Scandalous Facts About Antony Armstrong-Jones, The Earl Of Snowdon

Scandalous Facts About Antony Armstrong-Jones, The Earl Of Snowdon

Antony “Tony” Armstrong-Jones was a man who led a charmed life. After overcoming a rough childhood, he dropped out of school and chose to forge his own path. He was a very talented man who found success that catapulted him to royalty—and he broke many hearts along the way. Read on to learn about his tale of triumph and tragedy…

1. He Wasn’t Born Into Royalty

Though he was later known as “Lord Snowdon,” Antony Armstrong-Jones was not actually born into a noble family. His family certainly wasn’t poor, but his father was a barrister and his mother was a socialite with an interest in charity. He was their second child, after Susan. He preferred to go by just “Tony” rather than the more uppity “Antony.”

Little Tony was in for a charmed childhood—but it didn’t go as planned.

2. His Parents Divorced

In 1935, Tony’s parents Ronald and Anne decided to get a divorce. Tony was only five years old at the time. In the aftermath, Tony and Susan went to live with their mother. Coming from a broken family set the stage for Tony’s future troubled relationships. But in the meantime, the poor kids were about to experience their first dose of the reality of classism in England…

3. He Was An Unhappy Child

Shortly after his mother left his father, she married Lawrence Parsons, aka the 6th Earl of Rosse. Tony was now part of a noble family, and that meant a lot in 1930s England. However, his mother and stepfather certainly didn’t treat him like royalty. His mother had two children with Parsons, and Tony felt that his mother treated him as inferior to his half-siblings.

After all, he didn’t actually have noble blood like his charmed siblings—but his rocky childhood would soon get even worse.

4. He Was Sick

When Armstrong-Jones was 16 years old, he caught polio and had to spend six months in the hospital recovering. You’d think that his parents would find time to check on him, but actually, his only visitor was his sister Susan. Yep, his parents were pretty cold to poor Tony. Perhaps this is why he turned out the way he did later. But not all of his wounds were emotional—polio left him with physical ones as well.

5. He Walked With A Limp

After he survived polio, Tony walked with a limp for the rest of his life. This experience gave him a deep sympathy for people suffering from polio, which he remembered later in life when he became an Earl. But in the meantime, he had to contend with a classic coming of age ritual for British boys: Boarding school.

6. He Went To Boarding School

Typical for most boys from upper-class British families, Tony went to boarding school. He initially attended Sandroyd School in Wiltshire, but in 1943, he transferred to the legendary Eton College. Countless famous Brits have attended Eton, including Princes William and Harry, Tom Hiddleston, and several Prime Ministers. He was definitely in some illustrious company!

But Tony wasn’t content to sit in the library and study all day…

7. He Started Boxing

While Armstrong-Jones was in boarding school, he started boxing—and he was pretty good at it. He made the School Boxing Finals in 1945, and in 1946 he caught the attention of the Eton College school paper. But he couldn’t spend his entire life in the ring. After he graduated, Tony felt ready for a new challenge. If Eton was the most famous secondary school in England, might as well go to the most famous university as well.

8. He Attended Cambridge University

Once he finished at Eton, Tony decided to attend an even more prestigious institution: Cambridge University. Cambridge is the fourth oldest university in the world, founded all the way back in 1209. Armstrong-Jones entered the school to study architecture—but soon branched out to very different interests.

9. He Dropped Out Of School

Though Tony had gone to Cambridge with the intention of becoming an architect, he flunked his exams in his second year and dropped out of school. As he drifted away from architecture, he began to take up photography. Initially, it was just a hobby, but soon Armstrong-Jones became a professional photographer. He served as an apprentice under a famous photographer who went by the mysterious mononym “Baron.”

Armstrong-Jones didn’t know it yet, but this career swerve would soon thrust him into the highest echelons of British society.

10. He Photographed The Royal Family

Tony got his “big break” shortly after the success of a one-man exhibition of his work. The Royal Family wanted him to do the official portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip for their 1957 tour of Canada. Soon, this handsome young rake started rubbing shoulders with many other members of the Queen’s family…and one in particular.

