‘ The Crown’: How true to history is the new season?
Does the queen have a favorite child? How bad was Charles and Diana’s marriage?
Spoiler alert! The following contains details from Season 4 of “The Crown.” ● Nothing gets Anglophiles Googling harder than a new season of “The Crown.” ● Netflix’s fictionalized series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II ( Olivia Colman) is in its new season that tackles the monarchy in the 1980s, meaning Princess Diana ( Emma Corrin) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ( Gillian Anderson) play prominent roles. And while the series is edging closer to the current era, there are plenty of historical events, royal family dramas and fashion statements that American viewers may be unfamiliar with. To sort out fact from fluff, USA TODAY spoke with Sally Bedell Smith, author of biographies “Elizabeth the Queen,” “Prince Charles,” and “Diana In Search of Herself.” The historian – who consulted on “The Crown” creator Peter Morgan’s royals- themed stage play “The Audience” – explains what happened with Charles, Diana and Camilla, whether the Queen had a favorite child and more.
The series indicates that Prince Charles never really stopped seeing Camilla Parker Bowles, even when he and Diana were dating and engaged. How much do we know about that?
Sally Bedell Smith: Charles and Camilla parted company at the end of December 1972. ( They) didn’t resume their love affair until late 1978. They seldom saw each other but spoke frequently on the phone. When Charles and Diana began dating, he introduced her to his social circle, including ( Camilla and her husband).
Once Diana and Charles were engaged in February 1981, Charles was away frequently. He scarcely had time to see his fiancée, and there’s no evidence he saw Camilla. Shortly before the wedding he arranged for more than a dozen gifts to friends – including Camilla – as gestures of gratitude. Camilla’s gift was a bracelet with the monogram “GF,” which stood for “Girl Friday,” his nickname for Camilla. Diana found the bracelet and confronted him. He reiterated that it was over with Camilla, but on July 27, two days before the wedding, he traveled to Camilla’s home and gave her the keepsake.
Through all the turbulence of the following years, Charles and Camilla did not resume their affair until mid- 1986. That was after Diana had already had an affair with her protection officer Barry Mannakee but before she began her affair with James Hewitt in November 1986.
In the wedding episode, Margaret is against Charles and Diana getting married because she knows he loves Camilla. In a later episode, Charles comforts his aunt through a mental health crisis. Were they really close?
Smith: ( Charles and Diana) and Princess Margaret were neighbors at Buckingham Palace, but Charles
didn’t have much to do with his aunt. Ironically, it was Margaret who showed kindness and tenderness to Diana. On the publication of the Andrew Morton ( tell- all book about Diana) in June 1992, Margaret turned sharply against Diana and took Charles’s side.
The series details Diana’s battle with bulimia and indicates that most of the royal family knew about her eating disorder. How open was Diana about it?
Smith: Neither the Queen nor Prince Philip nor the Queen Mother knew about Diana’s bulimia, nor, in all likelihood, did other members of the royal family. The essence of an eating disorder is its secrecy and shame.
Diana had suffered from bulimia since her boarding school days ( her headmistress and matron told me of her erratic eating habits, and shortly before her death, Diana disclosed that she had been bulimic as a teenager). The pressure of being in the royal family and under incessant scrutiny by the press triggered her bulimia shortly after the engagement was announced. Over the years, servants at Charles and Diana’s homes heard her retching in the bathroom, so they were aware. Charles may have been aware of it as well.
In the autumn of 1981, Charles was so alarmed by Diana’s rages, signs of depression and overall volatility that he took her to London to see a psychotherapist, Dr. Alan McGlashan.
One episode of the new season is devoted to the Queen’s meetings with all her children, trying to decide her favorite. At the end of the episode she says it’s Andrew. I’m sure we can’t know for sure who her favorite child is, but is there basis for the claim?
Smith: The Queen meeting with her children to discover her favorite is a complete fabrication. It is utterly out of character for the Queen to do anything remotely like that and shows how little the writers of “The Crown” understand her. It has long been speculated that Andrew is her favorite child, with no evidence. Her cousin, Lady Patricia Mountbatten, told me if the Queen privately favored any child, Edward was the one ... because he is most like her in temperament and character. Lady Mountbatten’s son Timothy Knatchbull told me that as her youngest child, the Queen regarded Edward as her “ewe lamb” to whom she gave an extra measure of love and warmth when he was a child.
In “The Crown,” the Queen and Margaret Thatcher are in conflict many times, and publicly when the Queen allows a Sunday Times story about her dissatisfaction with the prime minister to be published. Later the palace blames her press secretary, and he resigns. How did this episode really happen?
Smith: The Queen’s relationship with Margaret Thatcher was uneasy at times. In temperament they were, as the British would say, “chalk and cheese.” But they had great respect for each other as professional women and working mothers. They did not have conflict in their private audiences, ever. Thatcher was scrupulously deferential to the Queen. Thatcher did feel uncomfortable on her mandatory autumn visits to Balmoral, arriving in tweed suit and heels. ... This awkwardness amused the Queen.
In July 1986 the Sunday Times published a sensational Page One story claiming that the Queen was upset about Thatcher’s policies. ... While Thatcher was furious about the story, ( Thatcher adviser) Charles Powell told me she didn’t think the Queen had anything to do with it.
Her press secretary, Michael Shea, had secretly briefed the Sunday Times reporter, who led him to believe he was writing a speculative story on the monarchy in the 21st century. Shea said he talked in general terms and that the reporter had “misinterpreted” his words.
Emma Corrin wears a replica of Diana’s iconic wedding dress on Season 4 of “The Crown.”
Emerald Fennell plays Camilla Parker Bowles in Season 4 of “The Crown.”
Olivia Colman stars as Elizabeth II in Season 4 of “The Crown.”