Lord Snowdon was born Anthony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones on 7 March 1930 as the son of barrister Ronald Armstrong-Jones (1899–1966) and his first wife Anne Messel (1902 – 1992 – later Countess of Rosse). He contracted polio while on holiday at their country home in Wales, and he spent six months in the Liverpool Royal Infirmary recuperating. He was left with a permanent limp. He was educated at Sandroyd School from 1939 to 1943, at Eton College and Jesus College at the University of Cambridge, where he studied architecture. However, he failed his final exams.
After this, he began his career as a photographer, first in fashion and design but later also as a portraitist. He became the artistic advisor of the Sunday Times and soon established himself as a respected photographer. In 1968 he made a documentary Don’t Count the Candles, which won an Emmy award. In 2000 he was given an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Photographs by Snowdon: A Retrospective.
In February 1960 he became engaged to Her Majesty The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, and they married on 6 May 1960 at Westminster Abbey. It would later be confirmed via DNA-testing that he fathered a daughter who was born shortly after his marriage to Princess Margaret. The couple went on a honeymoon tour of the Caribbean in the royal yacht Britannia and moved into apartments in Kensington Palace afterwards.
He was created Earl of Snowdon and Viscount Linley, of Nymans in the County of Sussex on 6 October 1961. He and Princess Margaret had two children: David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley, born 3 November 1961, and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, born on 1 May 1964. In 1963 Her Majesty The Queen made him Constable of Caernarvon Castle, and as such he took a leading part in the arrangements for the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969. The marriage began to collapse not much later. Princess Margaret had a penchant for late-night partying while Lord Snowdon was incapable of remaining faithful. Some even questioned whether Lord Snowdon was gay or bisexual; to which he responded, “I didn’t fall in love with boys — but a few men have been in love with me.” A close friend was quoted in a biography of Lord Snowdon as saying: “If it moves, he’ll have it.”
Their separation lasted for 16 years, and the marriage finally ended in divorce in 1978, by then both their actions had filled the gossip columns for almost two decades. He had always refused to speak about the marriage but he was involved in his children’s lives, and he also continued to photograph the Royal Family.
In December 1978, he was married again, to Lucy Lindsay-Hogg and they had a daughter, Lady Frances, the next year. He continued his womanising ways and had a long affair with journalist Ann Hills, who committed suicide in 1996. At the age of 68, he fathered a son, Jasper, with 33-year-old Melanie Cable-Alexander, also a journalist. After this, he and Lucy finally divorced.
He became increasingly disabled from his childhood polio, although he continued to travel and work as a photographer. He died peacefully at his home on 13 January 2017, aged 86.