Netflix’s "The Crown" has famously divided fans of the royal family. For some, it is the perfect ode to the family — it’s a glimpse inside their inner lives and (somewhat heightened) history lesson. For others, the show is nothing but a sensationalized soap opera that twists the real-life royals so far out of proportion that they’re no longer recognizable. For these royal fans, the show takes too many liberties. Some even called for a disclaimer to be added to remind viewers that the show isn’t true to life (via the Daily Mail).
One of the main gripes of some fans is the depiction of Prince (now King) Charles. In fact, even Charles himself allegedly derided actor Josh O’Connor’s portrayal in the Netflix show. As Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar said, the king once claimed, "I’m nowhere near how they portray me on Netflix" (via the Daily Mail). As for O’Connor, he has been open about the show’s dramatic embellishments. "We are creating a work of fiction, albeit based in some reality. But ultimately, there’s only so much research you can do," he told Town & Country. "After a time, you just got to crack on and create something for yourself." In other words, "The Crown" is ultimately a work of fiction inspired by reality.
So just how much did they get right about the new king — and how much did they get wrong?
It’s unlikely Queen Elizabeth II and Philip were so cruel to Charles as a child
In Season 2 of "The Crown," we are introduced to Prince Charles as a young boy. He is depicted as a shy, quiet boy whose tentativeness is met with harshness from his parents. At one point, his father, Prince Philip, even takes the scared boy on a plane, lectures him, and eventually yells, "Stop being so bloody weak!"
In reality, it’s unlikely that Charles’ parents were actually this cruel. According to royal historian Carolyn Harris, it’s far more likely that he didn’t actually know his parents that well at all. "The queen and Prince Philip were busy parents, especially when Charles and [his sister] Anne were young children," Harris told Parade. "Charles developed strong bonds with his nannies and governesses as well as members of his extended family, such as his grandmother, the Queen Mother, and his granduncle Lord Mountbatten. There is film footage depicting the queen and Prince Philip playing with their young children, but their busy schedules meant that their children spent extended periods of time with other family members and caregivers." Chances are, if the royal parents wanted to toughen up their son, they would have left that task to a nanny or governess.
Charles may have hated his boarding school, but he eventually spoke highly of it
In "The Crown," the young Prince Charles is sent off to his father’s old boarding school, Gordonstoun in Scotland. In the show, the young boy hates his time at the school and is ruthlessly bullied.
It seems there is some truth to this depiction. According to Hello! magazine, as a child, Prince Charles even wrote, "The people in my dormitory are foul. Goodness, they are horrid. I don’t know how anybody could be so foul." However, years later, Charles expressed some fondness for his old school. "I am always astonished by the amount of rot talked about Gordonstoun and the careless use of ancient clichés used to describe it," he said in a 1975 speech. "It was only tough in the sense that it demanded more of you as an individual than most other schools did — mentally or physically. I am lucky in that I believe it taught me a great deal about myself and my own abilities and disabilities. It taught me to accept challenges and take the initiative" (via Grampian Online).
Either hindsight is 20-20, or Charles didn’t actually hate the school as much as we were led to believe.
In real life, no one plotted to separate Charles and Camilla
Remember that scene in "The Crown" where Lord Mountbatten and the Queen Mother work together to bring about the separation of Charles and Camilla? As it turns out, that scene was entirely made up. "The Queen Mother and Lord Mountbatten would have discouraged a match between Charles and Camilla," Carolyn Harris told Parade. "However, the scenes where the Queen Mother and Lord Mountbatten actively conspire together to arrange Camilla’s marriage and keep Charles and Camilla apart are dramatized for the series."
Apparently, Mountbatten did dissuade Charles from staying with Camilla, but not in the way shown on the show. In the show, Charles receives a letter on the day of Mountbatten’s death. As show creator Peter Morgan told the official "The Crown Podcast," that letter never happened. "What we know is that Mountbatten was really responsible for taking Charles to one side at precisely this point and saying, ‘Look, you know, enough already with playing the field, it’s time you got married and it’s time you provided an heir,’" Morgan explained (via Express).
Sounds like Charles’ family’s disapproval of Camilla was far less dramatic in real life than it was on the show.
