Did Prince Philip actually have an affair, as season 5 of The Crown suggests?

did prince philip actually pursue an affair
Did Philip have an affair, as The Crown suggests?Indigo - Getty Images
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After what feels like an eternity, Netflix's The Crown is finally back for season five and fans of the show (AKA us) are pretty pleased about it. This season opened with a time jump to the early nineties and will cover the Queen's 'annus horribilis' as well as the end of Charles and Diana's marriage. The series also explores Prince Philip's rumoured affair with close friend, Penelope Knatchbull – although the storyline has sparked backlash amongst some fans in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II's passing.

"Coming just weeks after the nation laid Her Majesty to rest next to Prince Philip, this is very distasteful and, quite frankly, cruel rubbish," said Dickie Arbiter, who was the Queen's spokesperson from 1988 to 2000. Arbiter referenced intimate scenes in The Crown season five in which the late Duke of Edinburgh and his close friend, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, touch hands as he discusses his marriage woes.

"The truth is that Penny was a long-time friend of the whole family. Netflix are not interested in people’s feelings," Arbiter went on, as Majesty magazine editor Ingrid Seward added: "It’s in exceedingly bad taste."

In a scene in episode two of The Crown, Philip (played by Game of Throne's Jonathan Pryce) teaches carriage-riding to Knatchbull (Natascha McElhone). The Duke tells Knatchbull his marriage is facing "problems" as he and the Queen have "grown in separate directions".

did prince philip actually pursue an affair
Prince Philip and Penelope Knatchbull in 2007.Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

But, with the criticism of the storyline only serving to raise more questions about the Queen and Prince Philip's marriage, many viewers of the show have been left wondering whether there's any truth to the storyline – after all, the Netflix series is supposed to be a fictionalised retelling of true events.

Did Prince Philip have an affair?

There's no evidence that Prince Philip was ever unfaithful in his marriage to the Queen, but over the course of the couple's seven decade romance, he was often labeled a 'ladies man'.

Philip is reported to have had a rumoured relationship with actor Pat Kirkwood, a well-known celebrity of the 1930s and 40s whose legs were once notably called "the eighth wonder of the world". The pair met on on several occasions, and although she has always denied that they had a romantic relationship, rumours of "the Prince and the showgirl" were hard to avoid.

In addition to Kirkwood, the Duke was also linked (to varying degrees) to TV personality Katie Boyle, singer Hélène Cordet, actor Merle Oberon, novelist Daphne du Maurier, Princess Alexandra (the Queen's cousin) as well as the Duchess of Abercorn – who once said they had a "passionate friendship". Again, there's no evidence that Philip engaged in an affair with any of these women, and when questioned by journalists, he refused to comment.

As for the rumoured romance with Knatchbull, which is explored in The Crown season five, although the pair were photographed together many times, there's no evidence that their relationship was a romantic one. Despite this, Philip and Knatchbull were undeniably close and she was one of only 30 mourners invited to his private funeral in April 2021.

did prince philip actually pursue an affair
Knatchbull at Prince Philip’s funeral in 2021.GLYN KIRK - Getty Images

"The Duke of Edinburgh has had affairs ... full-blown affairs and more than one," biographer Sarah Bradford claimed in Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Time. "He has affairs and the Queen accepts it. I think she thinks that’s how men are."

But close confidents of the royal have maintained that while Philip was an admirer of women, he didn't act on those feelings. "He has always liked window shopping, but he doesn’t buy," Arbiter says.

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