For a family who have historically considered the idea of divorce rather taboo, the royals certainly seem to have seen their fare share of marriages break down. In fact, just when fans thought that things couldn’t get any more dramatic for the royal family in 2020, news came of another potential implosion. And this particular split is apparently set to cost one member of the clan a fortune.
Said member of the royal family is David Linley. The nephew of Queen Elizabeth and the son of Princess Margaret, he’s also known by his full title: David Albert Charles Armstrong-Jones, 2nd Earl of Snowdon. And when he was born, he was fifth in line to the throne – but his ranking has since dropped to 21st.
As well as being a member of the royal family, of course, Linley has a regular job – as many of the lesser-known royals do. Interestingly, he makes and sells his own luxury furniture via a company bearing his name. Linley is also the honorary chairman of auction house Christie’s EMERI, and he and his second cousin opened a restaurant named Deals in London.
Linley’s royal parents had their share of marital troubles as well. Princess Margaret had just split from Captain Peter Townsend, a divorced man she was not permitted to marry under the royal rules of the time, when she met photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones at a dinner in 1958. Months later, after a photo session, they began their romance – which they kept secret at first.
Things then began to move pretty fast. In 1960 – notably, only one year after Townsend got married again – Margaret announced that she would be marrying Armstrong-Jones. Those in the inner royal circle didn’t approve, as Armstrong-Jones wasn’t of the “class” of person a royal would usually marry. The actual royals, however, liked him.
According to Snowdon’s biographer, Anne de Courcy, who spoke to Town & Country magazine in 2019, “They all liked him very much – Tony had great charm, very good manners and he knew exactly how to behave. He felt devotion to the royal family, to the Queen, who he admired immensely. He got on very well with Prince Charles and he adored the Queen Mother.”
The pair got married on May 6, 1960. Theirs was the first ever royal wedding to be shown on television, and at least 300 million people tuned in. Margaret and her new groom then headed off on a six-week Caribbean cruise for their honeymoon, and upon returning they moved into Kensington Palace.
Margaret and Armstrong-Jones began to have children just one year later in 1961, the same year Armstrong-Jones officially gained the title Earl of Snowdon. David was born on November 3, 1961, and his sister Sarah arrived on May 1, 1964. However, after that, the marriage ran into a rough patch.
As biographer Anna de Courcy explained to Town & Country, “Margaret’s template of marriage was quite different from Tony’s. He had parents who split, while her parents’ and sister’s marriage were very happy. She expected her husband to be with her more, but one of Tony’s strongest motivations was work… Margaret didn’t realize it would take him away from her so much.”
Things got much worse from there. In 1974 Margaret began an affair with Roddy Llewellyn, a man 17 years younger than her. Two years later, the tabloid newspaper News of the World got hold of photographs of the pair lounging on a beach, and published them. British politicians were appalled.
In addition to all this Armstrong-Jones was also having his own affairs. It became clear to all that the marriage could not be salvaged. By July 1978, the divorce had been finalized. It was the first split to happen in the royal family for over seven decades – the last divorce had been all the way back in 1901. However, it would be far from the last.
As times changed for the royal family, divorce became less scandalous and more common. Even so, an unusual number of royal splits seemed to take place throughout the 1990s. Most famously of all, heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Princess Diana divorced in 1996 after a long period of separation.
Also in 1996, two of the Queen’s other children divorced. Princess Anne split from her husband Mark Phillips, and Prince Andrew from his wife Sarah Ferguson. In her annual speech that Christmas the Queen declared, “Each year brings its share of difficulties for many families. This year has I know, been no exception.”
If 1996 was bad, then 2020 was an even worse year for the royals. It was packed with scandals and problems. In January, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle announced – apparently without consulting the rest of the family first – that they would be stepping down as working royals and moving to North America.
Hot on the heels of that came the announcement of yet another divorce. The Queen’s grandson Peter Phillips and his wife Autumn, the parents of two young children, were set to split after twelve years together. They had actually been separated since 2019, but hadn’t informed the media, only their family.
And just a week later came the announcement that David and Serena Armstrong-Jones were divorcing. A spokesperson for them released the statement, “The Earl and Countess of Snowdon have amicably agreed that their marriage has come to an end and that they shall be divorced. They ask that the press respect their privacy and that of their family.”
As is often the case with divorcing royals, the Earl and Countess of Snowdon had children to consider. They have two children, one born in 1999 and one in 2002 – Charles Patrick Inigo Armstrong-Jones who has the title of Viscount Linley, and Lady Margarita Elizabeth Rose Alleyne Armstrong-Jones. Both of them have their own, non-royal, careers.
However, the future looked bright for the couple back in 1993, when they married. Amidst all the drama in the wider royal family, with the Charles and Diana divorce and all the rest, they seemed to be a sensible match. Serena herself was an aristocrat, not a commoner. She was the daughter of Viscount Petersham.
When their wedding was announced, Antony Armstrong-Jones told the media, “Both David and Serena are very lucky, especially as they share so many common interests, from their love of the arts generally to the enjoyment of outdoor sports, from architecture to ballet and from fashion to furniture design.”