Charles may not have had the personality he has on The Crown
Beyond the fabricated scenes on "The Crown," according to some experts, Prince Charles’ personality may have been altered for dramatic effect. "They always liked to portray him as a kind of wimp [as a child]," claimed royal expert Hugo Vickers in an interview with Vanity Fair. "This time, though, he’s not only portrayed as a wimp, but also as a very angry, unpleasant person yelling at his wife … it’s really, really disgraceful what they’ve done to him in this season." All of this was far from the truth, , Vickers claimed.
A former royal butler, Grant Harrold, also claimed that Charles’ explosive side on the show wasn’t accurate. "In seven years of working for him, he never raised his voice to me — not once, never," he told Insider. "And we were close; I was around him a lot." Instead of being angry and loud, Harrold said, "He’s strong, powerful, and compassionate. And I think he’ll make an amazing king."
However, another ex-butler, Paul Burrell, claimed that there may have been some truth to O’Connor’s portrayal. "Josh O’Connor plays Prince Charles as a rather uncaring, cold person," he told The Sun. "And I’m afraid that’s what I saw behind closed doors."
The Crown left out a few details about Charles’ relationship with Diana’s sister
In "The Crown," Charles has a brief relationship with Sarah Spencer, Diana’s older sister. While Charles did date Sarah in real life, the show left out a few details about how their relationship began and ended.
According to the biography "Diana: Finally, the Complete Story," Sarah and Charles met at a house party during the Royal Ascot. "Prince Charles enjoyed Sarah’s sparkiness and irreverent wit, and they made each other laugh," author Diana Bradford wrote (via Oprah Daily). After that, the pair were spotted at polo matches, the theater, house parties, and even on a Swiss ski holiday.
However, Charles reportedly ended their relationship when Sarah made a comment to Woman’s Own about the Prince. "There is no chance of my marrying him. I’m not in love with him." She even added that she wouldn’t marry Charles "if he were the dustman or the King of England" (via Time).
Charles and Diana did not meet the way they did on The Crown
In a very memorable scene in "The Crown," Charles meets a young Diana in the front hall of her family home. He is there to visit her sister, Sarah. Diana, meanwhile, is dressed in an elaborate and whimsical tree costume for a rehearsal of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." The pair peer at each other from behind large floral arrangements in the empty room.
While this meet-cute may be the perfect otherwordly introduction to Princess Diana, it isn’t exactly what happened in real life. According to a 1981 article in the Daily Times, Diana was first introduced to Charles in November of 1977 when he came to her family home for a pheasant hunting trip. According to Diana, they met "in the middle of a plowed field." Charles later recalled their first meeting: "I remember thinking, what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was. And great fun and bouncy and full of life and everything" (via the National Post).
Charles may have been less restrained in his real-life courtship of Diana
In "The Crown," we don’t get to see too much of Charles and Diana’s courtship. What we do see is a lot of chaperones and guarded conversations. At the beginning of their romance, we see Diana approach Charles’ car and offer her sympathies at the death of Lord Mountbatten. After that, they become engaged fairly quickly.
In real life, chances are that the couple did have some alone time together. In fact, the conversation about Lord Mountbatten reportedly happened in private — and went very differently. Apparently, the pair found themselves sitting on a bale of hay and Diana expressed her sympathies. "The next minute he leapt on me, practically," Diana said in the documentary "Diana: In Her Own Words." "It was strange. I thought, ‘This isn’t very cool,’ but I had nothing to go by, because I’d never had a boyfriend" (via the Evening Standard). Charles even asked her to come back to Buckingham Palace with him, but she allegedly declined, as she was trying to "play it cool."
Here’s how Charles proposed to Diana in real life
In "The Crown," Prince Charles’ proposal to Diana is painfully distant and business-like. The prince proposes in the nursery and doesn’t even get down on one knee — "I thought in terms of rank, the Prince of Wales only ever knelt before the sovereign," Charles said in the show.
In real life, the proposal was probably pretty similar. According to Andrew Morton’s biography of Diana, "Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words," the prince did propose in the nursery — and didn’t kneel. "There was never anything tactile about him," Diana told her biographer. "Anyway, so he said: ‘Will you marry me?’ and I laughed. I remember thinking: ‘This is a joke,’ and I said: ‘Yeah, okay,’ and laughed" (via Insider).
