WARNING: there are season three spoilers, both large and small, contained within this article.
On Nov. 17, Netflix will premiere season three of The Crown, its smash hit drama chronicling the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Creator and writer Peter Morgan, (who wrote the film The Queen and the play The Audience, which both focus on the monarch), is covering roughly a decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign with each 10-episode season.
And with this third season, which starts in 1964, some 12 years into the sovereign’s reign, all the actors from the first two seasons have been replaced with new ones who reflect the more mature natures of the characters involved. For instance, Oscar-winning Olivia Colman has been subbed for Claire Foy in the title role for both season three and four.
While The Crown is fact-based fiction (emphasis on the fiction), there is enough fact included to intrigue and fascinate viewers, who will no doubt go online to see what’s accurate and what isn’t. For instance, most of the Queen’s jewellery don’t resemble items in her real-life collection, yet the colourful outfits worn by the royals for Prince Charles’s investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969 are spot on.
To help, we’re explaining some of the moments or people featured in the third season that ordinary viewers might overlook or not know about.
Episode one: ‘Olding’
Close your eyes and think of a queen. Chances are that it will be Queen Elizabeth II. Her visage is everywhere. At the start of the episode, set in 1964, she is looking at new postage stamps. That bas-relief profile of the Queen, created by sculptor Arnold Machin, would become iconic. In the 50 years since its first issue in 1967, the image has been reprinted more than 200 billion times in every colour of the spectrum.
For centuries, the only images of a monarch were on coins or portraits. In the episode, Anthony Blunt, the surveyor of the Queen’s pictures, was preparing for a new exhibition of the Royal Collection, a vast collection of art and treasures held by the Crown. The public would see it in the Queen’s Gallery, created out of a private chapel at Buckingham Palace destroyed by German bombs in 1940.
While the Queen was told that Blunt was a Soviet double agent in 1964, her prime minister of the day, Sir Alec Douglas-Home (not PM Harold Wilson, as shown in The Crown), wasn’t informed until Blunt’s treachery was made public in 1979. Blunt was stripped of his knighthood before dying in 1983.
Episode two: ‘Margaretology’
While the episode suggests Princess Margaret’s tour of the United States was a rarity; in fact, she went on a series of high-profile foreign tours in the 1950s and 1960s, many detailed in gushing picture books that fans snapped up by the truckload. “To those accustomed to the formality of traditional royal visits, meeting Princess Margaret has been like going from a black-and-white film to one in colour,” said one story of her tour of the United States in The Crown.
That sparkling public image hid a biting, difficult character. Cynthia Gladwyn, wife of Britain’s ambassador to France, was driven to distraction by her royal guest during a visit in 1959, writing, “Princess Margaret seems to fall between two stools. She wishes to convey that she is very much the Princess, but at the same time she is not prepared to stick to the rules if they bore or annoy her, such as being polite to people.”
Episode three: ‘Aberfan’
In the first decade of her reign, Queen Elizabeth II kept to the formal, distant role of sovereign inhabited by her father and grandfather before her. The 1966 disaster in the Welsh mining town of Aberfan would ultimately transform the Queen and her relationship with her subjects. For when she met with the families of the dead students and teachers, she did so not just as head of state but also as head of the nation, in this case a country in mourning. That less formal role would be codified by Sir Antony Jay in his 1992 book Elizabeth R., with a mission statement that the monarch “acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride.”
Aberfan would not be the only tragedy that test the Queen. Thirty years later, a gunman killed 16 students and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland. A few days later, the monarch and her daughter, Princess Anne, went to the town to meet privately with the bereaved and to express “the collective grief and profound sympathy felt by the entire nation,” a spokesman said.
Episode four: ‘Bubbikins’
Prince Philip grew up in turmoil. His family fled Greece to exile when he was a toddler, settling in Paris. By the time he was around 10, his family splintered. In less than 18 months, Philip’s four older sisters, the youngest just 16, married German princes. While his mother was confined to a Swiss asylum for psychiatric issues, his father decamped to the south of France.
The Crown episode shows an elderly Princess Alice (Philip’s mother) trying to sell jewellery to support the religious nursing order she founded, the Sisterhood of Mary and Martha. But it was her actions during the Second World War that are perhaps her most courageous. Living in Nazi occupied Athens, she not only organized social relief for the residents, but also hid a Jewish family (Rachel Cohen and two of her children) in her home, claiming Cohen was a former governess. The Germans were suspicious but Princess Alice fended off Gestapo questioners by pretending not to understand due to her deafness. In 1994, her two surviving children, Philip and Sophie, travelled to Israel where their mother was recognized at Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations.”
Episode five: ‘Coup’
Near the beginning of this episode, Lord Mountbatten is removed as chief of the defence staff. Mountbatten, who was the cousin of the Queen and uncle of Philip, was a senior Royal Navy officer during and after the war as well as an influential advisor to the royal family. In The Crown, he’s soon swept up into a plot by media magnate Cecil King to overthrow Labour PM Harold Wilson in 1968. Mountbatten was indeed, at least initially, intrigued by King’s ideas. (Note that Mountbatten was chief of the defence staff from 1959-1965 so the timing of this episode is inaccurate.) In real life, while the PM’s secretary called Mountbatten “a prime mover in the plan,” no firm details of his involvement have been revealed beyond his attendance of a 1968 meeting, after which he called the idea “dangerous nonsense” in his diary.
