With Season 4 of Netflix’s the Crown, release date November 15, 2020, you might again find yourself wondering, how true is The Crown? What does The Crown get right and wrong? One of the major events covered in Season 4 of The Crown will include the introduction of Emma Corrin as Princess Diana, her early relationship with Prince Charles, and their early marriage. So the biography, Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith is a good place to start to see what The Crown gets right, and what it gets wrong.
The Crown Season 4 – Netflix
If you’re like me, you’re eagerly awaiting Season 4 of the Netflix Series, the Crown.
The British Royal family – recommended reading (by me)
Keeping up with the history of the British Royal Family is something of a hobby of mine. Sometimes it seems a little too close to gossipy current events for my comfort. But, you know, guilty pleasures. And if the British Royal family loses the interest of the world they will love their position and income, besides…
I have found I can learn some interesting history while reading biographies of all the fabulous women in the British Royal Family, British Queens and Princesses. (Yes, I admit I find it more interesting to read about the women than the men.) For example, I would have never known about or understood the Suez Crisis of 1956 if not for reading biographies of Queen Elizabeth the II. (Even though I probably learned about it in history class.)
With all things, and with all people, it’s important that we don’t make judgements just based on one aspect or one fact. To that end, I like to get my information from multiple sources and to try to build a bigger picture. That mean that, I can end up with an excuse to read multiple books. Ha! I also think that the more current the event, the more important reading multiple books becomes.
(I’m not sure what books about Queen Elizabeth II your ad is showing above, but of the ones that show for me right now, I own 5 out of the 8. Oh, dear. And I love to have these in print, not Kindle, for the photos!)
Not fond of reading? There are some great documentaries about the British Royal Family – check out my favorites!
Occasionally I read about the guys of the British Royal Family, their less-fun (in my opinion) Kings. For example, the current Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who is next in line for the British thrown, the oldest son of Queen Elizabeth II.
Book review – Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith
The book, Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith has some interesting information and added details that you won’t get on a book that only focuses on the personal relationships of Prince Charles and his marriage with Diana, the Princess of Wales. To that extent, I was glad I read it. I’ll be eager to see how Netflix Series 4, The Crown, stacks up against it, what The Crown gets right and wrong.
I enjoyed the book and found it informative, but I did detect a bias in the writing.
Bias in the book, Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith
It’s sometimes oddly critical of Diana. For example, the portrays Diana as having a “fixation on Camilla.” This is even though Bedell Smith openly details Prince Charles’ affair. What woman wouldn’t be bothered by her husband having an affair? Maybe a woman married to British nobility? (See below.) The writing often tended to what appeared supportive of his affair with Camilla. For example, referring to when during their affair, Prince Charles took Camilla on a Turkish cruise and the “pesky” tabloids got photos of them.
At the same time, the book is highly critical of Prince Charles’ environmental and architectural projects. The only way I can reconcile this, is perhaps the book was carefully calculated to include some criticism of Prince Charles, to create sympathy for him.
The other thing that annoyed me was that Bedell Smith failed to do the work of putting events in chronological order. Instead, she put events in the order that the revelations came out. Midway through the book Prince Charles, I felt like I should have kept my own timeline. Not only is encountering events out of order confusing, but it leads to incorrect perceptions.
Bedell Smith does a good job of giving a sense of what Prince Charles was like as a child, and why his parents and the Queen’s advisories made the different choices about his schooling that they did. It was, in fact, very modern thinking to send him to boarding school instead of being isolated with a private tutor.
However, I feel like Bedell Smith smoothed over and omitted quite a bit about his dating life to make him look better. (Or perhaps other sources are inflating it.)
For example, when she first mentions Kanga Tryon, it’s as a wife of a friend of Prince Charles. Bedell Smith seems to mention only in passing that Tryon just also happens to be “an old friend.” She’s often mentioned in tandem with Camilla, including that the Tryons were significantly excluded from the wedding breakfast after the wedding of Prince Charles to Diana, like the Parker-Bowles. But it’s never mentioned that Prince Charles dated Tryon. Or that she was with him on his “fishing vacation in Iceland” at her husband’s estate (while she was married, obviously) when the Prince’s favorite uncle, Dickie Mountbatten, was killed by terrorists. However, it does detail that Camilla and Prince Charles had an affair while he was still single, but after Camilla was married. And we all know what happened after that. (Hint, if you don’t know, they also had an affair after the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana.)
Is Bedell Smith fair to Diana in her book Prince Charles?
