In case you missed it, Netflix released the second season of its hit show The Crown just over a week ago. It continues to follow the lives of the British royal family, this time in the late 1950s and early 1960s. If you thought that season one packed in the drama, you’re in for a real treat in these ten new episodes. SO MUCH GOES DOWN. Who knew that Queen Elizabeth and her family led such scandalous lives?
Trouble is, how much of this drama is fact? How much of the action did the showrunners invent for entertainment purposes? How can you know what’s accurate and what’s not? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. We’ve taken a look at some of The Crown‘s major events and found out what’s fact and what’s fiction. How much of it is true might actually surprise you! **WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SEASON TWO FOLLOW. Read on at your own risk.**
17. The stress of his brother’s abdication killing King George VI
If you cast your mind back to the very first episodes of The Crown, you’ll remember that Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, wasn’t always supposed to be monarch. He was forced to step into the role after his brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
Fast forward to 1952, and King George was on the brink of death. When he finally passes away in his sleep in episode two of the show, his entire family is understandably distraught. However, when the former King Edward returns from exile the attend his brother’s funeral, he faces the added anguish of his mother, Queen Mary, blaming him for George’s death. Mary claims that the stress of becoming King significantly shortened George’s life.
We can’t be sure whether Mary truly did blame Edward for her younger son’s death. After all, even if Mary made such allegations, she never would have done so in public. However, we do know that relations between Mary and Edward were frosty to the extent that they barely spoke after 1939.
16. The Queen throwing shoes and a tennis racket at Philip during a row
In the eighth episode of The Crown‘s first season, The Queen and Prince Philip have a very memorable row while in Australia. Philip has become frustrated at Elizabeth allegedly using him “as a prop” in her official engagements, while Elizabeth wishes Philip could be more supportive of her role. The argument ends in Elizabeth throwing shoes and a tennis racket at her husband, before realizing with horror that a film crew has caught the whole thing. The crew surrender the tape without argument, and Elizabeth offers to give them an interview of their choosing.
While this scene might seem like it was added for dramatic effect, it actually did happen! Queen Liz did throw those objects at Philip, and a film crew did capture the whole thing. What happened next is up for debate. Some versions state that the crew gave the tape up of their own accord. Others claim that the Royals’ press secretary forced them to hand it over. Either way, that footage never did see the light of day.
15. Princess Margaret’s romance with Peter Townsend
Princess Margaret’s passionate affair with Peter Townsend was a major plot point in season one. While the two initially kept their romance a secret, they eventually went public and announced their intention to marry. Unfortunately, Townsend’s status as a divorcee made things very difficult. Despite Elizabeth promising her sister that she would make the marriage happen, objections from Parliament and the Church of England eventually drive the couple apart.
This tragic love story definitely did take place in real life, and The Crown portrays it pretty accurately. Margaret did initially wait until she was 25 to marry Townsend, and did learn of his exile to Brussels while in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The couple was forced to part and were genuinely heartbroken by their separation. However, we can’t know whether the strain this put on Elizabeth and Margaret’s relationship is fact or fiction. The two sisters were close for pretty much their entire lives; however, something like this may well have caused tension for a while.
14. Churchill’s assistant’s death in the Great Smog
Season one’s episode about the 1952 Great Smog was truly heartbreaking. As this toxic cloud descended on London, thousands lose their lives while Prime Minister Winston Churchill refuses to do anything about the matter. Some of his contemporaries request that the Queen sack him due to his failure to act. However, this turns out to be unnecessary as the death of his assistant shocks Churchill into promising a long-term solution to the smog.
This huge pollution-related event did occur and did claim thousands of lives. However, Churchill’s change of heart is largely fictional. Firstly, he didn’t have an assistant that died in the tragedy. The character of Venetia was simply an amalgamation of various secretaries the Prime Minister had over the years, none of whom died in this way. There was also very little public criticism of Churchill at the time. The event was so unexpected and unprecedented that even the public conceded that the government would have no idea what to do about it. However, the environmental legislation did pass in the wake of the event. Consequently, conditions in London greatly improved.
13. Prince Philip being uncomfortable bowing to his wife
A frequent theme across both seasons of The Crown is Prince Philip’s discomfort at being technically inferior to his wife. In the first season, this was particularly clear during Elizabeth’s coronation. Philip does not want to kneel to pay homage to his wife during the ceremony, and although his wishes are eventually overruled, he’s not happy about it.
While the arguments over this issue add some extra family drama to the show, they’re most likely fictional. There’s no evidence that Philip kicked up a fuss about this element of the coronation, and royal historians generally agree that he was probably happy to go along with it. Philip knew what he was getting into when he married the heir apparent of the United Kingdom, and already had a detailed knowledge of royal practices and protocols. Having to kneel to Elizabeth wouldn’t have come as a shock. Even if he didn’t like it, Philip probably just sucked it up.
12. Churchill lying to the Queen about his health – and the Queen catching him out
In season one, Prime Minister Winston Churchill dramatically suffers a stroke prior to a meeting with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. Churchill and his confidante Lord Salisbury decide to keep his illness a secret from the Queen. However, this totally backfires when she finds out anyway. She gives the two men a severe dressing-down, leaving them both pretty red-faced.
