There has been a lot of chatter about the historical details in Netflix's show, The Crown. Did Margaret Thatcher really show up to a country shoot in heels and pearls? What was the truth about Diana, Princess of Wales and bulimia? Following relentless press coverage of a spate of royal scandals in the '90s, the Windsors are far more protective of their privacy these days. There aren't nearly as many pictures of the Cambridge children as there were of their father when he was a child, for example.
But if the royal family is disinclined to go public with their thoughts—the Princess of Wales and the Sussexes excepted—others in the royal circle are prepared to go on the record for biographers and historians. If you're looking for firsthand accounts of key events depicted in the show, we think you may find these books interesting.
The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume 2 by Robert Lacey
A companion to seasons 2 and 3 of The Crown, renowned historical consultant Robert Lacey (also a biographer, who wrote the recent book about the alleged feud between Princes William and Harry) guides readers toward the history that inspired the drama. He takes a look at the personal, political, and social moments that either changed the monarchy or changed the way Britain's citizens viewed the monarch and includes beautifully reproduced archival photos.
Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words by Andrew Morton
First published in 1992 as Diana: Her True Story, it wasn't until after her death in 1997 that the phrase "in her own words" could be added to the title. Though her involvement was suspected, few knew the degree to which she had co-operated with Andrew Morton, and he was accused of making up outlandish stories. But the pained, raw, filter-free portrait of a Royal marriage gone bad had come straight from the source, and it changed the way the Royal Family was viewed.
Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life by Sally Bedell Smith
Thoroughly researched, with palace officials, ex-girlfriends, and more speaking on the record for the first time, Sally Bedell Smith wrote this biography when Prince Charles was settled into his second marriage. She succeeds in reframing him as a complicated, independent thinker, perhaps not temperamentally suited to the life of protocol he's been born into. She covers his first marriage and divorce skillfully and evenhandedly, without taking sides.
Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown
Paul Sehgal of The New York Times wrote, "I ripped through the book with the avidity of Margaret attacking her morning vodka and orange juice." No wonder, because Brown perfectly captures the paradox that was Princess Margaret: a defiant rule-breaker who insisted on pulling rank, and a woman once regarded as one of the most glamorous and eligible women in the world, who became the poster child for hopes dashed and love set aside for duty. Studded with quotes from the lady herself, this one is great fun.
Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner
A Christmas present from my sister the year before last, I tore through this book in a few hours and came out the other side adoring the author, Lady Anne Glenconner. She was born into a family that had been inside the Royal circle for generations and became a lifelong friend of Princess Margaret (her husband gifted Margaret with land on Mustique, which became synonymous with HRH in the '70s). She offers an affectionate but honest and down-to-earth portrait of time spent with the royals behind palace doors.
The Queen appears to have taken her mother's advice to "never explain, never complain" so seriously that her opinions on anything from her family to Margaret Thatcher's hairdo are completely unknown. But Angela Kelly, her dresser for 25 years, has published a book of photos—many previously unpublished—of Her Majesty, her wardrobe, and her jewels. The book is also sprinkled with anecdotes that reveal a warm, funny side to the Queen, and an unexpectedly close bond with Kelly.
HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style by Elizabeth Holmes
Let's face it, if you're not here for the history, you may be here for the fashion, especially this season, which shows the early Lady Di years (pussy bow collars! peter pan collars! everything matches!). So Many Thoughts began as journalist Elizabeth Holmes' Instagram commentary on royal fashion. In the book she focuses on four HRH's and their fashion: The Queen, Diana, Princess of Wales, and the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex. She talks about style, trends, and branding, but also weighs in on cool, not-so-cool, and so-uncool-it's-now-cool royal fashion statements.
Here are a few books to help sort fact from fiction when it comes to The Crown.