Culture

The third season of The Crown is finally here, which means a new treasure trove of episodes filled with Olivia Colman, period costumes, and irresistible palace intrigue.

But did all that drama go down in real life? For example, did Prince Philip’s uncle Lord Mountbatten (played by Charles Dance) actually participate in a plan to overthrow Prime Minister Harold Wilson, as shown in episode five? While reports vary, ELLE.com spoke with Andrew Lownie, the author of The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves, to find out what really happened.

The Alleged Coup

Some context: By 1968, Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s government was beset with economic problems and industrial unrest, Lownie explains. “There were concerns about cuts in the armed forces, a belief that public spending needed to be reduced, and tougher laws needed against the trade unions,” he said. “There were also allegations that Wilson was a Soviet agent. Against that backdrop, Mountbatten, who had always harbored political ambitions, was approached to act as a figurehead in a national argument by two newspapermen, Hugh Cudlipp and Cecil King.”

According to Lownie, Mountbatten claims he had one meeting with the men and told them the suggestion was rank treachery. But the truth, Lownie says, is that Mountbatten actually made suggestions for possible members of the government. “He then tried to backtrack by liaising with fellow conspirators to get their stories straight.”

But much of the correspondence between the parties involved in planning the aborted coup has disappeared from public archives, Lownie says. “The correspondence has either been lost or more likely deliberately removed from the deposits at the universities of East Anglia, Cardiff and Southampton,” he says.” The suspicion has to be that it incriminates the letter writers and others and suggests they were more heavily involved in the coup than [previously] realized.”

The Queen’s Involvement

Did the Queen actually have a role in dissuading Mountbatten, as the episode portrays? Lownie explains, “Mountbatten was loyal to the crown and would not have wished to displace the queen, so it is difficult to understand how he was lured into going so far. One suggestion is blackmail over his private life.” While some say advisors and family talked him out of involvement, Lownie says one historian, Alex von Tunzelman, has suggested it was in fact the queen.

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Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten in The Crown season 3.

Sophie Mutevelian/Netflix

Lord Mountbatten and Princess Alice

At the end of the episode, after the queen scolds Mountbatten, he goes to visit his sick sister, Princess Alice, and the episode alludes to the fact that the two don’t spend much time together. According to Lownie, Princess Alice was 15 years older than Mountbatten and went to live abroad with her husband while he was still a child. “He saw little of her, apart from the two years before her death when she lived at Buckingham Palace,” he said. “But he was certainly close to her son Prince Philip, whom he helped bring up after she was sent to an asylum in 1930.”

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