While Churchill did indeed have a stroke, it’s not quite clear whether he did hide it from the Queen or not. He definitely kept his illness a secret from the press and the public, but reports differ regarding whether his monarch knew or not. It’s most likely that The Crown‘s showrunners decided to add in this deception to give Elizabeth a chance to ‘get one up’ on her notoriously difficult PM. It also allowed them to get that great speech about the sovereignty of the Crown in there. Fair play to them!
11. Churchill hating (and burning) his birthday portrait
In the penultimate episode of the first season, Churchill celebrates his 80th birthday. To commemorate the event, prestigious artist Graham Sutherland paints the PM’s portrait. The two men bond over both tragically losing a child and the sitting seems to go quite well. However, the unveiling of the painting is less successful: turns out Churchill hates it. It shows him in all of his elderly, frail glory, which he sees as too realistic. His wife, Clementine, burns the portrait shortly afterward.
While this might seem like a really bad reaction to disliking a painting, it’s actually astonishingly accurate. The only detail up for debate is who actually set fire to the offending piece of art. Clementine Churchill initially claimed that she’d done it herself. However, later reports suggested that she asked her secretary, Grace Hamblin, to do it. Either way, we’ve lost the portrait forever. Luckily, we do have some of Sutherland’s original sketches, which are currently on display in England’s National Portrait Gallery.
10. Prince Philip’s affair
The second season of The Crown kicked off in a pretty dramatic fashion. It depicts Prince Philip apparently having an affair with a ballerina prior to his tour of the Commonwealth. He does the remarkably stupid thing of leaving a portrait of her in his luggage, which Elizabeth inevitably finds. The two row, Elizabeth actually goes to check her love rival out by watching her perform, and the royal marriage gets quite frosty.
While this storyline is based on rumors that Philip had an affair with an actress at some point in the 1960s, there’s no concrete evidence that it actually happened. The royal press office has constantly avoided the subject – as you would, really. Philip himself has staunchly denied these claims, rather accurately pointing out that it’s hard to have an affair when security officers surround you 24/7. We’ll never know what really happened, but I like to think that Philip did, in fact, remain faithful to his beloved wife.
9. The Suez Crisis causing chaos in Britain and abroad
Alongside Philip’s alleged affair, season two kicked off with the onset of the 1956 Suez Crisis. Totally inept Prime Minister Anthony Eden was completely ruined by his botched attempt at taking back control of the Egyptian Suez Canal. In The Crown, the whole sorry affair is covered, including Elizabeth apparently being too distracted by her marital woes to stop Eden from enacting his doomed plan.
The Crisis was just as controversial and shocking as the show makes out. It did ruin Eden’s career, and seriously dented Britain’s reputation on the world stage. However, certain details about the incident were added by showrunners for dramatic effect. For example, Eden wasn’t giving a speech at his old school, Eton, when he found out about Suez. He was actually at a dinner with King Feisal II of Iraq. Awkward. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s role in events is portrayed somewhat unfairly. For one, we have no evidence to suggest she was undergoing marital woes at that time. Even if she was, her actions couldn’t possibly influence world diplomacy to the extent the show suggests. This one’s all on Anthony Eden.
8. King Edward being a Nazi sympathizer
In episode six of The Crown‘s second season, Elizabeth uncovers some shocking documents relating to her uncle, the former King Edward VIII. The papers suggested that Edward and his wife, Wallace, were Nazi sympathizers during World War II. Moreover, the Nazis had apparently planned to kidnap the former king and use him as a puppet leader after invading Britain. This plan was formulated after Edward and Wallis visited Adolf Hitler himself at his Bavarian home. The documents are pretty incriminating, and cast Edward in a very bad light.
We know that these documents definitely did exist and that Edward and Wallis were on pretty good terms with Hitler in the 1930s and 40s. Edward even allegedly said that he wanted peace with the Nazis, and that war would have been avoided if he’d stayed on the throne. However, the true extent of the former king’s fascist leanings has never been established. The man himself flat-out denied that he was on close terms with Hitler and supported Nazi ideology.
7. Philip forcing Prince Charles to attend Gordonstoun school- and Charles hating it
In the penultimate episode of season two, Prince Philip is shown packing young Prince Charles off to his own former boarding school, Gordonstoun. Philip doesn’t give Charles – or the rest of the family – a choice in this matter. He even threatens to walk out on Elizabeth if she sends the young boy to her preferred school, Eton. So, Charles heads off to Gordonstoun and is consequently miserable. He experiences bullying, hates the school’s focus on sports, and ends up regarding the place as more of a prison than a school.
It seems that The Crown‘s interpretation of Charles’ school years is pretty much accurate. He hated Gordonstoun, later referring to it as “Colditz with kilts.” His former schoolmates have confirmed that he was horribly bullied as a child. We also know that Charles’s grandmother, the Queen Mother, advocated for him being educated at Eton. The scenes showing the young prince being utterly miserable at school are even more heartwrenching when you realize they’re totally true.
