The only son of Welsh barrister Ronald Owen Lloyd Armstrong-Jones (1899-1966) and his first wife, socialite Anne Messel (1902-1992, later Countess of Rosse), Antony Armstrong-Jones was educated at Eton and Cambridge. Of Welsh and German Jewish ancestry, Snowdon comes from artistic lineage. His maternal great-grandfather was the Punch cartoonist Linley Sambourne (1844-1910), his great-great-uncle Alfred Messel was a well-known Berlin architect, and his maternal uncle was Oliver Messel, a noted British set and costume designer and architect.
He married Princess Margaret on May 6, 1960 and was created Earl of Snowdon and Viscount Linley in 1961. (Princess Margaret said she agreed to be Snowdon's wife on the very day that the love of her life, Peter Townsend, called to tell her he was marrying a young Belgian woman.) The marriage ended in divorce in 1978. With Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon had two children. David Armstong-Jones, Viscount Linley, born November 3, 1961 and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, born May 1, 1964.
The Armstrong-Jones/Windsor marriage was a combustible union of personalities and began to fail early on, due to the princess's penchant for late-night partying, the earl's working schedule, and their equally combative natures. Biographer Sarah Bradford has written that Snowdon once left a note for Princess Margaret that said, "You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you." As for Princess Margaret, she was fond of pulling rank and pointing out her husband's less-than-royal origins, once correcting publicly his use of the non-U word "material" (i.e. fabric) for what U-speakers offhandedly called "stuff."
After his divorce from the princess, Lord Snowdon married Lucy Mary Davies, daughter of Donald Brook Davies and former wife of film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (now Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 5th baronet), on December 15, 1978. They had their only child, Lady Frances Armstrong-Jones, seven months later, on July 17, 1979. They divorced two decades later upon the revelation that Lord Snowdon was seeing another woman, with whom he fathered a child out of wedlock.
The Earl's illegitimate son, Jasper William Oliver Cable-Alexander, was born April 30, 1998 to Melanie Cable-Alexander, an editor at Country Life magazine. The Earl's mistress of twenty years, Anne Hill, killed herself with an overdose on January 1 1996.