11. He Befriended Princess Margaret

Being the Royal Family’s photographer comes with some serious perks. Tony soon found himself with invites to some of the most exclusive dinner parties on Earth. It was at one such party that Armstrong-Jones found himself face to face with the woman who would change his life forever: Queen Elizabeth’s sister, the mysterious and beautiful Princess Margaret. They parted ways at the end of the night—but that wasn’t the last they’d see of each other.

Later that year Tony received a commission to photograph Princess Margaret. I doubt either of them realized what it would lead to, but both of their lives were about to change forever.

12. He And Margaret Fell In Love

Margaret and Tony hit it off so well with each other that soon they were more than just friends. And, against all odds, Margaret’s family actually approved of the match. In spite of his common birth, Tony got along quite well with the royal family, particularly Prince Charles and the Queen Mother. However, they weren’t sure what the press would think, and that led to some…complications.

13. They Kept Their Relationship A Secret

Tony and Princess Margaret decided to keep their relationship a secret until their official engagement. Because it was uncommon for royals to hook up with commoners, the British press didn’t think anything of Tony spending time around the princess. Instead, they spent time speculating about who Margaret could possibly be seeing…

14. He Shocked The Press

In February 1960, Tony and Margaret blindsided the British papers when they announced their engagement. They set a wedding date for May of the same year, and it turned out that this wedding was a historic occasion for the British monarchy.

15. He Brought The Royals To The Small Screen

Tony and Margaret’s wedding at Westminster Abbey was a historic first: No royal wedding had ever appeared on TV before. Suddenly the British people could witness intimate moments of the family life of their monarch. 20 million people tuned in to watch their special day. But not everyone was happy about this…

16. Some People Disapproved Of Him

Though the wedding of Tony and Margaret was extremely popular, some people in the British press did not approve. They believed that it was improper of a princess to marry a “commoner” like Tony, even though he had proved to be an extremely accomplished individual. Servants also sometimes treated him rudely, because he wasn’t “equal” to the other royals. That must have been a lot of pressure on him…it was only a matter of time before cracks started to show.

17. He Honeymooned In The Caribbean

Soon, Tony and Margaret escaped the negativity of Britain and enjoyed a honeymoon in the Caribbean on board the royal yacht Brittania (must be nice). Incidentally, his best friend’s wife had a child while he and Margaret vacationed. That baby became pretty important later. But anyways, when Tony returned from his idyllic honeymoon, his life changed forever.

18. He Became Royalty

The royal family decided now that Tony was “one of them,” he would need a fancy title of his own. They couldn’t make him a prince or a duke because he didn’t have royal blood, but they made him the Earl of Snowdon. This became his title for the rest of his life, but friends still knew him simply as “Tony.” So our boy was now officially a Gentleman with a capital G—and he soon discovered that this new status came with some perks…

19. His Career Exploded

The combination of Tony’s clear talent plus royal status led to his career as a photographer exploding in the 1960s. Soon, he was taking photographs of pretty much all the celebrities in Britain, including Maggie Smith, Laurence Olivier, and J.R.R. Tolkien. This newfound fame also led him to some places where royals didn’t tend to go.

20. His Photos Became Album Covers

One of Tony’s most famous photographs was one he took of Queen. No, not his sister-in-law. The British rockers used a photo he took of them in 1981 for their Greatest Hits Collection. The photo instantly became iconic, and is found on lots of Queen merch to this day. As Tony became more successful, like the band, he decided to “Spread [His] Wings.”

21. He Became A Dad

While Tony wasn’t busy being a creative powerhouse, he found the time to start a family with his wife Margaret. They had their first child, David Albert Charles Armstrong-Jones, in November of 1961. Their second child was born in 1964, Sarah Frances Elizabeth Armstrong-Jones. Unfortunately, his children were not born into a happy home.

Believe it or not, this whirlwind marriage between a royal and a commoner wasn’t exactly a fairy tale (when has that ever happened?!).

22. His Marriage Started To Crack

For the first few years of Tony and Margaret’s marriage, the two of them were very happy and very much in love. But marriage is a difficult endeavor for everyone, and it can be especially hard when you’re going on separate international trips all the time, as Tony and Margaret did. In 1966 the rumors of this troubled relationship reached the British press, and they had a field day.

