The Crown S5 E9 real history: the divorce settlement between Charles and Diana
Episode nine, ‘Couple 31’, opens with the Queen writing a letter to both Charles and Diana, requesting the termination of their marriage. We follow the resulting tussle between the two and their legal teams, as they disagree over the stipulations of a divorce settlement…
“A termination of your marriage is not only inevitable, but preferable,” Queen Elizabeth’s letters advise Charles and Diana in this episode of The Crown. Following the much-publicised dispute between the couple, the only conceivable route left is their separation.
We follow the rocky journey towards their securing of a divorce settlement, with John Major (played by Jonny Lee Miller) extending his ministerial role to royal mediator. But what truly happened in these final moments of the couple’s separation?
Did the Queen write letters to Charles and Diana, instructing that they must divorce?
Queen Elizabeth did write a letter to her daughter-in-law. “I have consulted with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with the prime minister,” she wrote, as said in The Royal Observer. “And, of course, with Charles, and we have decided that the best course for you is divorce.”
The Queen was given approval for this request by both prime minister John Major and George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
“There comes a time, sad and painful as it is, that a marriage has to be recognised as dead, and after the shenanigans and tantrums of the past few weeks, it has been very publicly obvious that it does seem to have died,” the Archdeacon of York, George Austin, told BBC television at the time.
It was just days after the Queen’s letters were sent, on 21 December 1995, that Buckingham Palace announced the separation: “After considering the present situation,” it said, “the Queen wrote to both the prince and princess earlier this week and gave them their view, supported by the Duke of Edinburgh, that an early divorce is desirable.”
What did the divorce settlement between Charles and Diana entail?
The agreement specified that the couple would share custody of Prince William and Prince Harry. Due to Diana not being an official member of the royal family, she was made to relinquish her title of ‘Her Royal Highness’ but was allowed to keep the title ‘Princess of Wales’.
A timeline of Charles’s and Diana’s Divorce
1986: Charles and Diana both have extramarital affairs – Charles with Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana with Captain James Hewitt
1987–92: The couple suffer rumours of marital trouble. In 1987, Diana’s decision to not join the family’s annual trip to Balmoral leads to headlines suggesting a “royal break” between the couple.
May 1992: Andrew Morton publishes Diana: Her True Story, which shares details of the couple’s collapsed marriage. The story behind the two’s communication features in episode two of The Crown.
December 1992: John Major announces Charles’s and Diana’s separation to the House of Commons.
November 1995: Diana sits down for an interview with BBC journalist Martin Bashir, on Panorama, which 23 million people tune in to watch. This is covered in episode eight of The Crown.
August 1996: Charles and Diana officially divorce.
Diana would also retain full access to the royal family’s private jets and her apartments at Kensington Palace. She was also able to use the state apartments at St James’s Palace for entertaining, and keep the jewellery she had gained during her marriage to Charles.
The financial settlement between the couple has never been confirmed, but Diana is believed to have been given a lump sum of £17m and an annual stipend of £400,000.
Did John Major play a mediatory role in the divorce proceedings?
Richard Toye told HistoryExtra that John Major “met separately with the Queen, Charles, and Diana, to discuss the issue before the couple’s divorce in 1996. Major’s biographer, Anthony Sheldon, later revealed that Diana sent the prime minister several appreciative letters.”
Apart from this, there is little information regarding John Major’s role in the divorce proceedings between Charles and Diana. He remains unrevealing over the conversations that did take place between him and the monarchy at the time; on 15 October 2022, his spokesperson said that “discussions between the monarch and prime minster are entirely private and – for Sir John – will always remain so.”
More like this
Was John Major close with the Queen?
“You are the rarest of things,” the Queen tells John Major in The Crown, “someone that is easy to like and trust.”
Whilst these words are a fictional supposition, it is said that the two did share a close relationship due to Major supporting the Queen through her ‘annus horribilis’ in 1992, along with the other scandals she faced during the 1990s.
- Read more | Philip Murphy on The Crown: “If scholars can’t write accurate histories of the Queen’s reign, drama is what we’ll continue to rely on”
Another sign of his closeness to the royal family was the appointing of Major as William and Harry’s special guardian following the death of their mother, Diana. He was also the only ex-prime minister invited to Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in 2018.
Was Mark Bolland hired by Camilla and Charles to repair their image?
Mark Bolland, a British public relations executive, served as Deputy Private Secretary to Charles between 1997 and 2002. He is seen as a key figure in the rehabilitation of Charles’s relationship with Camilla, following Charles’s divorce with Diana and other scandals – including their intercepted call that included a conversation depicted in episode five. Bolland has sometimes been labelled by publications, including The Telegraph, as the royal family’s first ‘spin doctor’, which is the title Camilla (Olivia Williams) uses for him in The Crown.
Bolland was the brains behind much of Charles’s and Camilla’s press coverage as the royals approached the new millennium. In 2000, the Queen met Camilla at Highgrove during a 60th birthday party for Constantine II of Greece. Bolland ensured this was as high-profile as it could have been. Journalist and biographer Tina Brown wrote in her 2022 book, The Palace Papers, that Bolland was a “strong ally of Camilla”.
However, his techniques to secure the couple public favour were not short of controversy. Bolland was later accused by former palace press officer Dicky Arbiter spinning against other members of the royal family, to make Camilla look good in comparison. He left the post in February 2002 and set up his own agency.
Enhance the festive season with a subscription to BBC History Magazine + David Mitchell's latest masterpiece UNRULY - signed and hardback!
As a print subscriber you will also get FREE access to HistoryExtra.com worth £34.99