The Crown dishes on behind-the-throne drama featuring members of the British royal family, and one royal couple cooked up more drama than most: Diana and Charles. But what was Diana and Charles's relationship really like? How much did The Crown get right? And how do the details provided in the show shed new light on the royal couple's troubled relationship?
Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, began dating Lady Diana Spencer in 1980. Charles asked Diana to marry him in early 1981 after only a handful of dates. When news broke of Diana and Charles's engagement, the media circus surrounding the couple went into overdrive. The world watched as Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married, had children, and eventually fell out in a painfully public separation.
The Crown shares a number of facts about Charles and Diana's relationship. Though not everything in the show is rooted in documented fact, a higher truth persists: Prince Charles and Princess Diana were two wounded people who never should have gotten married, but were bound together in a bitterly unhappy, tragic relationship.
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Charles Only Proposed To Diana After Misreading A Memo From His Father
The Crown suggests that Prince Philip and the rest of the royal family all but directed Prince Charles to propose to Lady Diana Spencer.
The truth, however, is a little more complicated. Diana embodied a lot of the things the royal family wanted in a bride for Charles: She was well connected, virginal, and charming. Impatient that his son was still single, Prince Philip wrote Prince Charles a letter that advised him to ask Diana to marry him or cut her loose - it wasn't fair to string her along.
Unfortunately, Charles misunderstood the letter. He interpreted it as a parental directive to marry the young woman.
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Diana Often Taunted Prince Charles That He Would Never Become King
The Crown presents Prince Charles and Princess Diana's relationship as dysfunctional and spells out the various ways that the monarchy victimized the Princess of Wales. But Diana had a hand in shaping her relationship with Charles, too.
According to biographer Sally Bedell Smith, Princess Diana "taunted" her husband "by saying, 'You'll never be king.'" She would also sarcastically refer to Charles as "the Boy Wonder" or "the Great White Hope" in an attempt to deflate his ego.
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They Were Emotionally Incompatible And Both Sought Professional Help
Though The Crown correctly depicts the disastrous marriage between Prince Charles and Princess Diana, it leaves out some key developments. As their marriage deteriorated, it became clear that Charles and Diana couldn't be there for one another in the ways that they each needed. So they tried to make it work, but were unsuccessful.
The royal family believed that Diana, not Charles, was the problem. The Windsors thought she was "unstable," and thus a liability. As Diana herself alleged:
I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger: they decided that was the problem - Diana was unstable.
Charles arranged for Diana to meet with the psychiatrist Dr. Alan McGlashan, but she didn't feel as though he was helping her. She refused the valium she was prescribed because "she was convinced in her growing paranoia that the royal family was trying to sedate her," in the words of Charles's biographer Sally Bedell Smith. Instead, Princess Diana found her own therapists.
Apparently, Prince Charles was never officially one of Dr. McGlashan's patients, though he informally consulted the psychiatrist for years.
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Princess Diana Thought Charles Was Joking When He Proposed
When Prince Charles proposed to Lady Diana Spencer, she giggled. She didn't think Charles was serious. As Diana later recalled:
He said, "Will you marry me?" and I laughed. I remember thinking, this is a joke, and I said, "Yeah, OK," and laughed. He was deadly serious.
Diana was only 20 years old at the time of her engagement and later described herself as "an immature girl."
To be fair, nothing about Prince Charles's proposal was particularly romantic. He went through with it only after encountering pressure from his family.