23. He Cheated On His Wife

In 1966, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported a shocking story: They claimed Armstrong-Jones carried out an affair during a business trip abroad. Sounds like your run-of-the-mill tabloid gossip today, but back then, the rumor landed like a bombshell. Soon, his wife Margaret got wind of it, and she decided that two could play at that game…

24. His Wife Cheated On Him

The same year that papers discovered Tony’s affair, Princess Margaret decided to have a little side romance of her own. She briefly hooked up with a prominent winemaker, and then with a famous pianist.  This was the beginning of many years of back and forth cheating between the two of them. And pretty soon, it got real ugly.

25. He Was Petty

Tony had some downright childish ways of showing his wife that she upset him. He left a list of things he hated about Margaret in a book for the princess to find. The things he wrote included: “You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you.” Sometimes, he’d get even more direct, interrupting her at parties and snapping, “Shut up and let someone intelligent talk.”

It must have played out like a scene from Mean Girls. This incensed Margaret, and she decided to take revenge.

26. His Wife Ran Off With A Gardener

In 1973, Tony’s wife Margaret ran off with a gardener named Roddy Llewellyn. Not only was Roddy a common gardener, but he was 17 years younger than Margaret! And this wasn’t just a side fling either—their romance lasted for eight years. This affair only served to escalate the battle of Tony vs. Margaret even further. If you think things are getting out of hand now, know that these two were just getting started.

27. He Entered A Long Term Relationship Of His Own

When Tony heard about Margaret’s dalliance with the gardener, he was livid. He decided that the best strategy was to continue to escalate the conflict with his wife. In 1977 he started seeing a journalist named Ann Hills, who remained his mistress until 1996—but someone was bound to get hurt in all of this. Her relationship with Armstrong-Jones would end up sending poor Ann Hills down a tragic path.

28. He Was (Maybe) Bisexual

Tony’s little indiscretions were not limited to women. People speculated that he was gay, and according to one biographer, he later admitted to being bisexual. A couple of male fashion designers claimed that they had romances with him, but this remains unproven. What is certain though, is that in Tony and Margaret’s ever-escalating feud, they both just kept doing things to make the situation even worse…

29. His Wife’s Family Still Liked Him

As Tony and Margaret started drifting apart and their affairs became public, you would expect the royal family to rally around Margaret. But actually, they took Tony’s side throughout the whole thing. He was just too likable for them to be angry! Margaret saw that she had only one choice if she was going to have victory over him.

30. His Divorce Blindsided Him

In spite of their differences, Antony Armstong-Jones and Princess Margaret managed to make their marriage last for 16 years—but the way Margaret ended it was ice cold. When she announced their separation in 1976, Tony had no idea it was coming. He found out via press release along with the rest of the world. Suddenly, he was out of the royal family. Where would he go next?

31. He Set A Precedent

Antony Armstrong-Jones’s divorce from Princess Margaret was the first royal divorce in over a century. In a way, he set the precedent that allowed Prince Charles to marry the commoner Diana Spencer…and for them to divorce as well. But that’s another story. In the meantime, Tony tried to figure out where to go after exiting the royal family.

32. He Was Still Earl Snowdon

Even though Tony was no longer a member of the royal family, he still kept his title of Earl of Snowdon. In fact, in 1999 he obtained an additional title: Baron Armstrong-Jones. The royal family was still fond of him. And, strangely enough, so was his ex-wife Margaret.

33. He Stayed Friends With Margaret

Once Tony and Margaret’s marriage officially ended, the both of them had a chance to get some space and cool down. In spite of everything that transpired between them, they decided to remain friends. They stayed on good terms for the rest of Margaret’s life. However, this goodwill was put to the test though when their kids got married…

34. He And Margaret Attended Their Children’s Weddings

As a mark of their newfound commitment to acting like mature adults, Tony and Margaret appeared together at their son’s wedding in 1993. They did the same thing for their daughter’s wedding too! Though they clearly weren’t soulmates, Tony’s story with Margaret ultimately had a happy ending. They had both moved on. Speaking of which…

35. He Found A New Wife

After Margaret announced their separation in 1976, Tony wasted no time finding himself a new girl. Shortly after the divorce, Tony married Lucy Mary Lindsay-Hogg in December of 1978. But you know what they say about leopards changing their spots…

36. He Continued To Be Unfaithful

Even though Tony was once again a married man, old habits die hard. He did not stop his habit of serial infidelity, and he kept on seeing Ann Hills. The man really just couldn’t keep it in his pants. Unfortunately, this relationship did not have such a happy ending.

