Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall have been happily married since 2005, but their romance didn’t come without scandal. Most people know the pair were having an affair during Charles' marriage to Princess Diana, but this season of The Crown looks at the origins of that illicit tryst and how it involved Charles’ sister Princess Anne and Camilla’s first husband, Andrew Parker-Bowles.
According to the series, Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell) was involved in an on-off relationship with Parker-Bowles (Andrew Buchan), a British Army officer of aristocratic stock. Fed up with his womanizing, Camilla decides to take the Prince of Wales (Josh O’Connor) up on an offer of a date. One of the catalysts for this decision was Camilla discovering Parker-Bowles had been enjoying a friends-with-benefits relationship with Princess Anne (Erin Doherty). As Charles explains to his great uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten (Charles Dance), “it’s all a bit messy.”
We see Charles and Camilla enjoy romantic phone calls and dinner at Buckingham Palace, but The Crown asserts that when Lord Mountbatten and the Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) discover the heir apparent is catching feelings for "the Shand girl," they take it upon themselves to break the two up. Mountbatten, the former head of the Royal Navy, arranges for his grand-nephew to embark on an eight-month posting overseas to “bring him to his senses,” while the Queen Mother rallies the parents of Camilla and Andrew (friends of the royal family) to get the couple back on course for marriage. With Charles out of the picture, Camilla and Andrew rekindle their romance and are soon engaged. The Prince of Wales is left crying his eyes out.
The Crown leaves out some important details.
As is the case for most biopics and historical series, it’s worth taking this action with a pinch of salt. The Crown might be based on real people and real events, but it's still a fictionalized interpretation that relies on a heavy dose of artistic license to keep things entertaining. As show creator Peter Morgan explained, he’s “just having a punt, I'm just guessing,” so we separated fact from fiction with some help from royal biographer Penny Junor. Junor has written several books about the royal family, including Charles: Victim or Villain and The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown. She tells ELLE.com that the fundamentals of the love quadrangle are pretty accurate, though some pertinent details have been left out.
Camilla and Charles were actually introduced by a mutual friend.
“Camilla was in love with Andrew and they had been going out together for nearly seven years, so it was pretty well established that they would go the full course,” Junor says. “But he was hopelessly unfaithful, had affairs with people including Camilla’s best friend, and it was very hurtful for her.”
So far, so factual, though the series doesn’t quite relay how long Camilla and Andrew were dating, or explain how she met Prince Charles. The Crown hints that the two met at a polo match because she can be seen cheering him on against Parker-Bowles’ team. For years many believed that was the case, but in fact, the pair met through the Prince’s friend from Cambridge, Lucia Santa Cruz, whose father was the Chilean ambassador to the U.K.
“[Santa Cruz] and Camilla became very good friends because they were living one floor above one another,” Junor says. “She knew exactly what was going on with Andrew and felt sorry for Camilla, so [she] thought it would be nice to introduce her to Charles because she thought they would like one another.”
This account is backed up in Catherine Mayer’s biography, Charles: The Heart of a King, in which she relays Santa Cruz’s account of the set-up. “I always thought that [Charles] needed more emotional life and I thought Camilla was such a human, down to earth, warm person that she would be a good addition,” Santa Cruz explains to Mayer. “She would appreciate him for what he was in spite of what he represented.”
Junor confirms that Camilla and Charles were introduced right when Andrew and Princess Anne were getting it on, and suggests that Queen Elizabeth II’s only daughter was “quite highly sexed,” but as her mother is head of the Church of England, it couldn’t have gone any further with the Catholic military man.
“Don’t forget this with the end of the ‘70s and Anne was a child of the ‘60s, so there was a quite a lot of bonking going on and not too many scruples about who with,” she says, “but Andrew was a Roman Catholic, and though it was unlikely that she would become the monarch there was still a slight thing about marrying a Roman Catholic.”
No, Lord Mountbatten and the Queen Mother did not conspire against Charles.
Junor concedes that the Queen Mother was good friends with the Parker-Bowles but has “never heard” talk of Lord Mountbatten sending Charles overseas. The idea that the two conspired to break up Charles and Camilla is “a load of bollocks.”
“It is perfectly possible that a deployment came up in the Caribbean,” Junor says, “I’ve never thought that there was anything particularly Machiavellian in that.”
The author asserts that Charles and Camilla's romance was not exclusive, and lasted six months compared to Camilla and Andrew’s ongoing seven-year relationship. Camilla was still seeing the military man while dating the prince, which is suggested in the show when Charles learns Camilla still loves Andrew. And despite The Crown's suggestion, Charles was not looking to tie the knot just yet.
“I don’t think she fell in love with [Charles] at that stage. I think she liked him very much and they had a lot of fun together,” Junor says. “I think he did fall for Camilla at that time but I don’t think he thought about marriage. He was 23.”
The Crown season 3 is streaming on Netflix now.
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