Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon
Nick Name: Lord Snowdon
Birthday: March 7, 1930
Died At Age: 86
Sun Sign: Pisces
Born in: Belgravia
Famous as: Photographer
Spouse/Ex-: Countess of Snowdon (m. 1960–1978), Lucy Hogg (m. 1978–2000), Princess Margaret
father: Ronald Armstrong-Jones
children: David Armstrong-Jones; 2nd Earl of Snowdon, Jasper Cable-Alexander, Lady Frances Armstrong-Jones, Lady Frances von Hofmannsthal, Lady Sarah Chatto, Polly Fry
Died on: January 13, 2017
place of death: Kensington
City: London, England
Diseases & Disabilities: Polio
education: Eton College
awards: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
Antony Armstrong-Jones was a British photographer and film-maker. He was also known as Lord Snowdon for his first marriage to Princess Margaret, the only sister of Queen Elizabeth II. Though Armstrong-Jones was a versatile photographer, he is best known for his portraits of world-renowned celebrities like Princess Diana, David Bowie, and Elizabeth Taylor. More than 100 of his photographs are housed at the ‘National Portrait Gallery’ in London. In 1968, he made a documentary film titled ‘Don't Count the Candles,’ which won seven prestigious awards, including two Emmy Awards. Armstrong-Jones was also a designer and inventor, whose invention, a type of electric wheelchair, was granted patent in 1971. In 1985, he was honored with the ‘Progress Medal’ and ‘Honorary Fellowship’ from the ‘Royal Photographic Society.’ In 1989, he was presented with an ‘Honorary Doctor of Laws’ from the ‘University of Bath.’
Childhood & Early Life
Antony Armstrong-Jones was born on March 7, 1930, in Belgravia, London, England. He was born into a family of famous personalities. While his paternal grandfather, Sir Robert Armstrong-Jones, was a popular psychiatrist and physician, his maternal uncle, Oliver Messel, was one of the most famous stage designers of the 20th century.
His father, Ronald Armstrong-Jones, worked as a barrister. Armstrong-Jones was the only son from his father’s first marriage with Anne Messel, who later became Countess of Rosse. His parents got divorced in 1935, when he was just five years old. During his school days, Armstrong-Jones contracted polio when he was holidaying at his family’s country home in Wales.
From 1938 to 1943, he attended ‘Sandroyd School’ in Wiltshire, where Prince Tomislav of Yugoslavia and Prince Andrew of Yugoslavia were his schoolmates. He then went to ‘Eton College,’ where he was featured in the ‘School Boxing Finals’ after qualifying under the ‘extra special weight’ class.
His abilities and skills as a boxer were mentioned on a couple of occasions in ‘Eton College Chronicle.’ He was then enrolled at ‘Jesus College,’ Cambridge, where he performed the role of coxswain, leading his boat to victory during the 1950 ‘Boat Race.’
He started his career as a photographer and had a studio set up inside his flat in London. His stepmother knew a person who helped Armstrong-Jones by setting up a meet with the famous photographer, Baron. He was eventually accepted by Baron as his apprentice and later worked as one of Baron’s salaried associates.
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Armstrong-Jones gained prominence as a photographer when British magazine ‘Tatler’ started buying his portraits. The magazine also gave him credit for the images, which placed him among some of London’s well-known photographers.
He started working for various other magazines, including ‘Queen’ and ‘The Sunday Times Magazine.’ While he was one of the major contributors of ‘Queen’ magazine, he went on to become the artistic adviser of ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ in the early 1960s. While working for magazines, he displayed his versatility by capturing anything from fashion to documentary images of the mentally ill.
Armstrong-Jones got his big breakthrough in 1957, when he was commissioned to click the photograph of the newly crowned Queen, along with her husband Prince Philip and their children, Princess Anne and Prince Charles. His picture, in which Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are seen standing on a stone bridge placed over a beautiful stream, was later termed as the reminiscent of eighteenth century romanticism.
He became a renowned photographer when publications like ‘Vanity Fair,’ ‘Vogue,’ and ‘The Daily Telegraph’ published his portraits of world-renowned personalities like Lynn Fontanne, Anthony Blunt, Marlene Dietrich, Princess Grace of Monaco, Barbara Cartland, Elizabeth Taylor, David Bowie, and Princess Diana among others.
After establishing himself as one of Britain’s most respected photographers, he started trying his hand at film-making. He came up with his first film ‘Don’t Count the Candles’ in 1968, which was a documentary on the subject of ageing. The film was aired on CBS and it went on to win seven prestigious awards, including a couple of ‘Emmy Awards.’
He then directed a few more films, such as ‘Born to be small,’ ‘Love of a kind,’ and ‘Happy being happy.’ However, Armstrong-Jones’ illustrious photography career overshadowed his film-making career. By the early 2000s, his portraits of famous personalities were being used prodigiously.
