Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Royal Profile: The Earl of Snowdon

The announcement that Antony Armstrong-Jones would marry Princess Margaret took people by surprise. Although people were happy for the Princess, especially after the Peter Townsend affair, many felt a "bohemian" photographer, who worked for a living, had no place in the royal family.

Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones was born on March 7th 1930 in Eaton Terrace, London. He was the only son, and second child of Ronald Owen Lloyd Armstrong-Jones and his first wife Anne Messel, who later became the Countess of Rosse. His parents divorced in 1934 and as a result of his parent's subsequent marriages, he has three half-brothers.

He was educated at Sandroyd preparatory school then he went on to Eton. An attack of polio left him in a wheel-chair for a year, severely interrupting his education, and would leave him with one leg slightly shorter than the other. He eventually attended Jesus College Cambridge, first studying natural sciences and then switching to architecture. Neither subject stimulated his interest so he decided to pursue photography, a hobby he'd had since boyhood. His first shots appeared in an undergraduate newspaper and he then progressed to taking photos for various society magazines, which brought him professional status. While at Cambridge he coxed the college rowing team, and in 1950 he led the Cambridge Eight to victory. Having failed the architecture exams, he left Cambridge without a degree and joined the studio of the photographer Baron, who had taken the wedding photographs of the Queen and Prince Philip. After six months he set up his own studio and soon established himself as one of London's most successful photographers in the fields of fashion, design and theatre.

His career as a royal portraitist began in 1956 when he was comissioned to photograph the young Duke of Kent. The following year he photographed the Queen's children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, and then the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh themselves. He has continued to photograph the royal family, taking the engagement photos of Charles and Diana, the first official photos of the infant Prince's William and Harry and more recently, a portrait of the Queen for her 80th birthday.

He met Princess Margaret at a dinner party on February 20, 1958. Their relationship was kept from the public eye and when their engagement was announced on February 26, 1960, it took many by surprise. They were married on May 6, 1960 in Westminster Abbey. The couple were very popular in the 1960's, regarded as the epitome of glamour and modernity. They moved in showbiz, artistic, and fashion circles befriending the Beatles and Peter Sellers.

With the announcement that the Princess was pregnant with her first child, Antony was created the 1st Earl of Snowdon, Viscount Linley of Nymans, a title with centuries old royal associations and an acknowledgement of his Welsh ancestry. It was thought that this child, as the grandchild of a sovereign, should not go without a title. Their son, David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley was born on November 3, 1961. A daughter, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones was born on May 1st 1964.

Following his marriage to Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon continued his work as a photographer and as a design consultant. His work included designing an aviary at London Zoo in 1965 and in his role as Constable of Caernarvon Castle, he played a significant part in the design preparations for the investiture ceremony for the Prince of Wales in 1969. He has done a great deal of work for disabled people. In 1972 he designed the Chairmobile, a motorised platform intended to give greater mobility to those suffering from physical handicaps. As the reknowned photographer 'Snowdon', he had had several international exhibitions, and his work has appeared in over a dozen books. He has also made several television films, which have earned him international awards, including two Emmy's.

Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon announced their separation in March 1976 and the marriage ended on May 24 1978. On December 15 1978 Lord Showdon married Lucy Mary Lindsay-Hogg and their daughter, Lady Frances, was born on July 17, 1979. They divorced two decades later when it was revealed that Snowdon was having an affair with another woman, Melanie Cable-Alexander, with whom he fathered an out-of-wedlock child, Jasper William Oliver Cable-Alexander, born on April 30, 1998.

He was awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Victorian order in 1969 and in 1999 he was created Baron Armstrong-Jones.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

No comments: