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How true was season 1 of
The Crown?

The Crown Series 1
Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II

Welcome to part one of our look into Netflix’s Blockbuster Series ‘The Crown’, as we attempt to unveil the truths and myths behind the lives of the Royal Family. 

Series 1 focuses heavily on the first two decades of Elizabeth II’s life as queen and the pressures it imposed on her marriage with Prince Philip. A secondary theme that had us gripped was the hidden relationship between The Queen’s sister Princess Margaret and George VI’s equerry Peter Townsend. But how much of this series was overexaggerated and what was true? Keep reading to find out more…

Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend’s Romance

The relationship between Elizabeth’s younger sister Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) and the much-older Peter Townsend (Ben Miles) is a central plot point in the first season of The Crown and the relationship was very much real. As in the series, Margaret was required to have her marriage approved by the Queen and Parliament (namely Churchill) advised that the Cabinet wouldn’t approve because Townsend was previously married. Like King Edward VIII, she was given the option to give up royal life (which included all her income and titles) if she still wanted to marry Townsend. In the final episode we see the hardship of making such a decision, where she eventually chose to end her relationship. This is all in all pretty true compared to real events, with the relationship, Churchill’s pressure on the Queen to forbid the marriage and the ultimate decision made by Princess Margaret. In fact, Peter Townsend opens up about this difficult time in his life in his 1978 autobiography called Time and Chance

Here is a little extract in Townsend’s own words explaining the incredibly difficult situation:

“She could have married me only if she had been prepared to give up everything—her position, her prestige, her privy purse,” he wrote. “I simply hadn’t the weight, I knew it, to counterbalance all she would have lost.”

As we find out in the 2nd Series (Spoiler Alert!)… Margaret went on to marry the photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones which turned out to be a volatile marriage that ironically ended in divorce anyway! Oh Margaret… we all feel for you!

Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend
Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend

The Duke of Windsor's (Edward VIII)'s Frosty Relationship With The Queen and her Mother

Wallis Simpson, The Duke of Windsor and Adolf Hitler
The Duke of Windsor and his wife Wallis Simpson shaking hands with Adolf Hitler

One theme that consumes the first series of The Crown is how the decision made by King Edward VIII to abdicate was a selfish one in the eyes of Queen Elizabeth and The Queen Mother. What the series doesn’t quite delve into was the cold relationship both Bertie (George VI) and David (Edward VIII) had with their father King George V. One could argue that perhaps the lack of fatherly love led to many of David’s decisions in life to reject royal duty and enjoy the fun side of being a royal, growing up as The Prince of Wales. Indeed, both he and his younger brother Bertie were casually dating two married women whilst in their party days, but it would eventually be Bertie (George VI) who would listen to his father’s instructions to end his relationship with Sheila Chisholm in order to take the new title of ‘The Duke of York.’ However, The Prince of Wales was infuriated at Bertie’s willingness to listen to their father and continued to date another married lady called Freda Ward.

This backstory perhaps explains in a way the strong willed and romantic side that we see of The Duke of Windsor in The Crown. David’s bitterness towards his sister-in-law (The Queen Mother) is equally met with her own disliking of the former king. Bertie was by no means a great orator or leader at the point when he became king, and it was always the belief in her eyes that the pressures of being a king would ultimately lead to an early death. 

Edward’s Visit Germany in 1937:

In Episode 6 of The Crown we’re introduced to the incredibly alarming story that The Duke of Windsor and his wife Wallis Simpson paid a visit to Nazi Germany in October 1937.

Believe it or not… this is in fact true! The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Hitler at Berchtesgaden, where Hitler had been vacationing since the 1920s. According to biographer Frances Donaldson, in her book “Edward VIII”, the Duke gave Hitler full Nazi salutes during his visit. While some say this trip was more to receive support for Edward and his wife, the Duke’s actions speak louder than hypotheses. The royal family of course condemned, hid, and didn’t support the visit.

Just after the war, American diplomats uncovered 400 tons of German diplomatic papers, at Marburg Castle. Named the Marburg files, they included a cache of documents damaging to the royal family called the “Windsor File”—some 60 documents (letters, telegrams and other papers) written by people working around the Duke, including German agents, during the war.

In 1946, Britain, France and the United States agreed to work together to process the Marburg files. However, despite British efforts to hide the scandalous truth about their former king, the documents were released by the United States in 1957.

Name Calling:

In the series, it seems somewhat stereotypical that Duke and Duchess of Windsor have nicknames for the royal family — ranging from the derogatory “Cookie” or “the Scottish Cook” for the Queen Mother and “Shirley Temple” for the Queen. But it turns out that these names are actually true! Letters published in 1988 show us that the duke and duchess used those nicknames and several others when talking about the royal family and British politicians… Winstone Churchill was even called “Cry Baby” . The letters also underlined another theme in The Crown — the frosty relationship between the duke and the rest of the royal family. When visiting England after the death of George VI, the duke called the two Elizabeths and Queen Mary “ice-veined bitches” after he discovered that his personal allowance was being cut off. Upon returning to England in 1953 following the death of Mary, he again highlighted the strained relationship with colorful language to the duchess after learning his mother had only left him a pair of candlesticks and three small boxes…

“What a smug stinking lot my relations are and you’ve never seen such a seedy worn out bunch of old hags most of them have become,” he wrote.hers

Prince Edward and Freda Dudley Ward, Prince Albert and Sheila Chisholm
The two couples called themselves The Four Do's, from left, Prince Edward and Freda Dudley Ward, Prince Albert and Sheila Chisholm CREDIT:ROSSLYN COLLECTION
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor

What's In A Name...

An accurate depiction portrayed in The Crown is how the courtiers were wary of Elizabeth’s children taking on Philip’s chosen last name of Mountbatten. There were obvious fears that not only did it give too much weight to the Mountbatten family over the Windsors, but that the Windsor Dynasty itself was too fragile, having only just been created by The Queen’s Grandfather George V during the First World War.

After much dispute with her husband, in 1952 Elizabeth announced to the public that her children would carry the surname Windsor. However, what the series doesn’t show us is that 1958 she quietly changed the name to “Mountbatten-Windsor,” perhaps a sign that the exclusion of his last name was not only a sore spot for Philip, but something that he continued to pursue in the politics of The Crown.

Prince Philip’s Power Struggle:

On the subject of Philip’s struggles as The Duke of Edinburgh, we accurately learn his frustration of having to leave his newly refurbished home in Clarence House to the ever unpopular residence of Buckingham Palace, which for many royals has been branded as cold and empty.

Despite this, The Crown perhaps goes a step too far into overexaggerating Philip’s power struggle, implying that he refused to kneel in front of The Queen during her coronation. There is absolutely no evidence of this in royal archives, and it all seems to have been done for dramatic effect.

Speaking about this particular subject to the press, royal expert Chris Wilson added:

“I doubt Prince Philip ever spoke those words to his wife, because he came from a royal house which had borrowed so much of its ritual and protocol from the British Royal Family…” 

“He knew full well what was expected of him in public, and was prepared to go along with it.“

Matt Smith and Claire Foy in The Crown
Matt Smith and Claire Foy in The Crown

Want to know more about The Crown? Why not visit the filming locations where they filmed Series 1 and create your own bespoke itinerary with Tailored Tours?

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