13 Things “The Crown” Gets Wrong About the British Royal Family
The Crown, the Netflix drama about the life of Queen Elizabeth II, is historical fiction. The question is, how much is fact, and how much is fiction?
King George VI wasn’t sick yet in 1947
The Crown opens in 1947 with King George VI (Queen Elizabeth II’s father) coughing up blood. However, in real life, King George VI, who died of lung cancer in 1952, was not yet ill in 1947. It wasn’t until a year later that George VI began to suffer from leg pain. Doctors diagnosed a circulatory blockage and performed surgery for that, and his lung cancer wasn’t diagnosed until 1951.
The wedding didn’t go nearly so smoothly as depicted
In the show, the wedding of the then-Princess Elizabeth and the then-Philip Mountbatten is treated as a fairytale-like affair. In real life, it involved a comedy of errors:
- The diamond tiara Elizabeth wore—her “something borrowed”—snapped in half on the way to the wedding. It was quickly fixed by an on-call court jeweller, but not to perfection. In the real-life wedding photos, a gap in the tiara is clearly visible.
- Elizabeth forgot her pearl necklace and sent her secretary to retrieve it, but the traffic was so bad, the secretary had to make most of the journey on foot.
- Elizabeth’s bridal bouquet went missing (but was eventually discovered in a cooler).
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The Queen’s mother-in-law didn’t show up to the wedding dressed as a nun
The first time we see Philip’s mother in The Crown, the Princess Andrew (also known as Princess Alice of Battenberg), she’s dressed as a nun, as if to illustrate her well-documented eccentricities. Eccentric as she was, however, in real life she wore a simple silk dress to her son’s wedding. That’s not to say she didn’t wear a habit to Elizabeth’s coronation several years later, which, in fact, she did (by then, she had actually become a nun).
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Her Majesty never had a crush on “Porchie”
Toward the end of season one, when Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage is under intense strain, The Crown depicts the relationship between Elizabeth and her childhood friend, Lord “Porchie” Porchester, as being rife with sexual tension, while Philip grows increasingly jealous. In real life, however, this never happened. From the age of 13, Elizabeth had eyes for only one man: Philip. Their fairy tale love story is the thing of legends, and Porchie was never a threat.
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The tragic Venetia Scott didn’t actually exist
In the show, Winston Churchill’s starstruck secretary Venetia Scott is mowed down by a bus as she hurries to Downing Street with an urgent message. Her death spurs the Prime Minister to put the Clean Air Act in motion. But was that really the case back in the 1950s? Did Venetia Scott actually exist? Well, no. The earnest secretary who memorizes Churchill’s autobiography and struggles through the smog to work is actually one of The Crown‘s few invented characters. Her life and death are both fictional. The Great Smog itself was certainly a real event, though. London was enveloped in a blanket of thick, poisonous smog for several days, leading to thousands of deaths and overburdened hospitals.
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Tragic as it was, the fog wasn’t a political crisis
Yes, the “pea-souper” was less of a political crisis than The Crown makes out, so a dose of Venetia Scott adds tragedy to what was otherwise a devastating but undramatic event. This much is true: In 1952, a perfect storm of circumstances came together that caused London to be covered in a thick blanket of poisonous smog, and tragically, around 4,000 people died as a result. So when The Crown depicted the horrors of the fog, it wasn’t taking liberties. Liberties were taken, however, in the show’s depiction of the resulting political upheaval, including Her Majesty’s displeasure with Winston Churchill’s handling of it (to the point where Elizabeth was considering asking for Churchill’s resignation). In fact, there was no such upheaval.
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Philip’s “affair” with that ballet dancer was pure speculation
The Crown depicts Prince Philip as more than just a bit of cad. While it’s true that the real Prince Philip is known for putting his foot in his mouth on many an occasion, there’s no evidence he had an affair with a Russian ballet dancer, as The Crown suggests. In fact, Time suggests the ballet dancer in question, Galina Ulanova, may not even have been heterosexual.
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Prince Philip didn’t stare down a raging elephant
In the second episode of The Crown, just before Elizabeth learns that her father has died and that she’s now Queen, she and Philip have a terrifying encounter with a raging elephant on an African safari, which ends with Philip staring down the elephant and muttering something to the effect of, “Don’t mess with me, I’m going to be King.” However, that dramatic stare down didn’t happen in real life, PEOPLE reports.
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Queen Elizabeth did not refuse her sister’s request to marry
Much is made in The Crown of Queen Elizabeth II’s refusal to allow her sister, Princess Margaret, to marry Peter Townsend, including the Queen’s warning to Margaret that any such marriage will result in Margaret being shunned from the family. In real life, Elizabeth had been so keen on making sure her sister was happy that she had gone so far as to draw up papers that would permit Margaret to retain her royal title upon her marriage to Townsend, according to the BBC. So why didn’t the marriage happen? The relationship had simply run its course.
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Prince Philip wasn’t blamed for the death of his sister, Cecilie
The Crown implies that Philip’s misbehaviour at boarding school led to his sister, Cecilie, to get on the plane that killed her and her entire family in 1937. That’s not really what happened, however, royal historian Hugo Vickers tells Vogue. First, the supposed misbehaviour (a fist fight) never happened, and more importantly, Cecilie had planned on getting on that plane regardless of anything that was going on with her brother.
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The Crown leaves out the fact that Philip had a Jewish mentor
It’s unclear why this detail was left out of The Crown, especially since there’s some suggestion in the series that Philip’s family had ties to the Nazi party. But the truth is that Philip’s mentor, Kurt Hahn, the man who founded Gordonstoun, the Scottish boarding school that Philip attended, was a German-born Jew who opposed and fled the Nazis. Also left out of The Crown is the tremendous influence Hahn had over education in general. Gordonstoun inspired the creation of many schools around the world, and Hahn co-founded Outward Bound.
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Elizabeth’s visit to Ghana wasn’t nearly as pivotal as depicted
In the early 1960s, Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit to Ghana. Newly independent, Ghana was being “courted” by the Soviet Union and therefore vulnerable to falling prey to communism. In The Crown, the Queen shares a charming ballroom dance with Ghana’s president, Kwame Nkrumah—so charming, in fact, that Nkrumah decides to rebuff Soviet overtures and remain within the orbit of the British Commonwealth. What The Crown doesn’t mention is the other facts that may have influenced Ghana’s decision to remain in the Commonwealth, including the subsequent overthrow of Nkrumah’s government.
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There’s no evidence Philip was part of the Profumo scandal
The Crown insinuates Philip was involved in the 1963 sex scandal involving Minister of War John Profumo and a man called Stephan Ward, who arranged for high-profile men like Profumo to “meet” women who were happy to “entertain” them. The Crown correctly points out a link between Ward and Philip, but Buckingham Palace has always denied Philip’s involvement in the scandal, and no evidence exists to tie him to it.
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