The Real Stories Behind ‘The Crown’ Season 3

Learn the real history behind the Netflix series.
The Crown

The Crown has found success by dramatizing the lives of Queen Elizabeth, her family, and their acquaintances. And like any show that recreates real people and history for our entertainment, the line between fact and fiction is often blurred.

In The Crown, some of the storylines are products of the creators’ imaginations. Of course, the backbone of the show is mined from real headlines and historical accounts, and in many ways, the Netflix series is a great retelling of events that actually happened. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the real stories that make up Season 3.

Harold Wilson As Prime Minister

Harold Wilson served two terms as prime minister of the United Kingdom — the first from 1964 to 1970, and the second from 1974 to 1976. He was the longest-reigning Labour prime minister of the 20th century, and during his tenure in office, he presided over the implementation of progressive policies that are commonplace to this day.

Wilson’s governments ended capital punishment and paved the way for the decriminalization of homosexuality, legalized abortion, and women being allowed to work in politics. Furthermore, they introduced the Race Relations Act and the Equal Pay Act.

He wasn’t a popular figure among everyone, though. In 1968, Cecil King, a media baron and Bank of England director, tried to persuade Lord Mountbatten to lead a coup against Wilson’s Labour government. The royal refused, believing it to be an act of treason.

In Andrew Lownie’s The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves, the author notes how the Queen convinced the Lord not to participate in the scheme. Whether or not she actually knew about it remains unclear, but The Crown adheres to the theory that she did.

Sir Anthony Blunt, the Soviet Spy

The season’s opening episode introduces us to Sir Anthony Blunt, an art historian who turned out to be a spy.

Blunt was recruited by the Soviet Union while he was studying at Cambridge University. The Soviets also enlisted fellow students — and communist sympathizers — Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, and John Cairncross to aid their cause. Collectively, the group became historically known as The Cambridge Five.

After university, Blunt joined the British military service and became a member of MI5. This exposed him to plenty of classified information, which he shared with the Soviet NKVD (the precursor to the KGB).

After the war, Blunt became the Queen’s Surveyor of the King’s Pictures, where he was responsible for curating and looking after the royal art collection. He was also given a knighthood in 1956 when his secret was still unknown.

In 1964, Blunt confessed to his treason after being given up by Michael Straight, an American agent who attended university with him. However, Blunt was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for information, and his crimes were withheld from the public until 1979.

That said, the Queen and select members of her circle learned of Blunt’s wrongdoings in 1964, but they allowed him to continue working for them until 1972. After being publicly exposed, he continued to occasionally liaise with the Queen and her mother at events.

Princess Margaret’s United States Tour and White House Visit

In the series, Margaret embarks on a 1965 tour of the United State alongside Lord Snowden. During their visit, they attend a dinner party hosted by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which leads to the United Kingdom receiving a bailout to overcome its £800 million deficit.

While it’s true that the royal couple did attend the dinner, and the United States did lend financial assistance to the United Kingdom, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that Margaret’s visit played a crucial part in the negotiations. There is also no proof that confirms if the princess kissed the president after performing a song at the party.

Additionally, The Crown suggests that Princess Margaret’s tour was well-received. However, her partying antics led to British diplomats barring her from returning to the overseas country until the 1970s. She also reportedly rubbed Grace Kelly and Judy Garland the wrong away due to her snooty comments and demands.

The Aberfan Disaster

On October 21, 1966, a mountain coal tip collapsed in the Welsh village of Aberfan. The ensuing disaster claimed the lives of 28 adults and 116 children, who were all at school that morning. Unfortunately, all of this is true.

The show dramatizes these horrific events in great detail, including the scenes of teachers trying to save the children from the landslide waste. The National Coal Board was blamed for the tragedy, and the organization was ordered to pay compensation to the survivors, as well as those whose property had been damaged.

One of the biggest controversies surrounding the Aberfan Disaster, however, was Queen Elizabeth II’s delay in visiting the village. She sent Lord Snowden and Prince Phillip in her place. However, Elizabeth did make the first of four appearances eight days later, and it was reported that the initial delay was one of her biggest personal regrets.

The Royal Family Documentary

The “Bubbikins” episode looks at the creation of Royal Family, a documentary that attempted to humanize the titular rich people after Prince Philip revealed that they were struggling to make ends meet.

The film originally aired in 1969 and was last seen in 1972, but since then it’s been locked away in a vault. The reason: the Queen isn’t a fan of the documentary. The reasons for her disapproval remain unknown, but most historians speculate that Royal Family tarnished the image of the family.

The events depicted in the show are mostly accurate. The only notable example of creative license being executed was setting the documentary after Philip’s humiliating interview. In reality, the film aired beforehand.

For more on this story, check out a full write-up on the documentary at Nonfics.

The Astronauts’ Visit

The show suggests that the royal family followed the 1969 Moon landing coverage with excitement, though the events make Prince Philip feel like a failure due to his lack of personal achievement.

The Queen was full of congratulations for the astronauts’ accomplishment in The Crown, and her speech is an exact replica of the one her real-life counterpart gave in the 1960s. Where the show takes some liberties is the belief that the Queen was enthusiastic about the Moon landings.

As noted by The Guardian, Michael Adeane, the Queen’s former private secretary, revealed that she was reluctant to do so, but agreed to carry out the speech at the behest of NASA.

“Her Majesty agrees that this idea is a gimmick and it is not the sort of thing she much enjoys doing but she certainly would not wish to appear churlish by refusing an invitation which is so obviously well intentioned.”

Furthermore, unlike the events in the show, Philip didn’t have a private meeting with the astronauts. He met them when they visited Buckingham Palace in October 1969, but he did so in the presence of the Queen. And yes, the visit really was as disastrous as the show suggests, and Neil Armstrong coughed in Her Majesty’s face.

Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden’s Affairs

The extramarital romps involving Lord Snowden and Princess Margaret with their respective lovers actually happened. But the show alters the timelines of the events for the sake of a more cohesive arc.

In real life, Snowden was believed to have committed adultery several times before his wife’s affair with Roddy Llewellyn became public knowledge. Pictures of the princess and Llewellyn were published by a British tabloid newspaper in 1976, depicting Margaret as a predatory cougar who had betrayed her husband for a younger man.

However, Margaret’s spouse had been cheating on her with Lucy Lindsay-Hogg since 1972. The princess was aware of it, and she turned to Llewellyn because he provided fun, warmth, and love during a time when her life was joyless.

Snowden and Margaret finalized their divorce in 1978. He married Lindsay-Hogg shortly after, while she continued to see Llewellyn until the early 1980s.

Kieran Fisher: Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.