On May 6, 1960, Princess Margaret married Anthony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey. It made history as the first royal wedding to be broadcast on television, with an estimated 300 million viewers tuning in around the world. Here’s how the day unfolded.
Up until their engagement, Margaret’s relationship with Armstrong-Jones, a fashion photographer, had been a well-kept secret. It had been only few years since the heart-broken princess had called things off with Captain Peter Townsend and as her new love interest was a “commoner,” royal courtiers were said to disapprove of the romance.
“Nobody knew about their relationship, there wasn’t a whisper about it, ” Anne de Courcy, author of Snowdon: the Biography, told Town & Country. “She would see him in secret at his studio and yes, he would join her at parties, but no one could pinpoint which man she was in interested in. The press focused more on the ones who were seen to be eligible. They didn’t think of Tony who was often in the background.”
The secrecy didn’t last for long. In February 1960, around two years after they first met at a dinner party, Armstrong-Jones and Margaret announced their plans to marry. The princess received a ruby engagement ring that was designed by her future husband to look like a rosebud. It’s believed that this was a nod to Margaret’s middle name, Rose.
THE WEDDING DAY
The news that 29-year-old Margaret was to marry Armstrong-Jones may have come as a surprise to many, but once the shock wore off, thousands showed up on the day of the royal wedding to line the streets from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey.
In keeping with tradition, the princess made the short journey from Clarence House to Westminster Abbey in the Glass Coach, which is reserved for state occasions, with her brother-in-law, the Duke of Edinburgh, by her side. After the death of Margaret’s father, George VI ,in 1952, the Duke accompanied Margaret down the aisle and gave her away at the altar, where Armstrong-Jones and his best man, Dr. Roger Gilliat, were waiting. As the groom was a civilian, he wore morning dress for the occasion.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, led the ceremony in front of the 2,000-strong congregation, which included royalty, politicians and film stars. There were also eight young bridesmaids in tow, including Margaret’s niece Princess Anne and her goddaughter Marilyn Wills.
After the newlyweds had signed the register, the royal party traveled in a carriage procession back to Buckingham Palace. The princess and her new husband were joined by the royal family as they stepped out onto the balcony to greet the crowds of well-wishers who had been waiting to catch a glimpse of the happy couple below.
Following their moment in the spotlight, Princess Margaret and her husband enjoyed a wedding breakfast inside the palace with their guests. According to the BBC, they feasted on fillet of beef, green beans and “soufflée surprise Montmorency”.
THE WEDDING DRESS
Margaret wore a silk organza wedding dress designed by Norman Hartnell, the royal couturier who had created the Queen’s bridal gown 13 years earlier. Although the embellishment was kept to a minimum, over 30 meters of fabric were needed to make the full skirt. Life magazine reportedly described the Hartnell creation as: “the simplest royal wedding gown in history.”
Still, Margaret, looked every bit the princess with the addition of her Poltimore tiara, made for Lady Poltimore by the House of Garrard in the 1870s. Her look was complete with a dramatic cathedral length veil and a delicate wedding bouquet of orchids and lily-of-the-valley.
Well-wishers had another opportunity to greet the newlyweds when they left London for their six-week honeymoon. Crowds waved the couple off as they boarded the Royal Yacht Britannia from the Battle Bridge Pier on the River Thames and set off for the Caribbean.
A year after their trip, the couple moved into Kensington Palace. Armstrong-Jones was given the title Earl of Snowdon, making Margaret “Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess Of Snowdon.” They welcomed their first child, David, into the family in 1961. Their daughter, Lady Sarah Chatto, was born in 1964.
But their love story wasn’t always a joyful one, and Margaret’s marriage again made history. After reports of infidelity on both sides, Margaret and Armstrong-Jones separated in 1976. Two years later,announced that the royal couple were divorcing. It was the first royal divorce since King Henry VIII’s in 1540.
Despite their troubles, the couple were said to remain close friends until Margaret’s death in February 2002.