The wedding, which took place in early October, was very well attended indeed. The Queen was there of course, as were a lot of other royals and a selection of celebrities as well. The guest list included the Queen Mother, Princess Anne, Prince Edward, Princess Diana, Jerry Hall and Elton John.
Even though their marriage had been a turbulent one, Linley made sure to honor his parents during and after the wedding ceremony. In 2017 he told Vanity Fair magazine that he always wore his father’s crest on a chain around his neck next to his wedding ring. The ring had also been designed by his father.
Everything pointed towards Linley and Serena being able to last the course, but despite having a good run, they couldn’t save their marriage. What had happened? Various insiders spoke to the media about it, and hinted about what had gone wrong. The couple, they claimed, had simply grown apart.
One source told the Daily Mail, “[Linley] is George VI’s grandson and part of the inner circle of royals. But he is also Mr Non-grand Royal. He turns up on his bicycle wearing a high-vis jacket and gets mistaken for a traffic warden. He is popular and social.” However, no other parties were thought to be involved in the split.
The source continued, “And he is the hardest-working royal – albeit not for the Royal Family. He is endlessly abroad through his Christie’s role… all the travel put a strain on the marriage. Serena spends most of her time in Gloucestershire. He lives in Kensington. It’s been a slow drift apart. I think the impetus for the split is with her but she is very sad about it.”
The anonymous friend went on, “It is going to be tough for David. Everyone is surprised. Even if things weren’t perfect between them, they are both very family oriented. Their main focus now will be on ensuring that their two children and them remain a family unit even if they are no longer living together as a couple.”
But for obvious reasons there was also money to consider. Royals are rich by nature, and over the years Linley has put together a vast fortune. Among the properties he owns are a hunting lodge, Chateau d’Autet in southern France, and an expensive London townhouse which was left to him by his late father.
The Queen’s nephew has always seemed to delight in making money, and in working hard at his furniture business. In 2011 he told British newspaper The Telegraph, in an article titled “My perfect weekend” that for him it was “difficult to escape work completely at weekends because I juggle two careers.”
In the interview Linley also said, “I’m launching the Linley Bentley in China this week. It’s great to have the opportunity to travel; I think cultural changes are very important for the soul and I wouldn’t discount moving abroad completely if it was the best for the family, first, and for my career, second.”
But, as some people had suggested his father before him had done, Linley had apparently lost his marriage through overwork. The Daily Mail newspaper speculated about the fortune, saying, “The divorce itself will involve a complicated division of assets. Linley once confessed that his overriding motivation in life was money.”
Some truly large sums are involved. Reportedly, Linley’s furniture firm alone makes the sort of money most people could only dream of earning in a lifetime. And when Princess Margaret passed away in 2002, she apparently left her son $7 million. That is more than enough on its own for a luxury lifestyle.
Additionally, Linley has always implied he’ll do plenty to maintain that lifestyle. In 2006 he and his sister sold off some of his late mother’s jewellery at auction, which reportedly infuriated their father and caused a lot of furore in the media. He explained to the Sunday Telegraph why he did it the following year.
In July 2007 Linley told the newspaper, “I had the sale for a very simple reason, which was an inheritance tax situation, and wanting to build for my family’s future and my children’s education – normal family requirements.” However, at the time his net worth was estimated to be at least $25 million.
Linley’s justification to the Sunday Telegraph continued, “We are a modern family who need to live in a certain way. The sale rationalised the collection. We still have some of the best pieces, which we will always treasure, but it was an opportunity to put everything on an even keel.”
Controversy had focused on Linley’s decision to sell his mother’s wedding tiara, but he countered, “being realistic, we have a young family that needs educating, and education does not seem to be getting any cheaper, going by the recent figures. We looked very long and hard about whether to include it or not, but I think that my mother would have felt it was a good idea.”
And that wasn’t even the first time Linley had faced criticism regarding his parents’ assets. In 2000, while his mother was still alive, Linley sold her Mustique home, Les Jolies Eaux, for roughly $2.6 million. The land the home was built on had been a wedding present, and reportedly the princess wasn’t happy.
So will this divorce lead to yet another big money controversy? Well, it is worth pointing out that Serena does have plenty of money of her own. From 2010 until 2014 she had her own business, a shop which sold luxury bath products. Furthermore, Serena’s father, Viscount Petersham, is thought to be worth around a staggering $300 million.
If Linley does lose some money in the divorce, he at least seems to be prepared for it. As news of the split spread another insider informed The Sun tabloid newspaper, “If it’s amicable it seems likely assets will be split. If it’s as much as £40million [$51million], each will get half.”
That does indeed seem to be the case, as another anonymous source told newspaper the Express, “David and Serena have agreed that their marriage has broken down, they have in effect been living separate lives for some time. But they are determined to handle their separation in a civilized manner.”
The source went on, “There is no blame or acrimony on either side. They have simply reached a point at which they both feel they have to move on.” However, reportedly the Queen, already apparently unhappy about the scandals hitting the family in 2019 and 2020, was far from pleased at the news.
Royal family expert Richard Fitzwilliams told the Express, “This is undoubtedly a sad moment for the Royal Family… The fact that it is ‘amicable’ doesn’t detract from the surprise that this has happened and also when it has been announced.” However, despite that – and the money Linley stands to lose – this particular royal divorce is still a long way from some of the others when it comes to scandal.