In The Crown, the royal family keeps Prince Charles and Camilla Shand apart after she was deemed an unsuitable bride

By Simon Perry
December 14, 2019 01:00 PM

Prince Charles’s love for Camilla is an enduring one — frequently, and correctly, portrayed as the great romance of the prince’s life.

From falling for her when she was Camilla Shand, soon after they first met in the early 1970s, through rekindling their affair during his marriage to Princess Diana, (while Camilla was married too) to being a reason the royal couple divorced in 1996. Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, as she was known at the time, didn’t wed until 2005.

As dramatized in season three of The Crown, Charles’s main influence in the beginning of their relationship in the ’70s was his great uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten. He is shown in the Netflix’s series as encouraging his young protege to sow his wild oats and enjoy his liaison with Camilla – but not to marry her.

Credit: REX/Shutterstock

Charles (who followed in his mentor Mountbatten’s footsteps as a naval officer) was sent away to the Caribbean on HMS Minerva in 1973. But was Mountbatten behind his exile as depicted in The Crown — or was this just a simple naval posting?

The Crown’s Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles and Emerald Fennell as Camilla Shand
| Credit: Splash News

What is a certainty is that Charles, who was a less confident man than Camilla’s other suitor, dashing army officer Andrew Parker Bowles — didn’t ask his great love to marry him before he sailed off for eight months. In that time, Parker Bowles would indeed pop the question to Camilla (possibly bounced into it by the impatient Shand family) and Charles lost her.

The Crown shows Louis Mountbatten intervening and getting Charles assigned abroad for several months. But what is much less likely is that he did so in alliance with Charles’s grandmother, the Queen Mother.

“It may be that Mountbatten was involved in something like that but certainly not true that he colluded with the Queen Mother. They loathed each other!” Robert Lacey, author of The Crown, The Inside History, tells PEOPLE.

Prince Charles and Camilla in 1975
| Credit: David Cole/Shutterstock

Rival historian Hugo Vickers agrees on this point, writing in The Crown Dissected (excerpted in The Times ), “This is of course incredible to anyone with any knowledge of the complete lack of empathy between the Queen Mother and Mountbatten. She was able to get her way quietly over many things and was suspicious of his meddling.”

Vickers says the show is veering “once more into the realms of fantasy” by setting up a family meeting in which the Queen Mother talks to both the Shands (Camilla’s family) and the Parker Bowles families to ensure an engagement happens to take Camilla away from Charles.

“It is accepted that at that time Camilla was in love with Andrew Parker Bowles, a good-looking cavalry officer, who knew when to strike. Meanwhile the young Prince of Wales was too unsure of himself to make up his mind. There was no need for any Palace plot,” Vickers writes.

Lacey tells PEOPLE, “It is possible that Mountbatten – and the papers that might confirm that are still not public – acted on family concerns and he would have been the channel to accomplish that. Or it may simply have been that Mountbattten acted off his own bat, thinking the relationship should be tested in the naval way with a period abroad.”

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Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
| Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty

Charles, who is shown as vulnerable and skeptical of his family in The Crown, didn’t manage to get his way until much later in life. As Lacey notes, Gyles Brandreth — one of the biographers of the now-happily married couple — stated in his book Charles and Camilla, “Sometimes the actions we do not take are indeed more significant than those we do.”