Watching Netflix’s royal drama The Crown, one can’t help but wonder: what is fact and what is fiction?
The Crown certainly tells the story of many real-life characters, and covers a series of very dramatic real-life events which you can read about in the history books and the papers. But it is, of course, also a work of fiction which employs plenty of dramatic licence to take us behind the doors of Buckingham Palace.
Is The Crown a true story?
As royal historian Robert Lacey previously wrote in Radio Times: “What you see is both invented and true.” The Crown is painstakingly researched, and closely based on real historical events; but it is also a work of drama and storytelling, rather than a documentary.
Still, many fans of The Crown will be keen to know more about the real-life events and relationships that we see on screen. With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at all the key questions about what really happened, with a collection of in-depth features answering all the big (and small) questions from every single season of The Crown so far.
The history behind The Crown season 4
The Crown’s fourth season is uneven – but the Charles and Diana story is told brilliantly, we declared in our four-star The Crown review. These ten new episodes cover the years 1979-1990, spanning the entire premiership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) and introducing us to Princess Diana (Emma Corrin).
But what’s fact and what’s fiction in season four? Have a read of our features answering the big questions:
Prince Charles dated Diana’s sister Sarah Spencer, as we see in episode one – although it was quite a short-lived relationship. Diana was still a schoolgirl at the time, and this was the first time she properly met Prince Charles.
How did Lord Mountbatten’s death take place? Who killed him, and what was the impact on Prince Charles?
Does the Balmoral Test really exist? Did Thatcher and Diana both have to go through it? (Side note: a trip to Balmoral doesn’t sound like much fun.)
The unhappy story of Charles and Diana’s marriage: How they met, how Charles proposed, their brief engagement, their wedding, their affairs and their difficult relationship.
How accurate is the Queen and Thatcher‘s relationship in The Crown? Here’s what we know about how the monarch and the Prime Minister got on during their 11 years working together – and it certainly wasn’t an easy relationship, especially when it came to the Commonwealth and apartheid in South Africa.
The affair between Prince Charles and Camilla is central to season four. We’ve laid out everything we know about Charles’s relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles during these years, and the fraught question of whether the affair stopped in the early years of his marriage to Princess Diana.
The Crown shows Princess Diana’s bulimia – here’s what we know about the real story, and what she’s said about her own experiences of the eating disorder.
Who was Princess Diana’s grandmother Lady Fermoy? Actress Georgie Glen plays the Queen Mother’s lady-in-waiting Ruth Lady Fermoy with great haughtiness, which left us wanting to know more about who she was and her relationship with Diana.
The role of Prince Andrew in The Crown is certainly an interesting one to play. In this edition of The Big RT Interview, we spoke with up-and-coming actor Tom Byrne about how he got to grips with the character.
Who was Michael Fagan and how did he break into Buckingham Palace? The full story behind the Buckingham Palace intruder who was found talking to the Queen in her bedroom one morning.
What is the story of Diana and Charles in Australia? The royal couple’s 1983 tour of Australia and New Zealand drew huge crowds. In The Crown, their trip provides plenty of insights into Charles and Diana’s marriage, with moments of anger and resentment, and moments of closeness (as well as a row over baby William’s attendance on the tour) – but how much of this is based on real events and accounts?
What happened when the Prime Minister’s son Mark Thatcher went missing? We take a look at the story behind this episode, in which Mark disappears in the desert during a motor rally in 1982.
Who is Carol Thatcher, and did she have a tricky relationship with her mother? Everything you need to know about Margaret Thatcher’s daughter, and how she felt her twin brother Mark was the clear favourite.
On Margaret Thatcher’s husband Denis Thatcher: Going behind the scenes of the Prime Ministerial marriage.
Princess Anne’s marriage and affair: Prince Charles and Princess Diana were not the only royals experiencing marital difficulties during this time.
Who was Dazzle, Princess Margaret’s Catholic priest friend in The Crown? The real Reverend Derek “Dazzle” Jennings led a fascinating but brief life, collecting plenty of famous friends.
Princess Margaret’s health problems: The mental and physical health of the Queen’s sister, played by Helena Bonham Carter, hits a low point in season four. Princess Margaret has to undergo an operation to remove part of her lung.
Who were the Queen’s cousins and did they have developmental disabilities? A deeper look at the story of Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon, who were institutionalised and kept from public view for the majority of their lives.
Who is Prince Andrew’s bride Sarah Ferguson? “Fergie”, as she came to be known, makes her first appearance in season four.
The true story of Princess Diana’s Uptown Girl dance: How Diana surprised Prince Charles with a special duet with dancer Wayne Sleep – and how he reacted. (Spoiler: not well.)
Finally, The Crown tells the story of when Prince Charles was caught in an avalanche which proved fatal for one of his party.
The history behind The Crown season 3
The cast has changed, but The Crown is as majestic as ever; that was our take on season three of the much-anticipated royal drama in our The Crown season 3 review.
These ten episodes cover the period from 1964 to 1977 and feature Soviet spies, marriage crises, broken hearts, affairs, the death of a Prime Minister and the arrival of two more; there’s the moon landing, a disastrous documentary, and a devastating tragedy in Wales. Here are all our historical guides to the true stories behind The Crown:
Was the Queen’s art adviser Anthony Blunt really a Soviet spy? Season three begins with an episode about a member of the Royal Household who was unmasked as a member of the Cambridge Spy ring.
The death of Winston Churchill: did the Queen visit her old Prime Minister before his death – and attend his funeral? Plus, all the details from the massive state funeral we see depicted in The Crown.
