How accurate is The Crown’s depiction of King Charles?

·8-min read
How accurate is The Crown’s depiction of King Charles?

The Crown has won 21 Emmys and five Baftas in its four seasons on Netflix, with a total of three actors so far portraying King Charles III in his years as a prince. But how accurate have the storylines been around Britain’s new monarch?

Read about some of the former prince’s key storylines in the show below, how accurately they present reality, and how the King himself and those in the know have reacted to the show...

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles (formerly Shand)

Before Prince Charles began dating Princess Diana, he fell in love with Camilla Shand in around 1971 – but the royal family did not approve.

In The Crown’s third season, Lord Mountbatten (a sort of father figure to Prince Charles) is shown arranging for the royal to be sent on a Navy mission to separate him from Shand. It’s unclear whether, in real life, the royal family were this calculated about splitting the pair up, but according to Tina Brown’s 2011 book The Diana Chronicles, they did see Shand as a “learning experience” for the prince rather than a serious suitor. While Prince Charles was away, Shand got engaged to Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973.

According to Sally Bedell Smith’s biography, Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, Prince Charles continued to phone and talk to Parker Bowles constantly after she got married. And in Brown’s book, she writes that the pair resumed their relationship in 1979, after Prince Charles was left devastated by the IRA’s assassination of Lord Mountbatten.

It is unclear at which points during his marriage that Prince Charles was having an affair with Parker Bowles, but some biographers have suggsted it took place in 1986, given that in 1989, Princess Diana confronted Parker Bowles about the affair at a friend’s birthday party. That same year, Prince Charles and Parker Bowles had an intimate phone call that was later leaked to the press.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana

In season four of The Crown, viewers see a fictionalised version of what happened when Prince Charles first encountered a 16-year-old Lady Diana Spencer, in 1977, while visiting her family home with Diana’s sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, whom he was briefly dating.

Speaking of their meeting following their engagement in 1981, Prince Charles said: “I remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was. I mean, great fun, and bouncy and full of life and everything.”

The series shows Princess Diana approaching Prince Charles in his car years later to “offer [her] condolences” following the death of Lord Mountbatten.

The Prince and Princess of Wales kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their wedding (PA) (PA Archive)
The Prince and Princess of Wales kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their wedding (PA) (PA Archive)

In interviews with her speech coach that were shown in Channel 4 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, she said: “We were talking about Mountbatten and I said, ‘You must be so lonely.’ I said, ‘It’s pathetic watching you walking up the aisle with Mountbatten’s coffin in front, ghastly, you need someone beside you.’ Whereupon he leapt upon me and started kissing me and I thought, ‘Urgh, this is not what people do.’ And he was all over me for the rest of the evening, following me around like a puppy.”

This moment is not seen in the series, but Prince Charles is shown pursuing Princess Diana and inviting her to the royal family’s Scottish residence, Balmoral. While there, she impresses the royal family, specifically Prince Philip.

In the show, it is the Duke of Edinburgh who puts pressure on Prince Charles to propose to Princess Diana, with the show exercising dramatic licence by placing emphasis on his angst and uncertainty, suggesting he still has feelings for the then-married Camilla Parker Bowles.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s tour of Australia

The frenzy shown in season four, caused by Princess Diana’s appearance on Prince Charles’s Australia tour of 1983, is accurate. Furthermore, her husband’s frustration with being overshadowed by Princess Diana has also been confirmed by multiple sources.

Speaking to ITV for a four-part documentary titled Inside The Crown: Secrets of the Royals, photographer Ken Lennox said that it was in Australia that he first saw that things were not quite right with the couple’s marriage.

“I’m about four feet from the Princess, and I’m trying to get a bit of the opera house in the background and some of the crowd, and Diana burst into tears and wept for a couple of minutes,” he said during the documentary.

“After it was over, I went to see the press officer for the Prince and Princess, and I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘Ken, mozzies and jet lag and heat.’ So I just accepted that.”

Princess Diana And Prince Charles watch an official event during their first royal Australian tour 1983 (Getty)
Princess Diana And Prince Charles watch an official event during their first royal Australian tour 1983 (Getty)

Princess Diana’s former press secretary, Patrick Jephson, meanwhile, told The Sun: “As professional royal performers they were unbeatable, but behind the scenes it was quite different.