However, according to other reports, the Prince did manage to get down on one knee. We’ll probably never know for sure, but by the sounds of things, his proposal was probably just as awkward as it was in "The Crown."
Charles took a more hands-on approach when it came to Diana’s mental health
In "The Crown," Princess Diana struggles with her mental health after marrying Prince Charles and even develops bulimia. According to many reports, this is all true. However, the way that her husband dealt with Diana’s mental health problems in real life was a little different from what we saw on Netflix.
As royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith told USA Today, Charles became so concerned that he decided to take action to help her — something we never see in "The Crown." "In the autumn of 1981, Charles was so alarmed by Diana’s rages, signs of depression, and overall volatility that he took her to London to see a psychotherapist, Dr. Alan McGlashan," Bedell explained. "She only saw him eight times, but Charles continued regular therapy until 1995."
According to a letter written by McGlashan, Charles was actually concerned about his wife rather than distant and uncaring. Apparently, Charles even has a bust of McGlashan in his home in Highgrove (via the Daily Mail).
Charles might have been even more jealous of Diana’s growing stardom
"The Crown" makes no secret of the fact that Prince Charles becomes jealous of Diana as she becomes more and more popular with the public. According to most accounts, Charles was fairly jealous in real life, too.
According to Paul Burrell, Diana’s butler and friend, Charles wasn’t always very supportive. "Diana said to me, ‘I thought when I got married that my husband would be there for me, to care for me, to support me, to encourage me, but he isn’t,’" Burrell recalled to The Sun. "People that jump up and say, ‘well, that’s not factual’, well, that’s pretty close to the truth. You’re seeing an unknown young girl rise while Charles’s star doesn’t, and her popularity becomes greater than his. And that’s the whole problem."
According to Burrell, everything "The Crown" showed about the pair’s Australia trip was true. In fact, Burrell added that the show’s creators "could have gone further" to show Charles’ jealousy.
The prince was probably a lot busier in real life
If you think "The Crown" is an accurate depiction of what Prince Charles might have been like behind closed doors, you might be surprised to learn that the royal was probably a lot busier than he appeared on the show. As one royal expert, Hugo Vickers, told Vanity Fair, "I mean, does [Charles on ‘The Crown’] ever do any work? Does he ever do an engagement? Does he ever actually achieve anything? No, they didn’t show a single thing that he does."
According to Vickers, Charles has always spent most of his time working for the royal family. "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." By the sounds of things, the real-life Charles isn’t quite as idle as he is shown to be on TV.
The Crown’s depiction of Charles’ affair with Camilla may be false
One of the biggest departures from reality in Netflix’s "The Crown" was the Camilla storyline. In the show, Charles and Camilla are shown to be carrying on a romantic affair while Charles is still married to Diana. According to some experts, this timeline isn’t quite true.
For instance, in the show, Charles heads straight to his home in Highgrove to spend time with Camilla after his 1981 trip with Diana. "This is false," Sally Bedell Smith told Vanity Fair. "He went to Buckingham Palace. At that time, Highgrove was under renovation and redecoration, which Diana supervised with her mother’s interior designer, Dudley Poplak. Charles and Diana didn’t move into Highgrove until late 1981."
In another interview with USA Today, Smith said, "Charles and Camilla did not resume their affair until mid-1986. That was after Diana had already had an affair with her protection officer, Barry Mannakee, but before she began her affair with James Hewitt in November 1986."
Some royal authors believe Diana was emotionally abusive to Charles
In "The Crown," Diana comes across as a far more sympathetic figure than Charles. However, according to some royal biographers, this bias toward Diana hides the truth of their relationship.
"[Diana] mocked Charles’ ideas and declined to read her own briefing material or take the advice of the courtiers assigned to help her," Sally Bedell Smith told Vanity Fair. "As their marriage frayed, she abused Charles emotionally, taunting him for the medals he wore, for instance, and telling him he would never be king. To his credit — and contrary to some of what I am told appears in ‘The Crown’ — Charles did not respond in kind."
We may never really know exactly what Charles was like as a young man — however, it’s safe to say that "The Crown" does take a few artistic liberties with his story. Whatever you choose to believe about the new king, "The Crown" certainly knows how to tell a compelling story.