Here's Everything 'The Crown' Just Got Straight-Up Wrong About History
Netflix’s The Crown is an addictive blend of pulp and prestige that charts Queen Elizabeth II's time on the throne. But how much of it is accurate? Yes, The Crown gets many scandalous things right about Queen Elizabeth’s life and the British Royal Family, like Princess Margaret, Porchie, and Louis Mountbatten. But, because of those facts The Crown got right, along with the overall historical accuracy and the jaw-dropping production value, audiences may wrongly assume that the show is a reliable history lesson.
The lavish series spares no expense in its dramatization of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Indeed, critics, The Crown cast, and historians alike point out that The Crown really does take history seriously - the creators and writers have clearly done their research. But, every now and then, inaccuracies in The Crown rear their head. Just as often as it faithfully portrays actual events as they happened, such as the Aberfan Disaster, the show also bends the truth and relies on rumors to flesh out storylines and characterizations. Shows like The Crown revel in the murky, hearsay-saturated space between fact and fiction, where it can turn gossip into entire plots. Sure, there’s plenty of fun and drama in that, but not much verifiable, evidence-based history.
The series embellishes plenty of events for its narratives, and often those embellishments come at the expense of Prince Philip’s character. The fictionalized Duke of Edinburgh is portrayed as a petulant, vain, and downright obnoxious character who made Queen Elizabeth’s life unfairly difficult.
Completely accurate or not, The Crown makes history look glamorous as it re-creates and straight-up creates events from Elizabeth’s life and the United Kingdom’s past.
Prince Charles Never Asked John Major To Pressure Queen Elizabeth II Into Abdicating
What The Show Portrays: Prince Charles tries to warm up to a new prime minister when he asks John Major to support him in trying to get Queen Elizabeth to abdicate.
What Really Happened: The scene simply didn't happen. Indeed, John Major was so affronted by the show's suggestion that he actually released a statement to distance himself from The Crown. According to Major, the scene was nothing more than “a barrel load of malicious nonsense." He went on to say, “All the one-to-one conversation you see on screen are utter fiction and some scenes have been entirely created for dramatic and commercial purposes with little regard for the truth. People should be boycotting it.”
Interestingly, Princess Diana's former press secretary Patrick Jephson alleged that Prince Charles did speak with another prime minister about his mother abdicating, just not Major. But until further details can be clarified, Jephson's claim remains an allegation and nothing more.
There's No Evidence That Queen Mary Personally Decided The Romanovs' Fate
What The Show Portrays: In a flashback to 1918, Europe is engulfed in World War I. Members of the British royal family have to make a tough decision when Parliament sends a letter to King George V offering to help bring his cousin Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family to safety. After all, Russia is in the midst of a revolution, and the Romanovs aren't safe. But is it a good idea to bring the autocratic Romanovs to Great Britain? George defers to his wife Queen Mary, who advises him to deny the Romanovs amnesty and leave them to their terrible fate.
What Really Happened: No, Queen Mary did not personally foil the Romanovs' chance to find refuge in Great Britain. Instead, her husband George spent weeks mulling over what to do with the Russian royals, and it wasn't an easy decision. Historian Helen Rappaport explained:
George might have been a moral coward in changing his mind about the family being given sanctuary in Britain, but this in itself is too simplistic as an explanation of what happened. Rather, one needs to explore the true extent to which anyone – let alone the king and his government – was in a position to wave a magic wand over the fate of the Romanovs. Granting asylum was one thing, getting them out of Russia was quite another.
Blaming Mary for the Romanovs' fate is thus both unfair and historically inaccurate.
Princess Diana Did Not Personally Forewarn The Queen About Her 'Panorama' Interview
What The Show Portrays: Princess Diana gives an interview to BBC's Panorama in which she lays out years of distress, anger, and hurt in the royal family. Before the interview airs, Diana does her mother-in-law the courtesy of visiting her in person and warning her that it will be on television.
What Really Happened: Diana's bombshell interview with Panorama really did happen – and journalist Martin Bashir really did go to extreme, unethical lengths to get Diana to agree to do the show, as depicted in The Crown.
One thing that didn't happen: Diana did not forewarn the queen about the interview. Instead, her press secretary Patrick Jephson had to call and break the news to the queen's team.
John Major Had Better Things To Do Than Guide Charles And Diana To An Amicable Divorce Settlement
What The Show Portrays: When it's clear that Prince Charles and Diana's marriage has run its course, Queen Elizabeth gets an inspired idea: Prime Minister John Major – who worked to find peace in Northern Ireland – should mediate their settlement and get the divorce finalized as quickly and smoothly as possible. Major is flattered that the queen would task him with this role, and he agrees to it, even if it means spending less time with his family.
What Really Happened: It's worth repeating: John Major was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He had lots of things to do, like run an entire country. So being the lead mediator in a royal divorce was not a top priority for him. Moreover, it's unlikely that the queen would have asked Major to negotiate the divorce; indeed, nothing in the historical record suggests that she did.
To be fair, Major wasn't completely divorced from the process. As HistoryExtra reported, Major did meet with the queen and the divorcing couple. But to suggest that he spearheaded negotiations is a step too far.
'The Sunday Times' Poll About The British Public Preferring Charles Wasn't Totally Accurate
What The Show Portrays: Prince Charles threatens to eclipse his mother when The Sunday Times releases a poll that indicates half the British public wants the queen to abdicate in favor of her son. Desperate to shield her from the very bad news, members of her staff go to extreme lengths to keep the newspaper out of her hands.
What Really Happened: The Sunday Times published a series of polls in January 1990 about the monarchy. But the results weren't as bad as The Crown makes them out to be. Rather than half the public favoring Elizabeth's outright abdication, the poll found that 47% would support her stepping aside “at some stage," not immediately.
Indeed, the poll actually underlined how popular the entire royal family was, though the public still liked Elizabeth more than Charles. As the actual story from the Times indicated: “Despite assaults by the tabloid press and a decade of intimate scrutiny, the royal family enters the 1990s as a remarkably popular part of British life.”
Elizabeth's Famous 'Annus Horribilis' Speech Was Not An Apology To Her Sister
What The Show Portrays: Two of The Crown's star-crossed lovers are Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend, whose hopes for happily-ever-after in Season 1 were dashed when the young Queen Elizabeth declined to give her permission to her sister to marry a divorced man. Season 5 briefly reunites Margaret and Peter – and gives Margaret another opportunity to confront Elizabeth for denying her happiness. Feeling guilty for the pain she inflicted on her sister, Elizabeth travels to a meeting and gives a speech which serves as a veiled apology to Margaret.
What Really Happened: Elizabeth really did give that speech. Historians refer to it as her “annus horribilis” speech, since it uses that Latin-esque phrase. (It basically means a “horrible year.”) Elizabeth delivered the speech on November 24, 1992, at London's Guildhall to celebrate 40 years on the throne.
Historically, the “annus horribilis” speech had nothing to do with Princess Margaret. But it did reference a number of things that seemed to go wrong in the monarchy in 1992: Windsor Castle suffered significant damage from a fire, and three royal marriages crashed and burned.
Historian Robert Lacey points out that the phrase “annus horribilis” may not have been intended as a “serious” denouncement of 1992. Instead, it actually evidenced Elizabeth's sharp, if understated, sense of humor. As The Guardian reported:
That phrase “annus horribilis” has been taken seriously, an expression of the Queen's anguish, but Lacey points out it was a wry joke. “It’s not correct Latin. Classical scholars regard it as a joke on the expression 'annus mirabilis.' This was her joke that she opens the proceedings with, and suddenly everybody's on her side, she's acknowledged the problem, but she's moved on.”