For those wondering about “Porchie,” the Queen’s horse trainer, his name is Henry Herbert, 7th earl of Carnarvon (Lord Porchester was a courtesy title.) While rumours of the depth of their relationship have existed for years, nothing has ever been proven beyond a close friendship. But his racing skills aren’t in doubt; the Queen’s horses have gone on to win hundreds of races, including the prestigious Prix de Diane, won by Highclere in 1974. The filly is named after his family’s seat of Highclere Castle, where their stud, founded in 1902, is based and where that other famous series, Downton Abbey, is filmed; today, his son-in-law, John Warren, is the Queen’s racing advisor.
Episode six: ‘Tywysog Cyrmu’
While the episode gives the impression that Prince Charles arrived alone in Carnarvon for his investiture as Prince of Wales on July 1, 1969, in fact he travelled with his family by train. As well, he had given several speeches in Welsh ahead of that momentous day, all of which were vetted by the palace and government, according to his biographer Jonathan Dimbleby. And they alluded to Welsh demands for greater autonomy and recognition of their culture, as the speech in the episode did.
On June 11, in front of 8,000 spectators at the formation of the Royal Regiment of Wales, he gave a speech in faultless Welsh: “A greater interest in the language and ideals of Welsh culture is being taken by an increasing number of people. But at the same time tensions tend to build up between Welsh speakers and the many non-Welsh speakers who feel themselves quite rightly, as much a part of Wales as any other Welshman. It would be more than tragic if these tensions were allowed to build up to too great a degree outside as well as inside Wales. Tolerance and patience are needed and the simple effort to understand the other person’s point of view and his idealism, and not condemn it outright.”
To this day, Charles spends chunks of the year in the nation, including at his home there, a restored farmhouse named Llwynywermod.
Episode seven: ‘Moondust’
The intellectual curiosity and drive of Prince Philip is finally revealed in The Crown, after two seasons of angst and drivel. Philip not only set up the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme for youth in 1956 but was closely associated with the World Wildlife Fund since its founding in 1961 and also created a design prize, heading its judging panel for more than 50 years.
By far the most surprising for many is his involvement in the creation of St. George’s House at Windsor Castle in 1966 with the dean of Windsor, Robin Woods, as a place “where people of influence and responsibility in every area of society can come together to explore and communicate their views and analysis of contemporary issues” as its website states.
In 1984, the organization published the correspondence between Philip and then-dean Michael Mann, which flowed from a lecture, “Evolution from space,” by astronomer Fred Hoyle. The exchange “reveals Prince Philip’s questioning mind and deep concern about scientific and religious issues,” the book notes. It’s a far cry from his public image as a gaffe-plagued prince.
Episode eight: ‘Dangling Man’
The most important secondary role in The Crown is that of private secretary to the monarch. They not only advise the sovereign and are key interlocutors in the Crown’s relationship with government, but also shape the tone of the message coming from the palace. In this episode Michael Adeane (private secretary from 1953 to 1972) has retired—the Queen reminds Philip that he gave the courtier a clock—and is replaced by his deputy, Martin Charteris in 1972. Charteris was an aristocrat, who had a military career before joining the royal household in 1949 was perhaps the closest of all the Queen’s advisors; he even inserted a joke or two into the Queen’s previously dour speeches. He would also push for a big celebration for her Silver Jubilee marking 25 years on the throne, which she resisted. “She’s very good at spotting anything that’s wrong,” he was quoted in the Independent. “In that sense she’s got superb negative judgement. But she’s weak at initiating policy, so others have to plant the ideas in her head.” On his retirement, his old boss made him Lord Charteris of Amisfield.
Episode nine: ‘Imbroglio’
Poor Princess Anne. Her wit and intelligence shines throughout this season but her storyline is woefully neglected and treated as a subplot of the main Prince Charles-Camilla Shand saga. In reality, Anne, who eschewed university, plunged into public duties; the early years included accompanying her parents and Charles on a high-profile tour of North America in 1970 as well as becoming president of Save the Children that same year, for which she would repeatedly travel to war torn nations to visit its projects. In the 1970s, she was best known for her equestrian skills, especially eventing, in which rider and horse compete in dressage, cross-country as well as show jumping competitions. In 1971 she was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year after claiming the European Eventing Championship. Two years later she married Captain Mark Phillips, part of the British team that won gold in eventing at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A few months after their marriage, a gunman, Ian Ball, stopped their car on the way back from an evening engagement, and attempted to kidnap Anne. “Not bloody likely,” is how she responded. While Mark protected his wife, her detective and passersby fended off Ball. Though several were shot, they all survived.
Episode 10: ‘Cri de Coeur’
Near the end of the episode, Queen Elizabeth II goes to visit her younger sister, Princess Margaret, who is recovering from taking too many sedatives (whether it’s a cry for attention or a suicide attempt isn’t known for certain). While they were of completely different personalities—Elizabeth was as reserved as much as Margaret was volatile—and could get on each other’s nerves, the love between the two women is strong. “Of all the people everywhere, you are the most important,” says Elizabeth. If Margaret wanted her to “imagine life without you, you succeeded. It would be unbearable.”
They talked daily and were each other’s confidantes. As Margaret’s tempestuous marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones broke down, it was the Queen who took her niece and nephew, David and Sarah, away from the screaming headlines with trips to Balmoral Castle in Scotland and travels on the royal yacht Britannia.
To this day, Margaret’s children are close to the Queen, celebrating all the major holidays together. When the Queen Mother died in 2002, a few weeks after Margaret passed away, it was Sarah who sat beside the Queen as the monarch was driven home from Westminster Hall after her mother’s coffin was moved there to lay in state ahead of her funeral.