After six seasons, the final episodes of The Crown have dropped on Netflix. These episodes split their focus between the old guard grappling with their life choices and the new young royals just starting to find their footing in the world after experiencing tragedy. Given how recent these events are, most people watching probably remember them to some degree – so, as always, the show focuses inwards, on the internal struggles and quiet moments that never could have made their way into the tabloids. Today we’re comparing the real-life events that were splashed across the world’s screens to the Crown’s attempts to give us a peek inside the minds and private lives of these larger-than-life figures.
CH 1: WILL & KATE
After the death of his mother, Princess Diana, Prince William found himself having to grapple with the trauma of losing his mother so tragically while also dealing with the increasing pressure of his coming future. While he was a young man dealing with trauma, he was also the future king of England – and as such, his family began expecting him to take on more royal duties. On the show, we see these tensions come to a head as William begins to buck against all of this pressure and lashes out at Charles. In addition to his grief and compounding familial stressors, he was also just a young guy trying to figure himself out and find some way to experience any sort of “normal” young adulthood. While attending Eton College, his family struck a deal with the press that allowed him a bit of privacy. After graduating, William took a gap year and traveled the world – including going to a Kenyan wildlife reserve where he ended up meeting his alleged first true love Jecca Craig, who he’s still close with. After his gap year came to a close, he headed off to the University of St Andrews – where he would go on to get a degree in Geography and meet future wife Kate Middleton.
There have been many rumors about how – or rather why – Kate and William ended up meeting. She’s long been followed by gossip that their becoming friends and starting relationship wasn’t in fact a lucky chance University encounter but all part of a long-term plan set out by her own mother, Carole. Back in 2005, royal correspondent Matthew Bell questioned just how coincidental their meeting was, telling The Spectator, “Although at the time of making her application to universities, it was unknown where the Prince was intending to go, it has been suggested that her mother persuaded Kate to reject her first choice on hearing the news and take up her offer at Saint Andrews instead.” Tina Brown’s 2022 book The Palace Papers posits that Kate had already set her sights on attending Edinburgh University – and had even found a place to stay with her best friends who were also going to be attending – until Prince William announced that he would be attending St. Andrews and Kate changed course, Carole attempting to puppeteer Kate’s life in a bid to make her queen is portrayed on the show – but they make sure to have Kate vehemently object to her mother’s meddling. Obviously, there’s no way for any of us to know what really went on behind closed doors, but The Crown wants to make sure that, at least on screen, we know that Kate’s interest in (and eventual love for) William is pure and not driven by any kind of social climbing.
They lived in the same dorm, but Kate sought to really catch his eye – leading to the now infamous see-through dress she wore in a school fashion show. Regardless of how much was planned and how much was pure coincidence – it worked. They eventually moved into a shared house with some friends, giving them more time to get to know one another in a more private space away from prying eyes, and began dating soon after. On the show, we see a different angle of this story – one in which it’s Prince William who’s doing the real pursuing. And we get a deeper look into why the Prince might have been so interested in Kate. Being a commoner (a wealthy commoner, but a commoner all the same) she had a quite different upbringing to William and even his non-royal-but-still-elite friends. She got to have a pretty normal childhood with her rather tightnight family, and the show works to explore this side of Kate. For William, who grew up under such pressure and scrutiny from all sides, it’s not hard to see why this sense of freedom and belonging would be so alluring.
Even during the beginning of their romance things weren’t picture perfect – Kate didn’t fit the idea the Royal family (and the press) had of a proper option for a future Queen, and William was still one of the most desired young men in the country. He also had a hard time moving on from past relationships, even giving ex Jecca the prime seat at his 21st birthday party over Kate and allegedly getting back with her when he and Kate were on a break. While in past seasons, The Crown seemed interested in really digging into relationships – why these people were drawn to one another and the obstacles they faced in actually being together – with William and Kate’s story they seem more interested in painting a rather simple but happy picture of the couple. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave the pairing feeling a bit empty, without the kind of chemistry or spark that was there in some of the show’s other pairings where we were given a more full, nuanced look at the workings of the relationships.
CH 2: HARRY
Being a few years younger than William and the so-called “spare,” Prince Harry had a bit of a different experience following the death of their mother. While he was similarly devastated, instead of being pressured into fitting in a new royal role, Harry felt more left behind. With the growing national spotlight on William (both as future king and new heartthrob,) Harry was often pushed to the side or forgotten about. He, too, attended Eton College (where he was apparently a less-than-stellar student) but had also begun racking up a number of negative press stories thanks to his partying and acting out. In an attempt to clean up his image a bit after graduating, he spent part of his gap year volunteering in Lesotho, during which time he followed in his mother’s footsteps by helping to bring awareness to the AIDs crisis in the country by producing a TV documentary.
