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 those of her family members, like Princess Margaret and Louis Mountbatten. But, because of those historical accuracies 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, the show also bends the truth and relies on rumors to flesh out storylines and characterizations. The Crown revels 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.
What does the queen think of The Crown? Though she reportedly enjoyed the first season, chances are her opinion will go downhill if she ever gets around to watching the second one – the show does her husband no favors. 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 makes Queen Elizabeth’s life unfairly difficult.
Completely accurate or not, The Crown makes history look glamorous as it recreates and straight-up creates events from Elizabeth’s life and the United Kingdom’s past.
What The Show Portrays: Prince Philip has a troubled childhood. Though estranged from his father, he's particularly close to his sister Cecile – even though she marries into a royal German family that pledges itself to the Nazi State.
After being sent off to a remote boarding school in northern Scotland, Philip misbehaves and gets into fights with some of the other boys. He causes so many problems that Cecile decides he shouldn't come back to Germany for the holidays. Instead, she commits to flying to London for a wedding. The plane crashes, killing everyone on board. At the funeral, Philip's father publicly berates his son and blames him for Cecile's death.
What Really Happened: While Philip's sister did tragically die in a horrific plane crash in 1937, he had absolutely nothing to do with it. There is no evidence that Cecile's decision to attend a wedding in London was due to Philip's behavior. Moreover, his father never blamed 16-year-old Philip for Cecile's death. Though the tragedy almost certainly cast a shadow over Philip's life, the show conjures up a guilt complex that probably was never actually there.
Interestingly, The Crown accurately portrays Cecile's funeral as a full-blown Nazi affair: the family received a sympathy note from Hitler, and Hermann Göring actually attended the funeral.
What The Show Portrays: In Season 2, episode 5 ("Marionettes"), the queen finds herself in hot water when a passionate young aristocrat makes the case that the monarchy is dangerously out of touch with modern Britain. Lord Altrincham courts controversy for his no-nonsense remarks, and the episode climaxes in a secret meeting between the queen and the critic, who convinces her that adaptation is necessary for the crown to survive.
What Really Happened: Yes, the show claims this was a "secret" meeting – so, there wouldn't be any evidence that it didn't happen, right? But there's also absolutely no evidence that it did happen. While Lord Altrincham really did voice his concerns in 1957, nothing suggests he met with Queen Elizabeth. He did meet with Martin Charteris, however, who was the queen's assistant private secretary.
What The Show Portrays: Season 2 of The Crown really paints Prince Philip as awful. In the first few episodes, Prince Philip globe-trots on the royal yacht Britannia as part of a crown tour of the Pacific. His BFF, private secretary, and Thursday Club mate Michael Parker accompanies him. Parker writes letters back to the Thursday Club suggesting that the two friends are getting into all manner of mischief and adulterous behavior on their tour.
Like Philip, Parker has left his family at home – and, with her husband away yet again, his wife Eileen takes the opportunity to initiate divorce proceedings. The show suggests that Eileen uses her husband's letters – which imply that Prince Philip was also having flings – to secure a divorce on the grounds of adultery.
What Really Happened: Well, if this is any indication of what The Crown did or didn't get right, the real Parker children are apparently royally furious about the way the show portrays their parents.
The Parker divorce really did happen in 1958, and it scandalized British society. It was also a liability to the royal family, since 1950s Britain was still a socially conservative society that abhorred any and all divorces, especially ones that involved Prince Philip's friend. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth apparently elevated her husband to the title of "prince" precisely to prevent him from being subpoenaed to testify about his friend in the divorce proceedings.
So, the divorce was real, but the letters probably weren't. Town & Country points out that no evidence suggests Parker actually sent incriminating notes to the Thursday Club.
What The Show Portrays: Over the course of Season 1, Princess Elizabeth becomes Queen Elizabeth, and must learn how to walk the line between her private life and public duty. She has help in the form of Winston Churchill, the aged Prime Minister who takes it upon himself to guide and advise the new queen.
The Crown's Churchill is a gruff and rigid figure who is tragically limping away from the inevitable future. His meetings with the queen are lessons in duty and opportunities for the formidable leader to mansplain politics.
What Really Happened: Queen Elizabeth treasured Winston Churchill. He wasn't just her first Prime Minister, he was also her favorite. Why? According to the queen herself, "because he was so much fun."
Churchill and the queen enjoyed a warm relationship, since the two shared interests and he had been close to her parents. Laughter, not long lectures, more often than not defined their weekly meetings. Though The Crown rightly depicts him as resolute and difficult, in real life he could also be fun-loving, mischievous, and witty.