6. Princess Margaret becoming a rebellious free spirit after the Townsend incident
The second season of The Crown shows Princess Margaret struggling in the aftermath of her affair with Peter Townsend. To be frank, she goes a little bit off the rails. She samples all of the debaucheries that the Swinging Sixties had to offer, and eventually strikes up a romance with photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. The two cause scandal when they release a photograph that appears to show Margaret naked to the press. They eventually marry, and live happily ever after — for now.
It’s certainly true that Margaret indulged in her wild side after her relationship with Townsend ended. She was romantically linked to a number of men, and gained a reputation for being a bit of a ‘party princess.’ However, she was left distraught when Townsend suddenly married a young Belgian woman in 1959 – despite allegedly promising that he’d marry nobody but Margaret for the rest of his life. Seemingly in retaliation, Margaret got hitched to Armstrong-Jones in 1960.
5. Prince Philip and Prince Charles’s strained relationship
In the same episode that shows young Prince Charles’ unhappy school years, we get a moving insight into his relationship with his father. It’s a bit fraught, to say the least. For one, Philip doesn’t understand Charles’ sensitive nature. While the young boy is emotionally open, his father sees that as a sign of weakness. Philip also takes out a lot of repressed anger about his own upbringing on his young son. Philip fails to grasp the differences between himself and his son. Charles is distraught that he will never live up to his father’s expectations.
Sadly, this is another element of the show that seems to be pretty accurate. Charles has made no secret of his troubled relationship with his father. He has described Philip as a tough disciplinarian and even a bully. While as a young boy Charles idolized his father, the gulf between them widened as the years went by. Relations between the two seem to be better these days; however, Charles has allegedly never got over the struggles of his childhood.
4. Prince Philip broadcasting his own Christmas speech while on tour
The Queen famously gives a Christmas address to her people each year. However, in episode two of season two, it’s Prince Philip’s turn! While away on his long tour of the Commonwealth, Philip broadcasts a radio message on Christmas Day from the Royal Britannia Yacht. He also sports a pretty impressive traveler’s beard while doing so. The Queen’s own transmission from Sandringham follows his speech. Elizabeth refers to her husband’s message and states how much she misses him. N’awwww!
Back in 1956, this message from Philip did actually happen! The Crown‘s depiction of this event is pretty much spot on, in fact. The Queen used Philip’s speech and absence to express sympathy for all of her subjects who were also separated from their loved ones that Christmas, including refugees. She wished her husband a Merry Christmas from afar, in a very public fashion!
3. The Queen’s nerves before her first televised Christmas speech
Episode five shows the second Queen’s speech of The Crown‘s second season. However, this second speech is rather special. It’s the first televised broadcast, and Elizabeth is incredibly nervous. While she pulls off her speech with aplomb, the Queen is initially very worried about how she will come across and fears criticism from her subjects. One particularly vocal troublemaker, Lord Altrincham, had been stirring anti-royal sentiment earlier in the episode. While this broadcast speech may pacify her subjects temporarily, Elizabeth worries that her position may be under threat.
Back in 1957, Altrincham certainly did cause quite a few issues for the British monarchy. He attacked the Queen’s “pain in the neck” manner of speaking, and even called her a “priggish schoolgirl.” The Royals did get pretty concerned that this outspoken criticism would damage their position – hence the televised Christmas speech. It was hoped that this would show a more ‘down to earth’ side of the monarch, and it worked! The Queen did hate the experience, though, later stating that being on TV ruined her Christmas. She can’t hate it that much, though – she still does it to this day!
2. The Profumo Affair bringing down the British government
The final episode of The Crown‘s latest season deals with an infamous British scandal: The Profumo Affair. Outrage erupts when government minister John Profumo has an affair with wannabee model Christine Keeler, then proceeds to lie about it. He then has to make an embarrassing confession a few weeks later, shattering the confidence and the grip on power of his boss, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Macmillan’s inability to deal with his own ministers leads to his downfall.
This retelling of Profumo’s infamous affair is incredibly accurate. The scandal is still one of the worst in modern British political history, and its intricacies are fully exposed in this wonderful episode. Macmillan’s confidence really was irreparably damaged by the incident, and his grip on power crumbled. The whole affair toppled the ruling Conservative Party and hastening in a Labour government in 1964. The episode that deals with these events was actually unexpectedly timely: Christine Keeler passed away mere days before the season’s release.
1. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s suffering at the hands of his wife
As well as having to deal with the scandalous affair of one of his ministers, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan has to cope with his own marital woes. The latter episodes of season two really made us feel sorry for this poor guy — his wife was pretty awful. She has a pretty open affair with one of her husband’s colleagues, Lord Boothby, and is pretty nasty about it. She doesn’t care one bit about her husband’s feelings and doesn’t exactly support him in his time of need.
Unfortunately for poor Harold, this is actually how things went down. His wife, Dorothy, was a stone cold byatch for most of their marriage. She cheated on the beleaguered Prime Minister for literal decades and didn’t try to hide it. Like, it lasted from 1929 until her death in 1966. She knew that her husband couldn’t seek a divorce for political reasons, so essentially condemned him to a life of misery. What a lovely woman!