It started out as a storybook royal romance, and indeed Princess Margaret, sister to the Queen of England, and Antony Armstrong-Jones, the dashing, glamorous photographer, have produced two charming and titled children. And yet their storied romance has taken some tabloid-like turns. For more than half of their 14 married years the royal couple has been dogged by rumors of discord, separation, even the possibility of divorce. When their whirlwind tour of the United States was announced some weeks ago, newspaper society columnists coyly labeled it "an antirumor tour." Certainly it seems destined for maximum visibility: an appearance at the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby, a flurry of visits in Philadelphia, New York and Minneapolis this week, and of course a goodwill sprint into Canada. Yet despite all the photographs of the royal couple in ceremonial togetherness, the inescapable conclusion drawn by observers is that for some time they have been leading separate lives—by acquiescence if not outright agreement.

While Jones, who carries the title of the Earl of Snowdon, pursues his increasingly successful career at photography, Princess Margaret maintains her interest in cultural events. The royal couple continues to maintain an apartment at Kensington Palace, where they do spend time together—as much as three evenings a week, but almost always during the week. On weekends Jones prefers his cottage in the country. The princess is known to dislike it and seldom goes there.

Jones's photographic career frequently takes him overseas, where he sometimes seeks out unroyal confrontations. While photographing street scenes in Detroit earlier this year he was detained by police who did not know—or much seem to care—about his palace connections.

During the latter years of their marriage both Princess Margaret and Jones have been seen in the company of other escorts. Jones at various times squired such handsome women as Lady Jacqueline Rufus-lsaacs and Lady Harlech. The princess too has been escorted by men other than her husband to public and private functions, on occasion by old friend Colin Tennant and New Zealand actor David Warbeck. Most recently, she has been particularly chummy with Roderic Llewellyn, the 26-year-old son of a socially correct Olympic equestrian. Llewellyn, a research horticulturist, was the princess' unofficial escort during her visit to the West Indian island of Mustique earlier this year, a situation that caused a British eyebrow or two to rise a notch.

Whether the princess and Jones's American visit helps to put rumors of their increasing estrangement to rest or not remains to be seen. In some ways, events outside their own lives may have more bearing. In Britain interest in the couple has been waning, shaded by the grandeur of Princess Anne's marriage to Mark Phillips, and even more so by the giddy—and certainly more entertaining—gossip as to whom Prince Charles might someday want to make the future queen.