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Earl Snowden, the society snapper who wed Princess Margaret, dies at age 86

By Laura Elston

The Earl of Snowdon has died at his home aged 86.

Largely remembered for the failure of his marriage to the Queen's sister Princess Margaret, he was also an acclaimed photographer and a passionate campaigner for the disabled.

With his legendary charm and a string of lovers over the years, his tangled affairs of the heart often hit the headlines.

He was the first real commoner to wed a king's daughter for 450 years.

Antony Armstrong-Jones was the son of barrister Ronald Armstrong-Jones QC and society beauty Anne Messel, who went on to become the Countess of Rosse.

His parents separated when he was young, and at 16 he contracted a form of polio called poliomyelitis.

He overcame his disability by making a study of leg muscles and then devising exercises, but the experience was to make him a life-long campaigner against the discrimination of disabled people.

Following education at Sandroyd School in Salisbury and then Eton, the young Armstrong-Jones went to Jesus College, Cambridge, to study natural history, but switched to architecture after only 10 days.

After failing his second year exams he embarked on a career as a photographer, where he took pictures of actors and actresses for theatre publicity shots, including Laurence Olivier and Marlene Dietrich.

His distinctive style of society photography helped him meet - and hide - his friendship with Princess Margaret, who he married on May 6, 1960.

They would go on to have two children before their divorce in May 1978. She became the first royal to divorce since Henry VIII.

She, it was claimed, had lost interest in his arty friends, while he became bored by the constant round of royal pomp.

Princess Margaret got custody of their two children. The divorce left Lord Snowdon free to wed Lucy Lindsay-Hogg in December 1978.

In April of the following year it was revealed that she was expecting a baby, which was born prematurely in July 1979 and named Lady Frances Armstrong-Jones. Lord Snowdon's private life hit the headlines again in 1998 when, at the age of 68, he had an affair with Country Life journalist Melanie Cable-Alexander (35), who bore him a son, Jasper.

Lucy, Countess of Snowdon, left him just weeks before the birth and their marriage ended in divorce in September of 2000. It later also emerged that he fathered an illegitimate daughter just before marrying Princess Margaret.

A DNA test in 2004 apparently proved Lord Snowdon's paternity, but at the time he denied knowledge of any claims or of a DNA test.

In his professional life, he set up the Earl of Snowdon Award scheme to provide bursaries for disabled students.

He unveiled a prototype design for a motor-driven platform enabling disabled people to move around in ordinary chairs.

Lord Snowdon was frail in his later years, and was often seen using a wheelchair or walking sticks because of a recurrence of his childhood polio.

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