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Royal Weddings: The wedding of Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon

Princess Margaret’s years as a single woman were followed with the most considerable interest in Britain, where there was a great deal of excitement over her choice of husband.

It was assumed in 1955 that she would marry Peter Townsend. However, Townsend was a divorcee at a time when the Church of England wouldn’t allow the remarriage of a divorcee with a living former spouse. Princess Margaret couldn’t obtain The Queen’s consent under the Royal Marriages Act 1772 due to opposition from both the Church and Cabinet and eventually decided to call off the engagement.

The press was caught off guard when the engagement of Princess Margaret to Antony Armstrong-Jones was announced on 26 February 1960 from Clarence House, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

It is assumed that the couple had already decided to get married by Christmas 1959, but The Queen asked that any announcement be delayed until the birth of the child she was expecting. Prince Andrew was born on 19 February 1960, and the engagement became official one week later.

The engagement ring that Armstrong-Jones designed for the Princess consisted of a ruby surrounded by diamonds in a way that it would resemble a rose. Princess Margaret’s full name was Margaret Rose, and the ring was in honour of her second name.

The Queen gave her consent her sister’s marriage at a Privy Council meeting on 16 March 1960.

On 4 May 1960, a ball was held at Buckingham Palace by The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to celebrate the upcoming wedding of Her Majesty’s younger sister, and those in attendance included the Royal Family, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and friends of the couple.

Princess Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones on 6 May 1960 at Westminster Abbey in a ceremony of much grandeur. It was the first royal wedding to be televised, and 300 million people watched it across the world. It was also the first royal marriage in Britain since the then Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip in 1947. There were over 2000 guests in attendance including the families of the bride and groom, the diplomatic party, representatives from the UK and Commonwealth governments, among many others.

The Princess arrived at the Abbey in the Glass Coach, coming from Clarence House, with the Duke of Edinburgh, who escorted her down the aisle on behalf of her late father. She was attended by eight bridesmaids including Princess Anne and some of her relatives on her mother’s side. The groom’s best man was Dr Roger Gilliatt.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, officiated the wedding and was assisted by the Bishop of London and the Dean of Westminster. During the ceremony, Princess Margaret promised to obey her husband and hesitated slightly at the “for better or worse” phrase. She wore a dress made of white silk organza designed by Norman Hartnell with the Poltimore Tiara, a piece that became her signature tiara in the following years.

At the time, it wasn’t acceptable to most royal courts for a King’s daughter to marry someone who was neither royal nor noble. So, the only foreign royals in attendance were Queen Ingrid of Denmark, who was Princess Margaret’s godmother and Princes Ludwig and Maximillian of Baden, nephews of Prince Philip.

Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones return to Buckingham Palace in the Glass Coach after their wedding at Westminster Abbey. Photo: Leonard Bentley/(CC BY-SA 2.0)/Flickr

Later on in the day, the traditional appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace took place, as did the wedding breakfast for 120 guests where Prince Philip gave a speech welcoming Antony Armstrong-Jones as the newest member of the Royal Family. The wedding cake was five feet tall and weighed 150 pounds, bearing the Princess’s coat of arms and the couple joint monogram.

After the wedding breakfast, they embarked HMY Britannia for their honeymoon that took them across some islands of the Caribbean.

There’s a ten-minute video of the wedding that you can find here.

The couple made their marital home at Kensington Palace, in the same apartment where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge now live. Prior to the birth of the couple’s first child, The Queen created Armstrong-Jones a peer, as Earl of Snowdon and Viscount Linley of Nymans, thus making sure Margaret’s children were titled.

Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon with President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson at the White House in 1965. Photo: White House (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Their first child, David Armstrong-Jones (now 2nd Earl of Snowdon) was born on 3 November 1961 and was followed by Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones (now Chatto) on 1 May 1964. Together, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon had four grandchildren.

The marriage, however, proved not to be a happy one, and the couple started to live mostly separate lives after the birth of their daughter. In 1978, the couple divorced. Their divorce was the first of a senior member of the Royal Family since 1901.

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