The show unfortunately doesn’t really spend that much time with Harry or trying to explore his own individual life and psyche. We get glimpses, but he’s never as fleshed out as other key characters from past seasons. The show does briefly touch on some of the big moments of his life that audiences might remember – from a reference to his Nazi costume debacle to a mention of his desire to join the military – but the show never really digs deep into what any of it means for him or what it tells us about him as a character. There’s also an attempt to sow the seeds of William and Harry’s future rift – how the different pressures and spotlights they experienced changed them and began to drive them apart – but, again, this isn’t really unpacked in a meaningful or compelling way that might give us more insight into the minds of these characters.
CH 3: THE QUEEN & THE OTHER ROYALS
While much of the focus of these last episodes is on the young royals taking their first steps into the adult world, we do also get glimpses into the lives of the other royals we’ve been following for all of these seasons as well. In episode 8, we get one last look into the life of Princess Margaret as we’re shown her battling illness in her final days while reminiscing about celebrating V-E day with her sister, at that time only a Princess, when they were young. This also lets us see the young Queen through Margaret’s lens: youthful and free from the many burdens she would have to take on upon becoming the Queen only a few years later. We’ve watched the Queen grapple with this question of self vs duty since the very beginning of the show, and in this final season, the question wraps around in a rather literal way as the elderly Queen consults with her younger selves. In the end, she decides not to give up the crown to Charles but instead to continue on as she has – so much of her real self has been snuffed out for so long, it doesn’t even seem possible to find again, and so she decides once and for all to stop questioning it and just admit that she has given her life over to the system completely and will continue to do so until the very end. The Queen did on many occasions have to make these kinds of decisions to carry on with her duties even at the expense of her own emotions. In the lead-up to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, the royal family was sadly beset with new losses. Princess Margaret, the Queen’s younger sister, had become increasingly ill and began dealing with heart problems. She suffered a series of strokes and was partially paralyzed, before passing away on February 9th, 2002. Barely two short months later, the Queen Mother passed away at the age of 101. In spite of these deaths of her closest family members, the Queen managed to carry on with the royal tour around the world for her jubilee.
While Charles didn’t get the throne quite yet, the season does end with him getting something else he had wanted for a long time: getting to marry Camilla. After their request for consent to marry was approved by the Queen and the Privy Council, Charles and Camilla were finally able to wed in 2005. There were some concerns about the optics of the future leader of the Church of England marrying a divorcee (which is interesting given the reason the Church of England was created in the first place.) So, as we see in the show, they opted for a civil ceremony instead of a church wedding.
While these final episodes may not have been quite as drama-filled as previous ones, they did allow the show one final chance to explore its most central theme, the weight of power and the choice to protect it in spite of yourself, with a new layer. We get to see three generations of royals grappling with this question of if it’s even possible to keep part of yourself, to really put yourself first in any way, with the crown looming over your every choice. The Crown seems content that the Queen felt that she made the only choice she could given the situation she was placed in. And, of course, the entire show is just a fictionalization of these people and events – we’ll never really know their intimate thoughts and feelings on this level – so it does make sense that The Crown chose to wrap things up in this way. The show ends with the Queen, framed by visions of her past self, walking out of the church – into a bright light that might remind us of scenes from other films and shows of characters walking into heaven. Of course, the real Queen had many more years ahead of her, but this is the end for the character we’ve come to know.
If you are interested in some of the royal happenings after the point that The Crown left off, make sure to check out our Royals playlist!
Adams, Char. “Prince William Attends Jecca Craig’s Wedding.” Peoplemag, PEOPLE, 26 Mar. 2016, people.com/royals/prince-william-attends-jecca-craigs-wedding/.
Burtt, Kristyn. “Prince William Was Scolded by Both Harry & Charles for Seeing This Woman While Dating Kate Middleton.” SheKnows, 6 Dec. 2021, www.sheknows.com/entertainment/articles/2514909/prince-william-jecca-craig-romance-kate-middleton-threat/.
Kapusta, Michelle. “Prince William Had a ‘Pretend Engagement’ with His Ex-Girlfriend before Asking Kate Middleton to Marry Him.” Showbiz Cheat Sheet, 2 Jan. 2022, www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/prince-william-pretend-engagement-ex-girlfriend-before-asking-kate-middleton-marry.html/.
“Prince Harry Makes a Documentary about the AIDS-Stricken Nation of Lesotho.” The Royal Family, 19 Sept. 2005, www.royal.uk/prince-harry-makes-documentary-about-aids-stricken-nation-lesotho.
Roberts, Kayleigh. “How Prince William Hurt Kate Middleton at His 21st Birthday Party.” Marie Claire Magazine, Marie Claire, 21 Apr. 2019, www.marieclaire.com/celebrity/a27214542/prince-william-hurt-kate-middleton-21st-birthday-party/.
Rodger, James. “Kate Middleton ‘Chose University so She Could Meet Prince William.’” Birmingham Live, 2 Apr. 2019, www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/kate-middleton-chose-university-could-16063913.
Sangster, Ella. “Was Carole Middleton the Mastermind behind Kate and William’s Relationship?” Harper’s Bazaar Australia, 18 Dec. 2023, harpersbazaar.com.au/did-carole-middleton-set-up-kate-and-william/.