A still from The Crown in which Princess Diana poses for the camera

Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown. Image: Netflix

It’s that time of year again: a new series of The Crown has arrived and around the country people are becoming temporarily fascinated with the workings of the royal family.

Four series in and viewers are well-practiced in playing “spot the difference” with fact and fiction, even though the show's writer Peter Morgan caveated the artistic license taken by the show by admitting: “We do our very, very best to get it right, but sometimes I have to conflate [incidents]”.

But what if you want more intel than some pedant on Twitter? Well, before the Royal family inspired high-budget Netflix shows, they were inspiring books. Which means that there’s plenty of reading material to pick up where The Crown left off.

Warning: mild spoilers

On Margaret Thatcher

One of the reasons why the fourth series of The Crown has been so anticipated is the arrival of the UK’s most controversial Prime Minister: Thatcher. Played – again, controversially – by Gillian Anderson, the Iron Lady is shown to be something of a sore thumb by the television show, attempting to overstep the mark of Royal protocol in her audiences with The Queen and – along with the rest of the Thatchers – tripping over her Debrett’s guide to etiquette in Balmoral.

Did this happen? One man’s the authority: Charles Moore. His swaggering three-part authorised biography details exactly how the first female Prime Minister felt upon meeting the Queen (“anxious in the way most ordinary citizens would be, worrying about what to wear, when to curtsey and how to avoid being late”) and what really went down in the subsequent weekly meetings at the palace (“usually an anodyne recitation of current business”). One of Us, Hugo Young’s 1989 biography, addresses the rumours of a rift between The Queen and Thatcher that thrum throughout the series.

As for Balmoral, more detail can be found in Carol Thatcher’s biography of her father Denis, Below the Parapet, which describes his take on the entertainment. Namely that the Royals are “very generous with drink”.

On Diana

If Thatcher was one of the reasons for series four hype, Diana is the other. Finally, the People’s Princess – and her legion of frocks and pie-crust collars – is getting a show behind the curtain. We all know what will happen, of course: for the vast majority of viewers, Diana’s shocking death in 1997 is still imprinted in the collective memory. But this series’ focus on Thatcher’s years in power – 1979 to 1990 – means we are instead presented with Diana’s introduction to and early years in the Royal Family. Was her marriage really doomed from the start? Did she choose the most expensive ring? Did she really roller skate sadly around the palace?

Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles goes back to The Princess of Wales’s childhood to examine the impact of her parents’ divorce on her and – with relevance to The Crown – rumours about her virginity ahead of her engagement to Charles. In Diana, Sarah Bradford compiles more than 250 interviews to tell the story of the real Diana, with chapters dedicated to the old-fashioned courtship we see in The Crown as well as the impact Camilla Parker Bowles had on it.

On The Queen

With much of the series putting other characters front and centre, it takes eight episodes to get to one that properly places the Queen in centre stage. A nasty PR scandal sees Her Majesty’s press secretary, Michael Shea, caught in the crossfire. Was it really all that bad? Just how involved was The Queen? It’s something that Sally Bedell Smith tackles in her biography, Elizabeth the Queen.

On Charles and Camilla

As history will attest, it was a love story that ended happily for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. But that doesn’t mean, as The Crown shows, that it hasn’t been a long time in the making. Jonathan Dimbleby’s Prince of Wales: A Biography extensively covers the ground churned over by series four, including the supposed ultimatum Philip gives him to propose to Diana (rather more a manly letter warning not to lead her on, old boy) and the extent of Diana’s misery in the wake of the Australian tour.

But there are other books about Charles worth reading, too. Catherine Mayer’s Charles: The Heart of a King, published more than 20 years after Dimbleby’s biography, offers fresh insights into his first marriage as well as his relationship with Camilla. Giles Brandreth’s Charles & Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair, meanwhile, tells the story from meetings with those involved – including Diana.

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