During her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II could not escape persistent rumors of infidelity about her “strength and stay.”
Months after her death on Sept. 8 at age 96, Season 5 of “The Crown” hinted that her husband Prince Philip’s relationship with trusted confidante Penelope Knatchbull was more than just a friendship. The storyline has sparked a backlash among those who have known and worked with the Duke of Edinburgh over the years.
British author Andrew Morton addressed the gossip in his new book about Britain’s longest-reigning monarch titled “The Queen: Her Life.” He famously worked with the Princess of Wales on her 1992 tell-all titled “Diana: Her True Story.”
“I think the biggest misconception [about the royal family] is that Prince Philip was playing away all the time,” Morton told Fox News Digital. “I remember when I first started writing about the royal family in 1982. Within a year I was told that Prince Philip had secret families in Norfolk, Malta, Melbourne and Germany. The one thing you learn is that the royal family is always shrouded in gossip, hearsay and rumor. And I think that people have been looking for Philip’s mistress for years and have come up with nothing.”
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Morton said that the rumors were “very hurtful” to the queen, who was married to Philip for more than seven decades. He passed away in 2021 at age 99.
How did the mother of four deal with the scrutiny? She simply carried on.
“[The year] 1956 was a classic example,” Morton explained. “She was the one who suggested that Prince Philip go around the world on the Royal Britannia, to put the yacht through its paces because he helped design it. And he could see some of the far-flung places of the Commonwealth… and open the Olympic Games in Melbourne, which he did. He made a documentary about the voyage.”
“But even so, there were all kinds of rumors suggesting that there [were] wild parties on board,” he continued. “And then his great friend, his private secretary Michael Parker, divorced and left the ship early. And so that started all kinds of rumors about Prince Philip’s relationships with women in London… the queen was so upset by that she issued a statement through Buckingham Palace, the first time in history… denying that their marriage was in trouble.”
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While the rumors launched before the glaring cameras of paparazzi or today’s social media, Morton said that “the mainstream media” still “whipped up this frenzy.”
Dick Arbiter, who was the queen’s spokesperson from 1988 until 2000, was among the first to criticize “The Crown” for the storyline featured in this season.
“Coming just weeks after the nation laid Her Majesty to rest next to Prince Philip, this is very distasteful and, quite frankly, rubbish,” said Arbiter, as quoted by The Sun. “The truth is that Penny was a long-time friend of the whole family. Netflix [is] not interested in people’s feelings.”
“It’s in exceedingly bad taste,” added Majesty magazine’s editor Ingrid Seward.
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In one episode of the hit royal drama, Philip, played by Jonathan Pryce, tells Knatchbull, played by Natascha McElhone, that his marriage is facing “problems” as he and the queen have “grown in separate directions.” Morton stressed that while Philip was coined “a ladies’ man” by the press, there is no evidence that he was ever unfaithful to his wife.
This is not the first time that the scripted series implied that Philip had a wandering eye. In 2017, “The Crown” suggested that Philip may have had an affair with Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova in the ‘50s. However, there is no evidence that the relationship ever occurred.
“People have often said, ‘He must have been unfaithful,’ but there is no solid evidence for that,” Robert Lacey, the show’s historical consultant, told People magazine at the time. “When you’ve seen the episodes, you get the feeling why people made that supposition. But there is no evidence for it.”
Philip was also linked in the ’30s and ‘40s to Pat Kirkwood, a stage actress whose legs were coined “the eighth wonder of the world.” Philip and Kirkwood reportedly met on seven different occasions, the first of which Philip reportedly went to her dressing room before a performance in London in 1948. That initial meeting purportedly led to dinner and dancing until dawn. Elizabeth, who was then a princess, was eight months pregnant with Prince Charles. Kirkwood denied claims of any illicit relationship with the prince until her death in 2007 at age 86.
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In addition to Kirkwood, Philip has also been linked to other actresses, including Helene Cordet, Merle Oberon and Anna Massey. People magazine previously reported rumors persisted that Philip was the father — not the godfather — of Cordet’s two children. She called the paternity gossip “ridiculous” and claimed they were fathered by French fighter pilot Marcel Boisot.
In 2019, Seward told Fox News Digital that there are “many stories,” but “none have been proven.” She said that despite all the gossip and scandals Elizabeth and Philip faced over the years, their bond endured.
“It’s quite extraordinary really,” said Seward at the time. “… She never really looked at anyone else once she met him. He was just gorgeous. He was so handsome, tall, blonde and very funny. And you know, women love funny men.
“… I think women just adored him because he was such a handsome specimen. … And he has an amazing charm when he wants to use it, an amazing charm. He’s a very interesting character. … Whatever he may have done in his private life, no one has really put their finger on that. He’s always put his duty to the queen first.”
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Philip saw his sole role as providing support for his wife, who began her reign at age 25. In the ‘70s, Parker said, “He told me the first day he offered me my job, that his job – first, second and last – was never to let her down.” In public, the queen called the longest-serving consort in British history her “rock.”
“I hope that [people] will take away the fact that [the queen] is someone who was a stalwart defender of Britain,” said Morton. “Someone who was careful of her family, thoughtful of others, [who had a] wicked sense of humor and someone who had duty running through her [veins]… The queen essentially was a four-letter word – duty.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.