Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Crown season 4 finale.
In its season 4 finale, The Crown looks at a holiday that Diana (Emma Corrin) might rather forget. The season ends with her fighting back tears as the royal family takes their annual Christmas photo. She knows that her marriage with Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor) is on its last legs, but it would actually be two more years before the couple would separate. The two would divorce in 1996, at Queen Elizabeth II's urging in the days before Christmas a year prior. In those last years of Diana and Charles's marriage, Christmas would play a pivotal role.
The Crown season 4 portrays Diana's 1990 holiday at Sandringham, the royal estate in Norfolk, as a Christmas from hell. She's ignored by Charles and the other royals besides Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies), who gives it to her straight in the moments before that photo session. The gist is that she is a servant to the crown, meaning the Queen.
There is evidence that Diana's horrible holiday experience might be more fact than fiction. And it might have been happening long before the '90s. In the 1992 tell-all book, Diana, Her True Story, friends claimed that suspicion over Charles' relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles led Diana to attempt suicide while staying at Sandringham Palace during Christmas 1982. That was Prince William's first Christmas.
The holidays were so important to Diana's time as a royal that Kristen Stewart is set to star as Diana in a film that takes place at the Sandringham estate over Christmas in the early '90s "when Diana decided her marriage to Prince Charles wasn’t working," according to Deadline. Sound familiar?
The royal Christmas holidays would only get worse for Diana as the decade progressed. To be fair, they weren't much better for Charles either. (In the Queen's 1991 Christmas broadcast, she hinted that she had no plans to abdicate the throne anytime soon.) The couple officially separated on Dec. 9, 1992 and, because of this, Diana skipped that year's Christmas with the royals. She reportedly spent the holiday with her brother, Earl Spencer, at their family home, Althorp, in Northamptonshire.
However, the following year, Diana once again spent the holidays with the royal family knowing that Princes William and Harry enjoyed their time at Sandringham too much to keep them from it. For the two years after the separation she would arrive at the estate on Christmas Eve, go to church with the royal family on Christmas morning and leave before lunch.
However, in 1994, Diana reportedly admitted to her friends that the holidays had become "frosty," according to The Daily Mail. "Diana didn’t feel welcome at all," one of Diana's friends told the UK paper. "She could see how her being there just made everyone so tense and uneasy. She’d joined them for the sake of the boys, but it wasn’t really working."
The following Christmas would end up being the bellwether for where Diana and Charles' relationship was headed. That year, the two sent separate Christmas cards, which were seen as a sign that the couple's relationship had hit a new low point. The cards were also picked apart by the press. An editorial in the UK tabloid The News Of The World, according to the Associated Press, mocked Charles's card, which featured him sitting on a bench with William and Harry peeking out of large urns, as being a "carbuncle among Christmas cards." While Diana's black-and-white card was described as "a warm family portrait of a beautiful mother and her two sons." The cards led the Sunday tabloid to reportedly ask. "In whose hands would you place the future of the House of Windsor?″
Diana didn't spend Christmas with the royal family in 1995. Not just because of the cards, but because, weeks earlier, Diana had sat down for a tell-all interview with the BBC in which she admitted to extramarital affairs and revealed that she had known of Charles's relationship with Parker Bowles for years. “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded," Diana said, a year after Charles admitted to the affair in his own TV interview. She also questioned whether Prince Charles was fit to be king.
Despite all that, Diana was given an open invitation to come to Sandringham that year, but she chose to spend that Christmas alone in her Kensington Palace apartment. She reportedly told friends, according to The Daily Mail, that she would have "gone up there [to Sandringham] in a BMW and come out in a coffin." Diana allegedly got through that holiday by taking sleeping pills.