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'The Crown': Did Prince Philip cheat on Queen Elizabeth?

by Daniel Arkin /
Image: Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II arrive at the Royal Ascot race meeting on June 19, 1962. Claire Foy and Matt Smith play the royal pair in the Netflix show The Crown.AP file, Netflix

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Netflix’s glossy royal family drama “The Crown,” now in its second season, turns its viewers into amateur historians. (Who among us has not scurried off to Google in the middle of an episode, itching for factoids about the Suez Crisis and the Profumo affair?) The hit series takes many liberties with the historical record, of course — but NBC News is here to help you separate fact from fiction.

We’ll begin with Queen Elizabeth II’s husband: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In the second season of “The Crown,” Philip (Matt Smith) is depicted as a whiny cad who mopes around Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty (Claire Foy) suspects her consort is a cheater. Spoiler alert: Arguments ensue.

But just how much of this portrayal is true to life? Let’s investigate.

Is he really so ... surly?

The British newspaper The Independent once rounded up 90 of Philip’s biggest gaffes. “British women can’t cook,” he reportedly told the Scottish Women’s Institute in 1961. And to singer Tom Jones, after a 1969 performance: “What do you gargle with — pebbles?” And to a 13-year-old aspiring astronaut: “You could do with losing a little bit of weight.”

OK, so the Duke can throw shade like nobody’s business. But is that really the full picture? At least one historian says: No way.

“I think it’s a very one-dimensional portrait,” said Sammy Bedell Smith, the author of biographies about Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. “Yes, he has always loved to make the smart-aleck remark. But most often, he has deployed that irreverence to relax people when they’re around the queen.”

The version of Philip on “The Crown” might be “constantly smirking, constantly disgruntled” — but the real man is far more of a well-liked gentleman who has “fully embraced his role” over 70 years of marriage, Smith said.

What about those alleged affairs?

Infidelity is one of the key themes of the second season. (In that respect, “The Crown” is reminiscent of “Mad Men,” only with fancier costumes.) The series implies — with a hefty nudge-nudge, wink-wink — Philip carried on with a real-life Russian ballerina, Galina Ulanova.

It’s a juicy subplot, but there’s no hard evidence of an affair between Philip and Ulanova. And while Philip has been linked to other women — including British actress Pat Kirkwood — few rumors have been substantiated, according to Smith.

“This innuendo that he was running off and having assignations with showgirls is flatly false,” Smith said. (That includes all that business with the ballerina, she added.) And while "The Crown" shows Philip's cronies chortling about his alleged conquests at the so-called Thursday Club, the real all-male get-together was more benign, according to Smith.

Camilla Tominey, an editor and columnist at the Sunday Express, said some storylines on the show are "a complete fabrication."

"The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have been married for 70 years — an amazing milestone for any couple but particularly one who have lived through the trials and tribulations of royal life with the world looking on," she said. "None of the more controversial storylines in 'The Crown' can change the fact that they have had one of the longest, happiest and most successful marriages in royal history."

For what it’s worth: Philip has reportedly denied rumors of dalliances.

“Good God, woman,” he once said to a journalist who had asked about extramarital liaisons. “Have you ever stopped to think that for years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me? So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?”

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