Rumors of infidelity began to crop up in 1966, although history suggests affairs were a consistent part of Margaret and Armstrong-Jones’ relationship. The photographer became artistic advisor of The Sunday Times Magazine in the early ’60s, a job that often took him away from his family, according to BBC History Extra.
The Telegraph reported, “Those close to the couple suggest Lord Snowdon was the first to be unfaithful.” The outlet also claimed that while Lord Snowdon was in India, Margaret had an affair with Antony Barton, a friend of her husband’s and godfather to their daughter.
According to The Evening Standard, a string of dalliances followed for both parties. Margaret allegedly dated nightclub pianist Robin Douglas-Home, while 1969 brought Armstrong-Jones’s affair with Lady Jacqueline Rufus-Isaacs.
“The flings used to upset her a lot,” de Courcy told Town & Country. “She had some too, but never as long as his. They weren’t revenge affairs, she just wanted to feel desired.” The author also said, “Margaret’s template of marriage was quite different from Tony’s. He had parents who split, while her parents’ and sister’s marriage were very happy. She expected her husband to be with her more, but one of Tony’s strongest motivations was work. He had a workshop in the basement of Kensington Palace, and while she was understanding of his work commitments, Margaret didn’t realize it would take him away from her so much.”
Rumors about Armstrong-Jones’s sexuality also abounded, most notably stemming from his relationship with then-husband and wife Jeremy and Camilla Fry, as shown in The Crown‘s second season. There’s no proof that the three partook in a relationship together, but in 2008, The Telegraph reported confirmation via DNA test that Armstrong-Jones was the father of Camilla’s daughter Polly Fry, born while he was on his honeymoon with Princess Margaret.
1973: As documented in season 3 of The Crown, Princess Margaret’s most noteworthy affair began in 1973, when she met 25-year-old gardener Roddy Llewellyn. He was 18 years her junior, and the relationship reportedly began after they met in Scotland at Café Royal in Edinburgh.
Helena Bonham Carter told the Sunday Times that in preparation to play the princess for season 3, she met Llewellyn, whom Margaret dated for eight years, even after her divorce. “He said they found each other just at the right time,” Bonham Carter said. “They were both very lost, both felt somewhat outsiders, just not quite accepted by the family—or not quite good enough. Her confidence was really undermined by the breakdown of her marriage. He also gave her fun at a time when she hadn’t been having much.”
1976: On March 19, Princess Margaret announced her separation from Armstrong-Jones, which the BBC reports was news to him. The outlet reported that Snowdon was “desperately sad” over the news and “knew nothing of the announcement prior to its release.”
Buckingham Palace’s statement, per BBC, read: “HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and the Earl of Snowdon have mutually agreed to live apart. The Princess will carry out her public duties and functions unaccompanied by Lord Snowdon. There are no plans for divorce proceedings.”
1978: Then the divorce became official. On May 10, Kensington Palace released the following statement, per The New York Times: “Her Royal Highness, the Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and the Earl of Snowdon after two years of separation have now agreed that their marriage should formally be ended. Accordingly Her Royal Highness will start the necessary legal proceedings.”
The spokesperson also said that the princess had no plans to remarry and that, “The marriage has broken down and the couple have lived apart for two years. These are obviously the grounds for divorce. Naturally, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon will continue to see each other on the same friendly basis as they have with each other over the last two years.” The Times also noted that Armstrong-Jones would keep his title.
Lord Snowdon moved on shortly after the divorce was finalized. In December 1978, he married film production assistant Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, whom he had been dating while still married to Margaret, according to The Telegraph. The couple welcomed a daughter, Lady Frances Armstrong-Jones, in 1979. Lindsay-Hogg and Armstrong-Jones divorced in 2000, after it was revealed that he had fathered a son with journalist Melanie Cable-Alexander in 1998.
1993/1994: Margaret never remarried, though she developed a friendship with her ex-husband. Biographer de Courcy told Town & Country, “They always maintained a solid friendship, once the bitterness of the divorce was over.”
Reunions for the pair included the weddings of their children: David to Serena Stanhope in 1993 and Sarah to Daniel Chatto in 1994. Margaret died in 2002, while Armstrong-Jones died in his home in January 2017.