There’s a scene in The Crown where serious-faced little Princess Elizabeth sits in her tutor’s room at Eton, studying the theory of constitutional monarchy while a raven perches on his master’s chair and stares at her quizzically. This austere room is lined with ancient books and leather-bound folios, and a wintery light filters in through tall glass windows surrounded by red velvet curtains.
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But this isn’t actually Eton: it’s Audley End House.
Watching the first season of Netflix’s award-winning royal drama is like taking a whirlwind tour through the nation’s palaces and stately homes. Lancaster House, Slains Castle and Greenwich Naval College all make an appearance, as do Dundarg Castle and Eltham Palace. The big-budget series uses so many different filming locations that viewers could probably play stately home bingo.
But if you fancy diving into the world of The Crown, Audley End House in Essex may be a good place to start. This is where several of those flashback scenes with the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were filmed, which is why so many of the rooms seem oddly familiar.
This stunning Jacobean great house has a history dating back to a 12th century Benedictine Monastery, and was lived in by the Braybrooke family until 1948. It’s also set in beautiful grounds, with its gardens packed full of rare flowers and unusual varieties of fruit and vegetables.
Walk through the door and you will immediately be awed by the Great Hall. This was the ceremonial heart of the house, where visitors would be received and expected to admire the pistols on the walls, the impressive portrait of Margaret Audley and the grand stairways through the arches.
It also serves as a study for little “Lilibet” and Margaret, bored students who are shown learning etiquette at either end of a long wooden table.
But you can’t blame them: with surroundings like this, how could they possibly concentrate?
Climb the stairs to the library and you’ll find another key filming location. This was the location for a scene set at Eton College. We see Princess Elizabeth arrive for her private lesson and sit alone at a desk in the middle of her tutor’s imposing study. He quizzes her on the works of Walter Bagehot while she dutifully takes notes in her careful handwriting, but the young royal is troubled: do other students her age learn all this stuff? Or do they learn something more useful?
Perched on a chair at the other side of the room is a raven. According to our English Heritage guide, the real-life raven was “wonderfully behaved” throughout filming.
The room we see on screen is the library of Lord Braybrooke, which houses over 6,000 books. Some of those books come from the wonderfully-named Sir John Griffin Griffin, and have a distinctive red leather binding with a gold chequered pattern; others are later and cover travel, gardening, agriculture and genealogy.
And while Elizabeth worries that her education is insufficient (all the boys get to learn algebra! She’s stuck with etiquette and constitutional theory! How will she hold her own in conversation!?), this is actually the library of a man who saw women’s education as vital. The Victorian Lord Braybrooke designed this library to show off his family’s intelligence – and made sure even his daughters were educated to a high level.
Talking of high levels, you have to climb all the way to the top of the house to find the children’s nursery and bedrooms.
But while the parents who lived in this giant house made sure that the kids were kept completely out of their way (clever), at least they gave them somewhere nice to hang out. This Victorian suite of rooms has been recreated from old photographs and watercolours, with a doll’s house and leaf-covered watercolours and a rocking horse.
From the window you can look out across the sweeping grounds of Audley End House and imagine all the little children who lived, slept, ate and played in this room hundreds of years ago.
This nursery also makes a brief appearance in The Crown. When Elizabeth demands her old notebook from her Eton days, her men are sent to hunt it down. They find it in a trunk at the end of her childhood bed: a thin red exercise book with “The constitution” written on it in childish handwriting.
But you don’t need to be sent on a mission by the Queen to visit Audley End House.
This English Heritage property is only a short train ride from London’s Liverpool Street station and is open to the public from April until the end of October, with an entrance fee of £17.50 (£10.50 for children).