As Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth struggles to unite the country following Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s failed handling of the Suez Crisis, she is also dealing with issues closer to home: her turbulent relationship with Prince Philip, who is coping with playing second fiddle to his wife about as well as he did in the first season. Which is to say, not well at all.
Philip, who is played by former Doctor Who star Matt Smith, takes a central role in the show’s second season — which does not always portray him in the best light. But how much of the prince’s strongly suggested philandering is true, and how much has been invented for dramatic effect? Below, we sort the fact from the fiction.
Did Prince Philip embark on a five-month royal tour without the Queen?
Yes, Philip did embark on a solo royal tour (described in the show as a “five-month stag do,” the British equivalent of a bachelor party) of commonwealth countries including New Guinea, Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) and the Malay Peninsula in 1956, nine years after he married the Queen.
It was a trying time for the pair’s relationship, particularly as their only communication during Philip’s lengthy period away from England was by telegram, letter and the occasional hard-to-hear telephone conversation, as the show portrays.
Who was the woman in Philip’s photograph?
Early on in the season, the Queen finds a photograph of an anonymous woman tucked away in Prince Philip’s luggage, shortly before he leaves for his five-month tour. In response, the shocked and disappointed Queen leaves him a one-line note, reminding him that he has a family.
The woman in the photo really existed: her name was Galina Ulanova and she was a Russian ballerina, thought to be the greatest ballerina of her time. A later scene in The Crown shows the Queen overcome with emotion as she watches Ulanova perform in a Bolshoi ballet, clearly contemplating the idea of her husband engaging in relations with this ethereal stranger. When asked to meet the ballerina after the show, she declines and makes a swift exit.
However, there is no evidence that Philip and Ulanova actually had an affair and, due to the pair’s hectic and strict schedules, it seems unlikely that there would have been a time for it to happen. Ulanova’s 1998 obituary doesn’t even mention the prince: in fact, it notes that the dancer “ended up with a female companion who guarded her and served her needs.”
Did Philip really have multiple affairs?
The show suggests that Philip continued to be unfaithful during the royal tour, with encouragement from his fellow travelers. Most of this egging-on comes from his right-hand man, lieutenant commander Michael Parker, whose wife files for divorce from him once she gains evidence of his adulterous nature. (This bit is true: according to Tim Heald’s The Duke: Portrait of Prince Phillip, Eileen Parker did sue her husband for divorce while he was away.)
But despite rumors of Philip’s infidelity, with his name linked to women like the writer Daphne du Maurier and the cabaret star Helene Cordet, there is no evidence to prove that he ever did have an affair.
The show’s creator, Peter Morgan, keeps the question of Philip’s fidelity intentionally ambiguous in season two. “Hopefully I wrote it in a way that allows everyone to draw a conclusion to what degree [he may have strayed],” he told Vanity Fair in an interview last summer.
Did Philip force Michael Parker to resign over his divorce?
In The Crown, shortly after news breaks of Eileen Parker suing her husband for divorce, Prince Philip turns to his close friend and tells him: “I hope you’re not going to make this next step difficult for me,” effectively forcing Parker to resign. “You’ll have my resignation first thing,” Parker replies, to which Philip responds, “I’ll need it now.”
It’s unclear whether or not Philip forced Parker’s resignation in this way, but Parker did indeed resign after the divorce suit, and he did leave the royal tour early, flying back to London straight from Gibraltar, as in the show.
As Parker’s Daily Telegraph obituary following his death in 2002 reads, “It was his divorce from Eileen, covered extensively in the press before becoming final in 1958, that forced Parker to resign as the Duke’s Private Secretary.”
Was Philip’s Thursday Club a real thing?
In the show, letters written by Parker during the royal tour, bragging of the group’s explicit exploits, are seen being read aloud to the customers at the Thursday Club — a seedy gentlemen’s club in Soho, central London, frequented by Philip, Parker and other members of the royal entourage.
But depending on who you believe, the Thursday Club may not have been the debaucherous hangout it is in the show. According the Telegraph’s obituary of Parker, the commander himself was once quoted to have said: “We enjoyed fun and going round with people who knew what was going on. The Thursday Club was a great sounding base, and the idea that it was a drunken orgy was absolute rubbish. People got very merry, but never drunk. As far as being wild, not guilty. As far as hanging around women, not guilty.”
However, Eileen Parker’s reports disagree. In 1982, Parker’s ex-wife published a book called Step Outside for Royalty, in which she claimed that Parker and Philip enjoyed slipping out of Buckingham Palace using the pseudonyms “Murgatroyd and Winterbottom.” According to the Telegraph, Parker called the allegations “the biggest load of hogwash I’ve ever read in my life.”