Did people really think Prime Minister Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent? Yes, there were certainly whisperings going around! The true story of how this conspiracy theory spread at the highest levels is absolutely fascinating.
The relationship between Princess Margaret and Lyndon B Johnson: Did Princess Margaret charm (and kiss) President Lyndon B Johnson? We can’t give you a definitive answer to that question, but we can tell you about Margaret’s US tour – and whether she was the driving force in securing a US bail out for Britain.
We can also take you inside Margaret’s affair with Roddy Llewellyn and the collapse of her marriage, which is a major focal point of season three.
The Crown’s ‘love quadrangle’ of relationships between Princess Anne, Camilla, Prince Charles and Andrew Parker Bowles is a pretty tangled story, but we’ve got all the information you need to know about how it all unfolded.
The real-life story behind The Crown Aberfan episode is utterly devastating, and we spoke with survivors of the disaster who told us how the tragedy unfolded.
Prince Philip’s mother Princess Alice of Greece had an extraordinary life, shaped by religion and global conflict, and she also had a complex relationship with her son. The Crown introduces her at the end of her life, but it also uses plenty of dramatic licence to tell her story.
The real story behind the 1969 Royal Family documentary is quite amusing, as the Royals opened themselves up to ridicule. We’ve laid out how it came to the screen, how people reacted, how Radio Times covered it at the time, and why your average person will never be able to actually watch it.
Can Prince Charles speak Welsh? And did he get sent to learn Welsh for the Investiture? Who was his teacher Tedi Millward? How did the Welsh react to his arrival? And did he change his speech without the Queen’s permission? This season three episode throws up a lot of questions, and we’ve dug out some answers.
Did Lord Mountbatten consider a coup to overthrow Harold Wilson – in a coup led by Lord Mountbatten? The Harold Wilson coup episode is based on fascinating real-life accounts, though it slightly depends on who you believe.
In The Crown season three, Prince Philip also becomes obsessed with the moon landing. Prince Philip and the moon landing astronauts of Apollo 11 did meet in real life, but he does not seem to have requested a private meeting with the three men. Buzz Aldrin did, however, recall: “Prince Philip, an aviation buff, was full of questions.”
The history behind The Crown season 2
The Crown made a triumphant return to Netflix in December 2017, with season two picking up where season one left off. In our The Crown season 2 review we called the drama “majestic”, declaring: “Claire Foy and Matt Smith are on sumptuous form as Netflix’s great British drama returns.”
Personal relationships and political crises collide as Queen Elizabeth II’s reign moves through the 1950s into the Swinging Sixties. Here’s what we know about the real-life stories and events behind the second season:
What was the Suez Crisis and why did it bring down Prime Minister Anthony Eden? Explore the history behind the first episode of season two.
The big question: Was Prince Philip unfaithful? The Crown skirts around the issue somewhat, but it does tackle the tricky issue of the rumours about Philip’s affairs – and what the Queen might have felt about it.
Who was Prime Minister Harold Macmillan? We’ve put together a primer on the Conservative PM, including background on his wife’s affair.
Prince Philip’s right hand man Mike Parker was, indeed, a real person – and his position as Philip’s private secretary (and close friend) did become untenable when his wife sued him for divorce on the grounds of adultery, drawing the Queen’s husband into the scandal by calling his own fidelity into question.
Young Prince Charles: What were Prince Charles’s schooldays really like – and why did he detest his time at boarding school at Gordonstoun so much? And what was his relationship like with his father?
How accurate is the story of the Queen’s Christmas Speech in The Crown? From Prince Philip’s broadcast abroad the Yacht Britannia, to the first televised Christmas speech in 1957, find out more about the history of the Queen’s Christmas Day broadcast.
The true story of Princess Margaret’s marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones is pretty intense, and ultimately pretty brutal.
The history behind The Crown season 1
Royal historian (and historical advisor) Robert Lacey gives us an expert view on accuracy in The Crown, explaining how to sort the facts from the fiction in Netflix’s royal drama. He casts an historian’s eye over the stories – and occasional flights of fancy – of The Crown’s first series.
What was young Prince Philip really like? Looking at Philip as a young man, as he prepared to marry the future Queen and as the couple began their family together.
The true story of Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend‘s “forbidden love” is perfect material for a drama, and the real-life story is just as interesting as what we see on screen.
The life of Queen Elizabeth II: from her childhood to her wartime experiences, her courtship with Philip, her years as a Princess, her ascent to the throne, the early days of her reign, her relationship with Winston Churchill and more – take a look at this overview of the monarch’s life.
What really happened to Winston Churchill’s portrait? And what is the story of this ‘lost’ work of art by Graham Sutherland?
Discover the story of the Great Smog that brought London to a standstill, as seen in The Crown – and find out more about Churchill’s response.
Did Winston Churchill’s secretary Venetia Scott really exist? The short answer is “no”, but she serves as a sort fictionalised composite of Churchill’s various secretaries – and as a stand-in for other victims of the Great Smog.
Find out more about Charles and Diana
Did you know Prince Charles dated Diana’s sister Sarah Spencer?
It turns out there was a lot more to Charles and Diana’s marriage than we thought.
Princess Diana and Princes Charles’ Australia tour went down a storm, but left a sour taste in the mouths of some…
Find out more about Margaret Thatcher
The Queen and Thatcher’s relationship is fraught at times in The Crown, and it seems the series might not have been too far away from the truth…
The Crown show’s Mark Thatcher go missing during a motor rally – what’s the truth behind that?
Interested in learning more about Denis Thatcher? We have everything you need to know about Margaret’s husband.