In 2006, the creative director of ‘Bottega Veneta,’ Tomas Maier hired Armstrong-Jones to photograph his Fall/Winter 2006 collection as part of the brand’s campaign. ‘Bottega Veneta’ is a world-renowned Italian fashion brand.
Many of his photographs were displayed in various exhibitions across Britain. At the ‘National Portrait Gallery,’ his works were exhibited under the caption, ‘Photographs by Snowdon: A Retrospective.’ These photographs were later displayed at the ‘Yale Center for British Art’ in New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America.
Other Important Works
Antony Armstrong-Jones was also an inventor and designer, who was instrumental in designing the famous Grade II listed structure, ‘Snowdon Aviary,’ which is a part of ‘London Zoo.’ He designed the structure along with Cedric Price and Frank Newby.
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In 1969, he played a prominent role in finalizing the physical arrangements for the ‘Investiture of the Prince of Wales.’ In 1971, his invention, a type of electric wheelchair, was granted patent.
Armstrong-Jones was also well-known for his philanthropic works, which he carried out through his charity organization, ‘Snowdon Trust.’ Most of his charity works were in favor of disabled students. He even served as one of the members of ‘National Fund for Research into Crippling Diseases,’ post which he started an award scheme that provided scholarships for differently-abled students.
Apart from serving as a patron for various organizations like ‘Contemporary Art Society for Wales,’ ‘National Youth Theatre,’ and ‘Civic Trust for Wales,’ he also contributed as the President of the ‘British Theatre Museum.’ From 1995 to 2003, he worked as a provost at the ‘Royal College of Art.’
Earldom & Other Honors
After his wedding with Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, Armstrong-Jones was inducted into the ‘House of Lords’ as the Earl of Snowdon. In April 1972, he delivered his first speech in the ‘House of Lords,’ in which he addressed the difficulties faced by disabled people in their everyday life.
On July 7, 1969, he was honored with ‘The Royal Victorian Order.’ He was presented with the Royal Photographic Society’s ‘Hood Medal of the Society’ in 1978. In 1985, he was awarded with the society’s ‘Honorary Fellowship’ and ‘Progress Medal.’ He was also honored with an ‘Honorary Doctor of Laws’ by the ‘University of Bath’ in 1989.
In February 1960, Antony Armstrong-Jones got engaged to Princess Margaret, the younger daughter of King George VI. The couple got married on May 6, 1960 at the famous ‘Westminster Abbey.’
The wedding was a special occasion in many ways as it became the first royal wedding to be aired on TV. The ceremony was attended by many prominent dignitaries, including Queen Ingrid of Denmark and the royal couple of Sweden. Armstrong-Jones and Princess Margaret were blessed with two children, namely David, 2nd Earl of Snowdon and Lady Sarah.
Just a few years after their wedding, reports pertaining to issues in their marriage surfaced. Their relationship began to crumble gradually as a result of Margaret’s penchant for late-night partying and Armstrong-Jones’ sexual profligacy. Questions regarding his sexual orientation were raised and many women, who had worked with him, were quite certain that he was bisexual.
Armstrong-Jones also had multiple relationships with women and had fathered a daughter before marrying Princess Margaret. According to sources, he had also fathered a son named Jasper William with Melanie Cable-Alexander. Armstrong-Jones’ semi-authorized biography, which was written by Anne de Courcy in 2008, talks about his relationship with a woman named Ann Hills that lasted for 20 years.
The biography also states that Snowdon did not deny about him being bisexual. In fact, in 2009, a British interior designer named Nicholas Haslam claimed in his memoir that he had an affair with Armstrong-Jones prior to his wedding with Princess Margaret. Haslam also claimed that Armstrong-Jones had an affair with another leading interior designer, Tom Parr.
After a series of drug and alcohol abuse, Princess Margaret and Snowdon decided to end their marriage, which resulted in their divorce in 1978. Later that year, Snowdon married Lucy Mary, who was previously married to film-maker Michael Lindsay-Hogg. On July 17, 1979, the couple was blessed with a daughter, whom they named Lady Frances Armstrong-Jones.
Death & Legacy
Lord Snowdon breathed his last on January 13, 2017, at the age of 87. His funeral took place seven days later at ‘St Baglan’s Church’ in a village called Llanfaglan near Caernarfon. His mortal remains were laid to rest in his ancestor’s plot in the churchyard.
More than 100 of his photographs are currently housed at the ‘National Portrait Gallery’ in London. ‘Snowdon Trust,’ a charity organization founded by him is still in operation. Snowdon’s daughter Lady Frances, who is a designer by profession, is currently serving as one of the board members of ‘Snowdon Trust.’