We can add Season 2 of The Crown to the list of things that have got us thinking: Are there no good men? "Misadventure," the first episode of Season 2 of The Crown, begins with a tense interaction between Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith) aboard a rocking ship — perhaps a metaphor for the tumultuous state of their marriage. At that moment, Philip had just returned from his five-month trip 'round the Commonwealth, which had ended in scandal after his private secretary, Mike Parker, wrote a letter to his Thursday Club cronies describing the trip's "whores in every port." But that's not the only reason why Queen E. is pouting. Right before Philip left, she uncovered a photograph of the ballet dancer, Galina Ulanova, in his desk.
Logically, we know that The Crown is fictionalised. But it's still got us wondering: Did the real Prince Philip cheat on Elizabeth with a ballet dancer named Galina Ulanova? Did he have other affairs over the course of his long marriage to the Queen? Is there any weight to the talk of Philip's "reputation" that flutters around both seasons of The Crown?
What we do know is that Philip was sent away on the Commonwealth Tour in 1956 partly because of rumours of infidelity. As the 2016 documentary Inside Buckingham Palace claims, "Royal aids panicked as rumours grew about Philip having affairs. The affairs were denied and there was no evidence. But rumours persisted...Action was needed. In 1956 the queen was advised to let Philip go away on a long overseas tour which should keep him out of trouble."
Likely, a dalliance with the dancer Galina Ulanova, who came to London on tour in 1956, was not one of those rumours — even if it's alluded to in The Crown. Ulanova, considered the greatest ballerina of her time, was highly aloof and confined to a busy schedule. As Vanity Fair points out, both Ulanova and Philip had limited free time. "At most, a faraway admiration on Philip’s part was more likely," the article reads.
The most famous of Philip's supposed affairs was with a dancer named Patricia "Pat" Kirkwood, whom he met after her headlining performance at the London Hippodrome in the year 1948. Philip and his friend met Kirkwood at her dressing room, and they spent the evening dancing at a nightclub. At the time, then-Princess Elizabeth was eight months pregnant with Charles.
Supposedly, Kirkwood and Philip met six more times, and corresponded via letters. After Kirkwood's death, these letters were left to her friend, the writer Michael Thornton, with the instructions “to show them to no one except the Duke’s official biographer, when one is appointed after his death." After reading the letters, Thornton squashed any notion that the letters contained odes of love and desire. In a Telegraph op-ed, Thornton attested the letters were "written in terms of concerned friendship by two people caught up in a media maelstrom."
Neither Philip nor the Palace addressed the rumours, though Kirkwood wishes he had, so she didn't have to. "A lady is not normally expected to defend her honour. It is the gentleman who should do that. I would have had a happier and easier life if Prince Philip, instead of coming uninvited to my dressing room, had gone home to his pregnant wife on the night in question," she said. Kirkwood's writer friend, Thornton, didn't mince words about the effect this media maelstrom had on her career. He said those six meetings with the Duke "ruined her life."
Kirkwood is far from the only woman to have been linked with Philip. The list includes Hélène Cordet, Merle Oberon, Daphne du Maurier, and Sacha, Duchess of Abercorn, who went into further detail about her relationship with Philip to royal biographer Gyles Brandreth. The Duchess ceded she had a close friendship with Philip, but said outright, "I did not go to bed with him." Instead, they bonded over their shared interest for Carl Jung, and had deep intellectual conversations.
The Queen's biographer, Sarah Bradford, disagrees with the Duchess' testimony. In a conversation with Brandreth that took place in 2004, Bradford claimed, "[Philip] has affairs and the Queen accepts it. I think she thinks that's how men are. Philip and Sacha Abercorn certainly had an affair. Without a doubt." Curiously, in 2011, Bradford said she's changed her mind on the matter.
One person definitely thinks Philip has had affairs, and lots of them. In the recently published book, My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage, author Ingrid Seward links Philip with even more women.
Beyond this veil of rumours, there's Prince Philip, saying that he's always remained true to his Queen, whom he still calls "Cabbage." When a reporter asked Philip to address rumours of infidelity in 1992, he responded in typical fashion: "Good God, woman, have you ever stopped to think that for years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me? So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?”
He has a good point. Watching The Crown, it's easy to think we have access to the truths about the royal family. But in this case, the fact is, we'll probably never know.