Since its debut on Netflix back in 2016, The Crown has captivated audiences around the world for its dramatic portrayal of Queen Elizabeth and the royal family. It has become one of the streaming service’s most-watched series, with its most recent fourth season surpassing all others in both popularity and critical acclaim. It was also recently announced that the royal drama has been renewed for another two seasons, so we’ve still got plenty of high-society excitement ahead!
The Crown has faced some criticism when it comes to historical accuracy, however. But the show’s creators say they purposely take creative license with much of the drama’s storylines. “There are two sorts of truth,” said Robert Lacey, the show’s historical consultant. “There’s historical truth and then there’s the larger truth about the past.”
“Peter [the showrunner] is very, very insistent, and so am I, that this is not a history documentary,” he continued. “We’re not pretending this is a chronological record of those years. There are lots of documentaries that do that sort of thing. This is a drama which picks out particular objects.”
So while The Crown is always compelling, it’s important to remember that it’s not always historically accurate. To help you distinguish between fact and fiction, we take a look at some of the notable storylines the show got wrong.
King George VI Wasn’t Sick In 1947
In the very first episode of The Crown, which takes place in 1947, we see King George VI coughing up blood in the bathroom—early evidence of his eventual lung cancer diagnosis. But in real life, the King did not begin experiencing any symptoms of his illness until one year later, when he suffered a circulatory blockage in his leg.
Winston Churchill’s Assistant And Her Death
In the first season of the series, Venetia Scott is introduced as Winston Churchill’s young secretary. She quickly develops a crush on the powerful prime minister, and the chemistry between the two briefly leads us to believe they’re headed for a steamy affair. Instead, Scott is killed by a bus during a severe air pollution event called the Great Smog of 1952. The young girl’s tragic demise is what prompts Churchill to reverse his initial downplaying of the incident and provide London with the help it needs.
Guess what? While the Great Smog of 1952 was indeed a real-life event, Venetia Scott never existed.
London’s Reaction To The Great Smog
The Crown also exaggerated the city’s panicked reaction to the killer fog event. While the Great Smog was an unprecedented and deadly incident (it’s estimated to have caused between 6,000 to 12,000 deaths), its impact wasn’t fully realized until weeks after it occurred, as Londoners had become accustomed to living with the city’s already poor air quality.
Philip’s Outright Refusal To Bow
Also in season one, Prince Philip makes a huge, public fuss about having to bow for Princess Elizabeth when she becomes Queen. “I will not kneel before my wife,” he exclaims during the coronation. (Spoiler alert: He ends up bowing down after all.) But according to Constitutional expert Christopher Wilson, it’s highly unlikely that this happened. “‘I doubt Prince Philip ever spoke those words to his wife, because he came from a royal house which had borrowed so much of its ritual and protocol from the British Royal Family,” Wilson told The Daily Mail. “He knew full well what was expected of him in public, and was prepared to go along with it.”
Winston Churchill Actually Had A Good Relationship With The Queen
During the first season of the show, the relationship between Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth is portrayed as contentious and confrontational. However, it appears that this was not at all the case. According to The Sunday Post, the Queen herself refuted this notion when she was asked who her favorite prime minister was. “Winston, of course, because it was always such fun,” she said.
Queen Elizabeth And Prince Philip’s Wedding Did Not Go As Smoothly As It Was Depicted
Elizabeth and Philip’s wedding goes off without a hitch in season one of The Crown. However, according to an article from Reader’s Digest, there were a number of notable snafu’s during the ceremony, including a broken tiara, a forgotten pearl necklace, and a missing bridal bouquet.
Elizabeth Never Had A Crush On Porshie
Near the end of the first season, a childhood friend of Elizabeth’s, Lord “Porchie” Porchester, comes on the scene and creates chaos between the royal couple. The Queen clearly starts to develop feelings for her old pal and Philip becomes increasingly jealous. But there’s no evidence that this actually happened in real life. According to most reports, Elizabeth never had any interest in anyone other than her dear husband Philip.
Philip’s Family Did Not Blame Him For His Sister’s Death
When Philip’s sister Cecile and her family are killed in a plane crash on the way to a wedding, Philip’s father clearly blames his son for the tragedy. “You’re the reason we’re all here, burying my favorite child,” he says in the show. As depicted in the series, Philip was supposed to visit Cecile that weekend but was unable to come because of troubles in school. Because of his absence, Cecile decided to take the trip that resulted in her death.
