The relationship between the Queen and Princess Diana isn’t short of on-screen depictions – most recently seen in The Crown season 4 when Olivia Colman’s character snapped, ‘Is it possible that there’s a part of you that’s enjoying your own success a little too much?’ to Emma Corrin’s broken Diana.
Of course, we’re all well aware that The Crown is a fictional drama, one that depicts its own narrative of royal events, but how accurate was this portrayal and was this relationship between two women quite as complicated as we’ve been led to believe?
The Queen made it clear she approved of Diana
While the makers of The Crown had us believe that Diana was quite the outsider, she was very much brought up within close royal circles, with her father serving as an equerry to the Queen and both of her grandmothers as ladies-in-waiting to the Queen Mother (Elizabeth II’s mother). As a child, Diana herself lived at Park House on the Sandringham estate and played with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward who were closer in age than Charles. She had a firm grasp of royal etiquette and how to behave around royals, this wasn’t an entirely new world as it is sometimes depicted.
Naturally, of course, this meant Diana had met the Queen long before she began courting Prince Charles. As royal biographer Ingrid Seward wrote in 2001 while the monarch ‘never directly addressed the question of his marriage, but by nod and nuance, she made it clear she approved of Diana.’
Andrew Morton, author of 1992 biography, Diana: Her True Story: In Her Own Words, wrote that the relationship between both women was a polite but formal one, ‘governed by the fact that she was married to her older son and a future Monarch. In the early days, Diana was quite simply terrified of her mother-in-law. She kept the formal obsequies—dropping a deep curtsy each time they met—but otherwise kept her distance.’
Diana was trusted to represent the Royal Family early in her marriage
When Grace Kelly died in 1982, just over a year after Diana married Prince Charles, it was Diana who attended the funeral in Monaco alone, an event became her first solo engagement as a member of the Royal Family.
Diana had met Princess Grace at a gala the previous year and the two had reportedly got along well. On hearing the news of her tragic death, Diana asked her husband if she could represent the family at the funeral.
According to Morton, both Prince Charles and palace officials thought it was unlikely she’d be allowed. Diana told Morton, ‘I went to her private secretary, who was then Philip Moore, who said that he didn’t think it would be possible because I’d only been in the job three or four months.’
The royal told her biographer, ‘I went to the queen and I said, “You know, I’d like to do this,” and she said “I don’t see why not. If you want to do this, you can.”‘
At 21-years-old, the Princess was entrusted to travel overseas and according to Morton, was praised, for her ‘dignified manner at the highly charged and at times mawkish funeral service.’
The Queen’s reaction to Diana and Charles’ marriage breakdown
As Diana and Charles’ relationship became increasingly rocky, biographer Ingrid Steward wrote that Diana would often turn up unannounced at the palace for an audience with the Queen.
The author wrote, ‘At first, the Queen took a tolerant view of these unscheduled visits. “Diana was usually in a lot better mood when she left than she was when she arrived,” one of the Queen’s staff recalled.
‘In time, though, Elizabeth came to dread the meetings. After one session a footman said, “The Princess cried three times in a half an hour while she was waiting to see you.” The Queen replied, “I had her for an hour—and she cried nonstop.”’
In Morton’s biography, Diana recalled a talk with the Queen who ‘indicated’ that ‘the reason why our marriage had gone downhill was because Prince Charles was having such a difficult time with my bulimia.’
However, Morton wrote that Diana was, in fact, supported by the monarch and Prince Philip, writing, she found ‘perhaps a rather unlikely ally at the palace in the queen whose understanding and helpful attitude did much to encourage Diana to soldier on.’
How Diana changed the Queen
After Diana’s death, the Royal Family did suffer from a public fallout, with many believing that the late princess was never properly welcomed by the Windsors.
In the 2017 anniversary edition of his biography, Morton wrote, ‘One of the many ironies of [the queen’s] life is that Diana’s impact on the royal family is measured by how much more accommodating the house of Windsor is now to newcomers.’
Adding, ‘It is noticeable that the queen frequently joined Prince William’s bride Catherine Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, in the early days of her Royal career. Certainly lessons have been learned—but at a price.’