She smokes heavily, attends a dwindling number of official engagements and lives in solitary comfort in London’s Kensington Palace. A few blocks away, he pursues a successful career as a portrait and fashion photographer and devotes time to the disabled and other needy groups. Now, Princess Margaret, 57, and her former husband, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, also 57, are both welcome at Buckingham Palace. But the dissolution of their marriage nine years ago provoked the gravest domestic crisis in Britain’s Royal Family since 1936, when King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to marry U.S. divorcée Wallis Simpson. And last week the revelations about marriage difficulties between Prince Charles and Diana recalled the tumultuous events that led to Princess Margaret’s divorce—the first in the immediate Royal Family since King Henry VIII ended his marriage to Anne of Cleves in 1540.
But the divorce, because of irreconcilable differences after a two-year
separation, was merely a bitter incident in a royal life continually plagued by unhappiness. Prevented from marrying the man she loved—divorced flying ace Peter Townsend—when she was 25, Princess Margaret has since suffered through alcoholism, reported suicide attempts and a 1985 operation for suspected lung cancer. And the official severance—completed in less than two minutes in a musty London courtroom on May 24, 1978—ended a stormy 18-year marriage which she had only decided to undertake on the rebound. On the day she announced her engagement, she had received a letter from Townsend informing her that he was going to marry someone else. And at the time, ArmstrongJones was not only courting the princess, he was also seeing Chinese-Trinidadian model Jacqui Chan.
Bells: Still, the marriage began in pomp and celebration on May 6, 1960, when Princess Margaret was 29. Slim and radiant on that sunny morning, she travelled through the streets of
London in the Glass Coach—in the tradition of many royal brides, including Diana—waving to throngs of wellwishers. Hours later, bells rang out joyously as the honeymoon couple, holding hands on the deck of the royal yacht Britannia, set off for Princess Margaret’s property on the tiny Caribbean island of Mustique. Fourteen years later the short, violet-eyed princess, who had since become a dumpy, imperious matron, was back in Mustique—but with a shaggy-haired lover 17 years her junior. He was Roddy Llewellyn, a rock singer, gardener and brewery heir. And he was not the first man to have captured her attention after the birth of her two children in 1961 and 1964: she had also been seen dining and dancing with actor Peter Sellers and playboy photographer Patrick Lichfield, among others.
Scandal: Meanwhile, in 1973, her husband, who had received the title Earl of Snowdon and Viscount Linley within a year of the marriage, became involved with Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, a divorced television script assistant 11 years his junior. And before that he had scandalized the British establishment by holding loud weekend parties at his cottage in Sussex and conducting affairs with a series of young women including Lady Jacqueline RufusIsaacs, a model. Finally, on March 19, 1976, the royal couple announced their legal separation. Days later, the curators at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum transferred Lord Snowdon’s figure to the basement.
When the divorce was over, Princess Margaret retained custody of the couple’s two children, David, then 16, and Sarah, then 14. But although the princess maintained her relationship with Llewellyn until 1980—to the Queen’s reported displeasure—she has never remarried. Indeed, according to her biographer, Nigel Dempster, she has said, “I don’t see myself ever marrying again.” On the other hand, Snowdon married Lindsay-Hogg on Dec. 15, 1978, seven months after the divorce. Seven months after that she gave birth to their daughter, Frances.
Clearly, Princess Margaret’s divorce marked a change of attitude within the House of Windsor. Said leading monarchy expert Harold Brooks-Baker: “She was the first member of the Royal Family to get divorced and yet still be accepted by the family afterward. It was a big hurdle at the time.” Still, with the painful rift behind her, the princess—once petite and high-spirited—has become a stout, somewhat grim loner in the royal circle.
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