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Front cover of The Tatler celebrating the royal wedding between Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey on 6th May 1960

Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans

There were many firsts attributed to Princess Margaret’s wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones (created Earl of Snowdon on the day) on Friday 6 May 1960. Not only was it the first time that a King’s daughter had married a ‘commoner’ in 400 years, it was also the first ever royal wedding to be televised (300 million watched it from across the globe), and saw Margaret herself wearing a tiara that she had purchased, rather than one from the family collection.

Princess Margaret, waves from the Royal Coach, on her way to Westminster Abbey

Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis via Getty Images

The Queen’s younger sister had kept her relationship with the society snapper a secret until the announcement of their engagement on 27 February 1960. Armstrong-Jones proposed with a ruby engagement ring designed to look like a rosebud – likely a reference to Margaret’s middle name, Rose. Margaret had previously been linked to a number of eligible bachelors, all keen to win her hand, in the years following her ‘break up’ with Group Captain Peter Townsend, who she had not been permitted to marry. But no one had caught wind of Tony as a suitor until it was revealed they were to be wed.

Princess Margaret is accompanied by Prince Philip as he gives her away to Antony Armstrong-Jones

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A few months later, and the pair were married at Westminster Abbey. After spending the night prior at Clarence House, Margaret arrived at the Abbey in the Glass Coach escorted by her brother-in-law, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was to accompany her down the aisle in place of her father, King George VI, who had died in 1952.

The couple walking down the aisle at Westminster Abbey after their marriage ceremony

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Margaret wore a silk organza dress designed by Norman Hartnell, the royal couturier who had previously created the Queen’s wedding dress some 13 years earlier. A relatively chic and simple design – with a v-neck and long sleeves – befitting Margaret’s petite stature, the gown nevertheless still featured 30 metres of fabric to make the full skirt.

A photograph of the couple after their wedding

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As is traditional for royal brides, she wore a tiara for the occasion, yet she did not choose one already in the Windsors’ family collection. Instead, she wore the Poltimore Tiara, one she had bought at auction. It had been created for Lady Poltimore in the 1870s by the jewellers Garrard. She even wore it on a number of occasions prior to the wedding: a very avant garde move.

A photograph of the couple with their wedding group at Buckingham Palace

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The ceremony was attended by 2,000 people, including European royalty, politicians and the social set. Margaret had eight bridesmaids, including her niece, Princess Anne, her goddaughter, Marilyn Wills and Annabel Rhodes, a cousin from her mother’s side of the family. Armstrong-Jones’ best man was Dr. Roger Gilliatt, son of the Queen’s gynaecologist.

The wedding cake

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The wedding breakfast – for 120 people – reportedly consisted of fillet of beef, green beans and ‘soufflé surprise Montmorency’, while the wedding cake by J. Lyons was five-feet tall (the same height as the bride).

The newly-weds on the balcony waving to the crowds at Buckingham Palace

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The couple’s honeymoon on board the royal yacht Brittania saw them travelling around the Caribbean for six weeks. Sadly, the marriage was not to last, and they divorced in 1978 after the birth of their two children, David Armstrong-Jones (now the Earl of Snowdon) and Lady Sarah Chatto. 

The May issue is on sale 30 March