According to royal historian Hugo Vickers, no one ever thought Philip was at fault. “His sister was always coming to the wedding, he told Vogue. “Prince Philip was called into his headmaster’s study and has written of the profound shock he experienced on hearing the news… Prince Philip had nothing to do with the accident at all.”
King Edward VIII Was Much More Involved With The Nazis
The Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, was a known Nazi sympathizer. While The Crown does address this in the second season, it’s suggested that the only reason the Duke aligned with the party was to finagle a deal to get himself back on the throne. In reality, it appears the former king and his wife were much more invested in Hitler’s reign. They visited Germany on many occasions, happily greeting cheering, Nazi-saluting crowds. And according to Biography.com, the Duke referred to Hitler as “not such a bad chap” in his memoirs, placing blame on the British government and the Americans for World War II.
Netflix Omitted A Marriage And A Kidnapping Attempt
The Crown has also left out some major royal family events. It completely bypassed Princess Anne’s 1973 wedding to Captain Mark Phillips, which would have occurred sometime during the show’s season three timeline. One year later, in 1974, Princess Anne was the victim of a dramatic armed kidnapping attempt, which the show also neglected to dramatize.
Netflix Completely Left Out Bloody Sunday
As its name suggests, Bloody Sunday was a violent massacre that occurred on January 30th, 1972, during a protest march in Derry, Northern Ireland. British soldiers opened fire on 26 civilians, killing 14 people and wounding many others. While Bloody Sunday was one of the most significant events to occur during the decades-long conflict with Northern Ireland, The Crown chose not to include it in the show.
The Inaccurate Portrayal Of Prince Charles
Much has been made about the harsh portrayal of Prince Charles in The Crown, particularly during the show’s fourth season. While Charles first comes off as a sad, sensitive victim of an unempathetic royal family, he becomes quite cruel and cold-hearted by the time he meets and marries Princess Diana.
“He’s not only portrayed as a wimp, but also as a very angry, unpleasant person yelling at his wife,” said royal expert Hugo Vickers. “Some of the looks he gives Diana, you begin to wonder whether in the next season we’re going to catch him conspiring to have her murdered in a tunnel in Paris, or something ghastly.”
According to Vickers, Prince Charles is not and was not the cruel tyrant The Crown portrayed him to be. “Prince Charles is very dedicated, and he’s done everything that he’s been asked to do all his life,” Vickers said. “He’s parachuted in the sea [as colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment], gone into the Navy. He’s lived with crofters on funny little islands up in Scotland. He’s gone on government departments. He’s traveled around the Commonwealth. He set up the Prince’s Trust.”
Michael Fagan Didn’t Have Political Reasons For The Break-In At Buckingham Palace
Michael Fagan’s notorious Buckingham Palace break-in was one of The Crown’s most eagerly anticipated storylines. But the incident, which occurred in 1982 and unfolds on the show in season four, did not go down as depicted. While only Fagan and the tight-lipped Queen truly know what was discussed in the royal bedroom that morning, Fagan himself has said that he wasn’t motivated by anger about Margaret Thatcher’s policies, as The Crown depicts. “I don’t know why I did it, something just got into my head,” he told the Independent. “I thought ‘that’s naughty, that’s naughty that I can walk round there.'”
Princess Margaret’s Reservations
In season four of The Crown, Princess Margaret very clearly voices her misgivings about Prince Charles’ fast-approaching wedding to Diana Spencer. However, there’s no evidence that the Princess ever offered such a staunch opinion.
In fact, during a press conference for the show, actress Helena Bonham Carter, who played Anne in seasons three and four, said she came up with the idea. “”I like to credit myself with an idea. I said, ‘Hang on, I’m not really part of this.’ They all looked at me,” Bonham Carter said. “Maybe I’ve totally imagined this, but I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to be encouraging an interference with a marriage when — back when I was Vanessa Kirby back in season 1 — my whole life was destroyed by my sister interfering with a marriage.’ “
The Balmoral Test Was Extremely Embellished
During season four, we see both Margaret Thatcher and Diana Spencer being put through “the Balmoral Test”—a whirlwind weekend at the royal family’s Scottish estate designed to test their chops. While no one disputes that there was a strict code of conduct visitors had to adhere to, it’s unclear if the test really existed. Royal historian Hugo Vickers says it did not, and while we know Thatcher did visit the estate on a number of occasions, she never wrote about being subject to such scrutiny in her memoirs.