BRITAIN: Ending a Royal Marriage

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Margaret and "the Jones boy "call it quits

"Mindful of the church's teaching that marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others."

—Princess Margaret, 1955

It was 23 years ago when Queen Elizabeth's sister, Princess Margaret, wound up British royalty's longest romantic melodrama since the days of Edward VIII and Wallis ("the woman I love") Simpson by dropping her hopes of marrying Group Captain Peter Townsend. For all of his qualifications as a royal spouse, the dashing Battle of Britain hero had that fatal divorce in his background. So Britons were doubly cheered when, five years later at 29, the willful Meg finally made it to the altar, this time with Antony Armstrong-Jones, the arty son of a Welsh barrister and a promising photographer. But alas, even among royalty, ideas about divorce and duty can change. In a terse statement that took their country by surprise, Margaret, now 47, and Lord Snowdon, 48, last week announced that their 18-year marriage "should be formally ended."

Margaret's advisers would have preferred to postpone legal proceedings, but Snowdon insisted on acting now, in view of mounting public criticism of the princess's friendship with Rock Singer Roderick Llewellyn, 30, which has titillated and scandalized Britain for four years. The divorce will be the first in Britain's immediate royal family since Henry VIII dissolved his marriage to Anne of Cleves in 1540. Surprisingly, Margaret's divorce has been treated compassionately by the press. A Daily Express editorial, headlined COME LET US KISS AND PART, gave Snowdon high marks for "honorable and dignified conduct" and wished Margaret "every happiness for the future."

Once, the couple's whirlwind courtship and globally televised marriage had moved sentimental Britons to the core. The tabloids fondly called Snowdon "the Jones boy." Their son David, Viscount Linley, was born in 1961, followed by a daughter, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, in 1964. But by 1967 the marriage began to show visible strains. Rumors abounded of Snowdon's dalliance with fashion models. Increasingly, Margaret appeared imperiously scornful of him in front of friends, throwing down too many gins and tonic, while he tooled around with a trendy branch of the Mayfair smart set.

The marriage was dead, friends say, by 1974, when Margaret met Roddy Llewellyn, the pale, slight son of Lieut. Colonel Henry Llewellyn, a champion equestrian. After the two went on a much-publicized trip to the Caribbean island of Mustique in 1976, Margaret and Snowdon legally separated. Braving the ire of her sister, Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret continued to be seen in public with Roddy. When the pair spent their fourth holiday in Mustique last March, the British press headlined its disapproval while some Members of Parliament ominously asserted that the princess, by neglecting her public duties, was not earning her $100,000-a-year allowance.

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