When you hear the phrase “Prince Charles’s relationship drama,” your first thought is likely to be of his tumultuous marriage to Princess Diana, during which both were reportedly unfaithful. But while The Crown has yet to introduce Diana, Season 3 has no shortage of Real Housewives–worthy romantic drama, thanks to its focus on Charles’s early courtship with Camilla Shand and Princess Anne’s simultaneous fling with Camilla’s on-off boyfriend, Andrew Parker-Bowles, whom Camilla would go on to marry. These royals! You couldn’t write a better soap opera if you tried!
We all know that Charles will ultimately marry Camilla years down the line, but if you're unfamiliar with the history of this truly wild Charles/Camilla/Anne/Andrew quadrangle, you might have been left confused by Episode 8 of The Crown. So let’s break it down. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
The episode begins with the introduction of Camilla Shand (played by Killing Eve Season 2 writer Emerald Fennell), who’s newly involved with Charles. Things are already serious enough that she’s heading over to the palace for dates and cheering him on at polo matches, and Charles is fully smitten. Little does he know that Camilla is already involved in a very intense on-off situationship with British Army officer Andrew Parker-Bowles, who seems to be—in modern parlance—a bit of a fuckboy.
Having discovered that Andrew is cheating on her (or “out on maneuvers” with someone else, per the show’s delightfully upper-crust lexicon), Camilla turns her attentions to Charles but is clearly not over her ex. A spurned Andrew is forced to attend a black-tie event alone, where he’s introduced to Princess Anne, who has, it turns out, been quietly thirsting for him from afar for many years. Or, as the lexicon has it, “Her eye has been drawn to him on the polo field.”
Naturally, Anne and Andrew hook up, and keep hooking up. But before long, he ends things, because “anyone who gets in the way of me and her” tends to get hurt. Anne, a sardonic queen, rolls her eyes at the notion that she was ever at risk of getting attached but doesn’t yet realize that her brother has also made the mistake of getting between Camilla and Andrew.
So, to recap: Charles is in love with Camilla, who likes him but is obsessed with Andrew, who is obsessed with her too and decides to make her jealous by sleeping with Anne, who is fully aware of the situation and absolutely content with using Andrew in return for “a bit of fun.”
Things get real in Episode 9, when word of this whole mess gets back to the queen via Charles’s beloved great-uncle Louis Mountbatten. Mountbatten, along with the Queen Mother, are absolutely not here for any of this drama and stage an intervention after learning that Charles intends to propose to Camilla. Summoned to the palace for a crisis meeting, Anne confirms that the whole situation is even messier than anyone imagined by revealing her own history with Andrew, and says that if Charles marries Camilla, he’d better be prepared for there to "always be three in the marriage."
This is the final straw for Louis and the Queen Mother, who concoct a plan to separate the couple by sending Charles on a military posting to the Caribbean, and arranging for Camilla to marry Andrew as soon as possible. Queen Elizabeth, though far from thrilled, goes along with the plan. We all know from real life that Charles and Camilla’s story does not end here, but it’s still a pretty brutal ending to the season for Charles.
Though the specifics are, of course, fictionalized, this quadrangle is apparently real. According to royal biographer Penny Junor, Charles and Camilla’s relationship began as a tactic to make Andrew jealous. “[Camilla] was passionately in love with [Andrew] but he was a cad, he was bonking other people, some of her friends,” Junor said at the Henley Literary Festival in 2016. “When she was introduced to Charles and he thought she was pretty special … he thought she was a bit of alright and she thought, ‘Andrew is at the moment off with Princess Anne, you know her brother, teach Andrew a lesson.’ So she had a fling with Charles.”
The affair between Andrew and Anne has been widely reported, though details are only speculated. Some, like royal writer Phil Dampier, claim that Andrew was “her first love.” According to Dampier, the pair remain close to this day. “I have read this before,” he said after Junor's comments about the affair, “and it wouldn't surprise me. Anne and Andrew Parker Bowles were very close—and they still are! You see them together at Royal Ascot every year and they are best friends. He was her first love and their bond goes very deep.”
In the 2002 documentary The Real Princess Anne, which aired on Channel 4 in the U.K., it was claimed that Anne was unable to marry Andrew because he was Catholic. “Most of the press pack were far more fascinated with the company she kept and whether they could marry her off,” the documentary's narrator said, per the Daily Express. “Would it be the Olympic gold medalist Richard Meade, who shared her passion for riding, or more intriguingly, the 26-year-old Andrew Parker-Bowles, not yet married to Camilla? He and Anne were often seen together, but he was a Roman Catholic, and for a royal that effectively put marriage out of the question.” But it’s not clear that Andrew and Anne’s relationship was ever serious enough for marriage to be a real consideration.
The Crown Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.
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