Anyone who is watching Season 4 of The Crown walks away with a very specific view of who was to blame in the breakdown of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage. The Netflix series has viewers believing that the future king’s constant pining for then-mistress Camilla Parker Bowles was the reason the royals’ union stood no chance.
Royal experts want fans of the show to slow down and take a look at the real-life facts, which don’t always support the story being shown to us. According to royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith, it was Princess Diana who stepped out of the marriage first, not Prince Charles.
“It should also be emphasized,” says Bedell Smith to Vanity Fair, “that Diana strayed first from the marital bed, with her affair that began in 1985 with her protection officer, Barry Mannakee.”
— SheKnows (@SheKnows) November 19, 2020
Their inappropriate relationship was discovered in 1986 and Mannakee was relieved of his royal duties, “which upset Diana,” says Bedell Smith. That sadness didn’t last for long as “he met James Hewitt shortly afterward, and they became lovers that November.”
That specific timeline of events is important to note because Town & Country chronicles Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles’ affair as heating up in 1986. Following that timeline, Princess Diana would have been the first one to cheat in the marriage, which is a very different tale than what The Crown is sharing with viewers this season.
Royal expert Hugo Vickers is taking the show to task for portraying Charles as “a very angry, unpleasant person yelling at his wife.”
He jokes, “Some of the looks he gives Diana, you begin to wonder whether in the next season we’re going to catch him conspiring to have her murdered in a tunnel in Paris, or something ghastly.”
Bedell Smith further alleges that Diana was the abusive one, not Charles.
“As their marriage frayed, she abused Charles emotionally, taunting him for the medals he wore, for instance, and telling him he would never be king,” she reveals. She also reports that Charles didn’t retaliate against Diana’s unkind comments.
This paparazzi picture of princess Diana is the most expensive photo ever sold. 😮 📷 https://t.co/vXInKGM1Zo
— SheKnows (@SheKnows) November 17, 2020
Of course, the real story of who broke the marriage bed first is a much-disputed area, with biographers over the years quarreling over whether to believe Charles’ own claims of fidelity in his early days — and indeed, quarreling over how we should even define “infidelity” given Camilla’s longstanding place in his heart.
Even though the Hollywood version of the British Royal Family’s marriage might not match the truth, there’s one thing experts do agree on — the psychological toll the loveless marriage took on every member of that family. “The boys [Prince William and Prince Harry] themselves talked about the mental, the psychological legacy of that broken marriage,” royal expert Robert Lacey exclusively told SheKnows.
What might be the most lasting and stinging aspect of both parents cheating was the impression it left on the royal couple’s two sons. It doesn’t matter who stepped out of the marriage first, the damage was done.
Before you go, click here to find out which tell-all books expose major royal family secrets.