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Fact-checking ‘The Crown’: Did Britain want Queen Elizabeth to abdicate to Charles?

The truth about the poll and that ‘second honeymoon’ taken by Prince Charles and Princess Diana in Italy

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles watch competitors during the Braemar Gathering at the Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park in Scotland in 2006. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
3 min

In the opening minutes of the new season of Netflix’s “The Crown,” we learn about a poll of the British public suggesting half of them think Queen Elizabeth II should abdicate in favor of Prince Charles.

An aide tells Charles, played by Dominic West, that the poll will come out while Charles is on vacation in Italy with his wife and sons, which the aide is encouraging the press to call a “second honeymoon.” Later, royal aides try in vain to hide copies of the Sunday Times from Queen Elizabeth II.

So did that really happen? Did the public really want the queen to abdicate? And was there really a “second honeymoon” to Italy?

There really was a Sunday Times poll with the abdication question, but most of the details have been changed, no doubt to add Hollywood drama.

Netflix's fifth season of “The Crown” showcases many of the public-facing scandals faced by the royal family in the early 90s, like Charles and Diana's split. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

The poll came out in January 1990, not August 1991 as it does in the show, and nearly half said the queen should consider abdicating in favor of Charles. But, importantly, they said she should consider “eventually,” not necessarily at that very moment. The “eventually” has been left out in the show.

Other things left out: The real poll was largely positive about the royal family — only 6 percent thought abolishing the monarchy would leave Britain better off — and support for Queen Elizabeth II and her mother was through the roof: Nine in 10 felt favorably or very favorably about them.

And there have been additions to add even more drama. In one scene, Charles appears to read from the article:

“An aging monarch, too long on the throne, whose remoteness from the modern world has led people to grow tired not just of her but of the monarchy itself.”

This is a made-up line that did not appear in the original, which the Sunday Times republished in September. Neither does the term “Queen Victoria Syndrome,” or that the public thought the queen was “old,” “irrelevant” or “out of touch.”

The moment the queen gave Princess Diana her due 25 years ago

In another scene, Charles arranges a meeting with Prime Minister John Major, played by Jonny Lee Miller, and, buoyed by the poll, delicately pressures Major to encourage the queen to step down. Major, now 79, said recently a meeting like this never happened, calling it “a barrel-load of nonsense,” and prompting reminders from the show’s creators that “The Crown” is a fictionalized version of real events — emphasis on the fictionalized.

The date of the poll’s release appears to have been moved in the show so that it would coincide with Charles and Diana’s vacation to Italy — a real trip they took in August 1991. Coming a few weeks after the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary, some in the press really did dub it a “second honeymoon” at the time, though the show’s suggestion that this framing came from Charles’s camp appears to be artistic license.

Little is known publicly about the trip but, as Cosmopolitan noted, some of the outfits worn by Diana, played by Elizabeth Debicki, appear to be based on clothes the real Diana wore on other vacations. Charles’s second cousin, along with his wife and family, really did go along on the trip.

As for whether the royal couple fought the whole time or Charles left early, that’s unclear, but the show’s suggestion that before the trip Diana may have still held out hope her marriage could be saved seems unlikely.

In real life, by the time of the Italian “second honeymoon,” she was already leaking tapes to writer Andrew Morton for a tell-all book — a subject that takes up most of the next episode of “The Crown.”

Watch more:

The Post’s Jennifer Hassan analyzes how Netflix’s “The Crown” depicted Queen Elizabeth II through her decades-long reign. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)