“They didn’t talk to each other, there was minimal eye contact, they were short-tempered with each other. Diana enjoyed upstaging her husband and if she was laughing and smiling more it wasn’t that she was having more fun but that she knew it got on his nerves.”

In the season’s sixth episode, while in Australia, Princess Diana references the fact that Prince Charles wore cufflinks gifted to him by Parker Bowles on their honeymoon. This actually happened.

The princess herself referenced this in Channel 4 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, stating: “We were opening our diaries to discuss various things. Out comes two pictures of Camilla. And on our honeymoon, cufflinks arrive on his wrists. Two Cs entwined like the Chanel ‘C’. Got it. One knew exactly. So I said, ‘Camilla gave you those didn’t she?’ He said ‘Yes, so what’s wrong? They’re a present from a friend.’”

Diana added, “And boy, did we have a row. Jealousy, total jealousy. And it was such a good idea, the two Cs, but it wasn’t that clever.”

Charles’s struggles in Gordonstoun School

In The Crown, Prince Charles is depicted as hating Gordonstoun School, the institution his own father Prince Philip attended and sent him to. It is unclear how true this is.

It has previously been reported that Prince Charles called the Scottish school “Colditz in kilts”, in reference to the German prisoner-of-war camp in World War II. We also know that he sent his own sons to Eton rather than Gordonstoun.

The Queen at Gordonstoun School to open the new sports centre, accompanied by her son the Prince of Wales who was the school’s guardian – head boy (PA) (PA Archive)
The Queen at Gordonstoun School to open the new sports centre, accompanied by her son the Prince of Wales who was the school’s guardian – head boy (PA) (PA Archive)

But according to The Telegraph, Prince Charles has praised the school in speeches throughout his life. At the House of Lords, in 1975, he said: “I am always astonished by the amount of rot talked about Gordonstoun and the careless use of ancient cliches used to describe it.”

He added: “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 believe it taught me a great deal about myself and my own abilities and disabilities.”

In an interview with The Observer, meanwhile, Prince Charles said he was “glad” he went to the school, saying it had an “emphasis on self-reliance to develop a rounded human being”, adding: “I didn’t enjoy school as much as I might have, but that was only because I’m happier at home than anywhere else.”

Charles nearly dying in an avalanche

Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin as Charles and Diana in ‘The Crown’ (Des Willie/Netflix)
Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin as Charles and Diana in ‘The Crown’ (Des Willie/Netflix)

The Crown’s fourth series shows Prince Charles on a skiing trip in the Swiss Alps. According to the series, his close friend Major Hugh Lindsay dies in an avalanche, with the prince escaping unharmed. This did actually happen.

A helicopter pilot who was called to the scene when the tragedy happened in 1988 previously told The Times that Charles was "within feet of death when the avalanche struck”.

Prince Charles speaking Welsh

In The Crown, the former Prince of Wales was shown speaking Welsh at his investiture in 1969. This did happen, and the whole ceremony – including the prince’s speech in Welsh – was televised.

Prince Charles once spoke of his efforts with the language in an ITV documentary, saying: “I did my utmost to learn as much as I could. But in a term it’s quite difficult, and I’m not as brilliant a linguist as I’d like to be.”

What has been the reaction to the former prince’s portrayal in The Crown?

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Grant Harrold, former butler to Prince Charles, said that in seven years of working for him, “he never raised his voice to me”, adding that while actor seasons three and four actor Josh O’Connor had mastered the royal’s mannerisms and voice, the former prince was more compassionate than he felt the show suggested.

“He’s not at all the way they portrayed him,” he said. “He’s strong, powerful, and compassionate. And I think he’ll make an amazing king.”

In 2020, Prince Charles reportedly reacted to The Crown’s depiction of him. According to Anas Sarwar, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, the former Prince of Wales candidly spoke of his portrayal on the hit Netflix show at an event in Edinburgh, Scotland, saying his portrayal is “nowhere near” who he really is.

At an event at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, held before the opening of Scottish Parliament, Sarwar claimed that Charles led with a mention of The Crown’s inaccuracy.

“There was a group of MSPs all standing, and he came over and went, ‘Hello, nice to meet you all,’ and he went, ‘I’m nowhere near how they portray me on Netflix.’ I thought that was a really interesting way of how you describe yourself.”