The Crown debuted the first four episodes of their final season last week, focusing on Princess Diana, her relationship with Dodi Fayed, and the tumultuous weeks leading up to their deaths in August 1997.
The final episode of season 6, part 1, titled “Aftermath,” in particular details one of the most controversial moments in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, played in the show’s final two seasons by Imelda Staunton.
As the nation and the world mourned Diana’s death following an early morning car accident in Paris, a public outcry also arose at the royal family’s seeming reticence to publicly grieve her loss. Specifically, the fact that the queen remained at Balmoral Castle in Scotland until five days after the news of Diana’s death went public and was hesitant to make a public statement.
In The Crown‘s depiction of the aftermath, both Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce), are initially resistant to adhering to royal protocol put in place when Diana was still married to Charles, shooting down the idea that royal transportation be used to bring her body back from Paris — until Charles makes a scathing comment, asking if they would rather have the mother of the future King of England transported “in a Harrods van.”
Later, after the queen and Prince Charles (Dominic West) debate the merits of her making a public statement on Diana’s death — which the queen says she sees as “theater, spectacle, exhibitionism” — the late Princess of Wales (Elizabeth Debicki) appears once again as a posthumous vision.
“I hope you’re happy now,” the queen says wryly. “You’ve finally succeeded in turning me and this house upside down.”
“That was never my intention,” Diana pleads.
“Oh, please. Look at what you’ve started,” the queen retorts, pointing to the television, which shows the masses lined up to mourn Diana outside Buckingham Palace. “It’s nothing less than revolution.”
“It didn’t need to be,” the late princess replies. “But by making an enemy of me — not me, personally, but what I stand for — it starts to look like one.”
“They’re trying to show you who they are. What they feel. What they need. And I know that must be terrifying, but it needn’t be,” she continues. “For as long as anyone can remember, you’ve taught us what it means to be British. Maybe it’s time to show you’re ready to learn, too.”
In real life, there was talk that the queen was simply following protocol in not addressing the nation — Diana and Charles had divorced and therefore she wasn’t technically a member of the royal family any longer — however, those close to the monarch have said mostly that her actions were meant as a protection of her grandsons, Prince William and Prince Harry, then just 15 and 12 years old, as they mourned their mother.
In an ITVX docuseries, The Real Crown: Inside the House of Windsor, released in April 2023, family members and associates of the late queen open up about her action in the days following Diana’s death.
Queen Elizabeth II’s only daughter, Anne, Princess Royal, said she believes that her mother did “exactly the right thing” in staying in Scotland with the young princes.
“I just don’t know how you can think that [taking them back to London] would’ve been a better thing to do,” she said. “I don’t think either of those two would’ve been able to cope had they been anywhere else.”
“That was the only good thing that happened was that they were there, and they had that structure, they had people around them who could understand, give them the time,” she added.
Even Diana’s own sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, agreed with the decision.
“If you were the grandmother of a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old whose mother had just been killed in a car crash, she did absolutely the right thing,” she insisted. “If I had been her, I would have done that. Why would you bring them to London?”
Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the nation about Diana’s death days before the queen eventually spoke out, and admitted that it was “very difficult to work out exactly what the queen was thinking at this time.”
“I think she was resistant to anything that struck her as false or struck her as a public relations event in the face of something that was a profound personal tragedy,” he continued. “Princess Diana’s relationship that she had with the monarchy and the relationship with Prince Charles, there was going to be a risk that the country’s sense of loss turned to a sense of anger and grievance and then turned against the monarchy… She was obviously very sad about Diana. She was concerned about the monarchy itself because the queen has a very strong instinct about public opinion and how it plays.”
ET’s royal expert Katie Nicholl pointed to Blair as the one who attempted to advise the queen on how to handle the nation at the time, saying “he was indeed the one who urged her to come back to London.”
“But much of the onus is is put on Charles in [The Crown],” she added. “I think a fair amount of that is artistic license, because, of course, we don’t know what was said behind closed doors. Charles has never spoken about it, and the late queen certainly didn’t.”
Ultimately, on Sept. 5, 1999, one day before Diana’s funeral — which was a lavish state affair held at Westminster Abbey, per the wishes of Prince Charles — Queen Elizabeth II addressed a nation that had been waiting with bated breath, both “as your queen and as a grandmother.”
“First, I want to pay tribute to Diana myself,” she said in part. “She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness. I admired and respected her – for her energy and commitment to others, and especially for her devotion to her two boys. This week at Balmoral, we have all been trying to help William and Harry come to terms with the devastating loss that they and the rest of us have suffered.”
“No one who knew Diana will ever forget her,” she continued in part. “Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her. I for one believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death. I share in your determination to cherish her memory.”
There was also some public outcry about the flag at Buckingham Palace not flying at half mast in honor of Diana — but this had a much simpler explanation.
The only flag traditionally flown above Buckingham Palace is the royal standard — not the Union Jack, which were at half mast all over the U.K. in Diana’s memory — and the flag is only used to signify when the monarch is in residence. When the queen is at Buckingham, it is flown; when she is away, it is lowered. The flag had never before been flown at half mast, even for the death of the queen’s beloved father and predecessor, King George VI.
However, again bowing to the public ire, a Union Jack was flown at half mast above Buckingham Palace on the day of Diana’s funeral, Sept. 6, 1997.
The queen broke royal protocol once again during Diana’s funeral procession. As the carriage carrying the late Princess of Wales’ coffin was pulled past the royal family, Elizabeth dipped her head in a deep bow, an unprecedented sign of respect from a sitting monarch. It is thought to be the only time that Queen Elizabeth II ever bowed to anyone else during her time on the throne.
The Crown is streaming now on Netflix. Part 2 of the sixth and final season premieres Dec. 14.