Diana’s behavior is described as erratic and even disturbed early in their marriage. But you also learn that before his wedding, Prince Charles made a comment to a friend that he hoped it was possible to be in love with two women. While you can interpret that as Prince Charles being concerned and wanting to try his best, for me it more emphasized that it’s also easy to believe that Diana was seeing signs of Prince Charles’ continued devotion to Camilla even early in her marriage. This makes it easy to sympathize with her, and to see how that insecurity could contribute to her behavior.
It doesn’t seem fair when the author says that Diana “gave up” on trying to understand Prince Charles’ keen interests in poetry and Shakespeare “after [only] six months in once-weekly meetings” of private tutoring. (“Only” added by me to convey the impression you get in context.) Six months of something you’re not enjoying sounds like a pretty good effort to me.
A lot of the author’s other criticisms of Diana seems unjustified. For example, after her marriage Diana has been accused on insisting on the dropping the Parker-Bowles from Charles’ circle of friends. Even without the later affair after the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana, it seems reasonable to me for Diana to not want Camilla around. This is not just an old girlfriend. Remember, it was already known that Prince Charles and Camilla had an affair after Camilla’s marriage (before Prince Charles began his relationship with Diana.) On second thought, it’s possible that only seems unreasonable to British nobility.
From what I’ve read, Prince Charles seems to have been stuck in the British nobility’s antiquated ideas about marriage and affairs. (Please note that I said “read.” Obviously I don’t personally know him, and without that I can’t have a definitive opinion.) Historically, among the British nobility, marriage is a business arrangement, a careful negotiation between titles and money. So infidelity is fine, as long as you provide an heir and are discrete. (Although Prince Charles missed that discrete part.) The problem was that Diana, especially after the unhappiness of her parents’ marriage and divorce, was hoping for the more modern expectation of a faithful life partner. (The author is American, not British nobility, but if you look a American Presidents and famous wealthy Americans, American nobility has had a problem with this too.)
Was Bedell Smith critical of Prince Charles in her book?
At the same time, I thought Bedell Smith could also be unfair to Prince Charles. Some of his aesthetic projects, like his architecture initiatives, were presented in a negative light. (I used to think I agreed with his push against modern architecture. But I got to travel to London last summer, for the first time, and actually loved the contrast between the modern and the classic in the London skyline.) The author’s criticism even included Prince Charles founding of an architectural program that served students who weren’t provided with the opportunity to study classical architecture at any of the architecture schools in Britain. Why criticize that?
The causes and projects of Prince Charles
Bedell Smith does do a good job of outlining how Prince Charles influenced farming, medicine, and architecture. But that was primarily presented in only one chapter out of thirty nine. Among the Prince’s projects that I found most interesting were his efforts to revive and promote local craftsman skills, creating jobs, and preserving architecture in poor and troubled areas around the globe.
The book does point out how he thinks himself exempt from sacrifices he thinks the rest of the population should make to protect the environment. Have you taken a recent trip on a private jet anyone? Um, I haven’t. Not recently. Like never.
In spite of this, and in spite of disagreeing with some of his views on some of his main causes, by the end of the book I found myself at least admiring Prince Charles’ will and his ability to do something about issues he cared about. This is in great contrast to his mother’s uncle, the last Prince of Wales who became the uncrowned Edward VIII. He was famous for complaining and being sympathetic with the poor, but not doing anything. Not incidentally, he was also known for having affairs with multiple married women. It was only when he decided to have one get divorced, so that he could marry her, that it became a problem. Or it at least became a reason to get rid of him when his admiration of Hitler became a problem for the British government. But that’s another story. You can read about that in my post on my author website, Netflix The Crown – the Duke of Windsor and Wallis SimpsonWallis.
Read Prince Charles by Sally Bedell Smith before you watch Season 4 of Netflix the Crown
So is it worth reading Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith before you watch The Crown, Netflix Season 4? I say yes! But be aware and pay attention to whether or not what you’re reading seems biased. And check out my other posts about The Crown, below.
Are you going to read the book Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith? Let me know what you think of it!
More posts about The Crown and the British Royal Family
More information about the Crown Netflix Season 4
I’ve found the articles by Town & Country about the British Royal Family and the Netflix Season 4, to be some of the best. Check out The Crown Season 4: Everything We Know So Far.
Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue also have great articles.
Emma Corrin Says Wearing Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress in The Crown Left Everyone “Completely Silent” – I love their side-by-side photos.