37. His Mistress Was Unhappy

Tony’s mistress Ann worked as a journalist for the Guardian. However, in 1996, they sacked her. She was not happy about this, nor was she happy about the fact that Tony never spent Christmas with her—even though they’d been together for almost twenty years! Soon, her unhappiness became depression and she took drastic measures.

38. His Mistress Committed Suicide

Tony and Ann Hills continued to see each other until 1996. That was the year that she committed suicide. She left a note telling Tony that she always loved him. Tony felt devastated. Despite his indiscretions, he still cared deeply about Ann. His wife also felt pretty bad—but in a very different way.

39. He Shocked His Wife

Tony never actually confessed to his wife Lucy about the affair with Ann. But after Ann committed suicide, the press got ahold of her diaries. Lucy opened the paper one day and learned that her husband had been seeing this woman for 20 years. I can’t think of a worse way to find out either. The cycle of Tony’s life was repeating itself again…

40. He Refused To Explain Himself

Obviously, the newspapers’ bombshell absolutely destroyed Armstrong-Jones’s wife. She tried to confront him about her feelings, but he refused to give her an explanation. Remarkably, she backed off and dropped the issue. But that would prove a terrible mistake…

41. He Had Another Affair

Alright, so guess what Tony did after the whole Ann thing quieted down? Yep, that’s right! Another affair. This time it was with Melanie Cable-Alexander, a woman who was his daughter’s age. Still, his wife vowed to never leave him…until another relationship-shattering revelation came up.

42. He Fathered Another Illegitimate Child

In 1998, Tony’s new mistress Melanie called to inform him that she was pregnant with his baby. Tony’s wife Lucy picked up the phone and heard the news herself. After that, Lucy decided she’d had quite enough.

43. His Wife Moved Out

In 1998 Tony’s wife decided to move out of his house. They officially separated, but neither of them pulled the trigger to formally divorce. This gave Tony hope that maybe they could reconcile. But in the meantime, he had a baby mama to take care of…

44. His Affair Ended

Even though Tony kept trying to win Lucy back, he still carried on the affair with Melanie and financially supported her son Jasper. He didn’t enjoy being a dad though. He was used to having all of Melanie’s attention to himself and became jealous that she had to spend so much time with their son. Taking care of both of them was also expensive for him.

So Tony and his mistress drifted apart, and soon Melanie was out of the picture too. Three guesses as to what our guy Tony did next…

45. He Divorced Again

Once again, Armstrong-Jones’s life followed an all-too-familiar pattern. Even though he hoped that he could eventually get Lucy back, moving in with Melanie didn’t really help his case. In 2000, he got divorced one last time. He had a couple more affairs in his life, but he never married again.

46. His Polio Returned

In the twilight days of Tony’s life, the effects of polio he suffered as a child came back with a vengeance. His muscles atrophied, and he had to use a wheelchair. His health went downhill from there.

47. He Died Of Natural Causes

In 2017, Antony Armstrong-Jones passed away peacefully at his home in Kensington. He was 86 years old. He rests in his family plot in Wales. In the end, he outlived his ex-wife Margaret by 15 years. His other ex-wife Lucy is still alive today.

48. He Appeared On TV

In 2017, Antony Armstrong-Jones was portrayed in the popular TV series The Crown. He was played by Matthew Goode and Ben Daniels.

49. He Was Unfaithful From The Start

The public watched Antony Armstrong-Jones’ marriage to Princess Margaret fall apart in front of their eyes—but it actually started way earlier than anyone realized. While both Tony and his wife hit each other below the belt, Tony clearly instigated the whole thing. In 2004, DNA testing proved that he had an illegitimate daughter, who was born just weeks into his marriage with Margaret.

The identity of the girl’s mother was even more shocking…

50. He Slept With His Best Friend’s Wife

The 2004 DNA test revealed that a British woman named Polly Higson was Tony’s daughter, and that she was born during his honeymoon with Margaret. What’s really scandalous though is that Polly’s mother was Camilla Fry, the wife of Tony’s best friend. Tony just couldn’t keep his hands off of anyone! One can only imagine what Tony’s wife would’ve said if she found out…

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11