The Crown’s fifth season hasn’t even dropped yet, and everyone’s already spiraling about several plot points—including scenes involving Penny Knatchbull. And if your response to that sentence is literally whomst, you are not alone! Penny isn’t exactly a super public figure, but she’s been a close friend of the royal family’s for years. So, why is her appearance in The Crown is so controversial? Because apparently the show stronggggggly implies that Penny and Prince Philip were having an affair. And, as usual, the truth is slightly more complicated.
First Up: Some Basic Details About Penny
Born Penelope Meredith Mary Knatchbull (are you even a member of English high society if you don’t have a million names?), Penny was the only daughter of Marian Hood and Reginald Eastwood—who founded Angus Steakhouse. Though she mostly grew up in Sweden, Penny was incredibly close to the royals thanks to her marriage to Norton Louis Philip Knatchbull.
Norton’s relationship to the British royals runs deep, but for starters he was the grandson of Lord Mountbatten—who viewers of The Crown know was very close to then-Prince Charles. Meanwhile, Norton was also Prince Philip’s godson. Here they are together at Norton’s christening:
On top of all that, Norton is also Prince Charles’s second cousin—and Charles was actually the best man at Norton and Penny’s wedding:
Anyway, Penny became close to the royals in part through her husband and was often seen hanging with Prince Charles:
But she became particularly tight with Norton’s godfather Prince Philip thanks to their shared love for carriage driving.
And they were often seen chilling at events:
These two were so close, in fact, that Penny was one of only 30 mourners at Philip’s funeral:
And was also one of the mourners at the Queen’s funeral:
About Her Depiction in The Crown…
According to reports from The Sun, The Crown’s fifth season will show Prince Philip “in intimate scenes” with Penny. Apparently the “intimate scenes” will involve “touching hands as he divulges details of his marriage,” and we’ll actively see them “pursuing an affair.”
There’s already major backlash to this alleged narrative decision, and the Queen’s former press secretary Dickie Arbiter told The Sun that “Coming just weeks after the nation laid Her Majesty to rest next to Prince Philip, this is very distasteful and, quite frankly, cruel rubbish. The truth is that Penny was a long-time friend of the whole family. Netflix is not interested in people’s feelings.”
So What Was Penny’s IRL Relationship With Philip?
Penny and Philip met in 1974 and hit it off immediately despite their 32 year age difference, becoming closer when Penny’s daughter sadly died of kidney cancer in 1991. On top of helping her found a society in memory of her daughter, Philip often invited Penny to Windsor Castle and Sandringham Estate. Here they are driving around Windsor together in 2019:
Royal expert Ingrid Seward writes in The Sun that Penny’s marriage hit rock bottom at the time, and she was left to maintain their family home: “Running royal properties was something Philip knew full well and having bonded with her over horses and carriage driving, their friendship blossomed further. While driving around sprawling country estates, Philip liked to discuss religion and other deep, worldly matters.”
Seward also said that “They were brought together by tragedy but were there for each other through thick and thin. He trusted her implicitly, and she adored him. She never betrayed him. She was a keeper not only of his secrets but those of the family.”
Meanwhile, back in 2021 The Sun reported that Penny had “been so much a part of royal life, household staff nicknamed her ‘And Also,’ because whenever Philip listed guests who were to be invited to a royal do, he would end with ‘and also Penny.'”
So…How Did the Queen Feel About Penny?
Before you start side-eying, Penny was also photographed a ton with Queen Elizabeth II. Here they are sharing a laugh in 2018:
And all the way back in 2001:
Meanwhile, Ingrid Seward notes, “We’ll never know how the Queen felt about it all. Philip always was a flirt, and the Queen used to joke about his lascivious nature. If she had been hurt by rumors of supposed dalliances, she would never let on.”
Either way, the Queen and Penny remained close even after Philip’s death. He passed away in April 2021, and this is them hanging in May 2022:
Wondering How the Royals Feel About The Crown’s Portrayal?
Not great! A source told The Sun in 2021 that “This is a relationship which naturally raised a few eyebrows and sparked quite a few whispers, but Philip and Penny maintained they were just friends. The makers of The Crown believe it is a relationship worthy of exploring and casting a veteran actor like Natascha [McElhone] is a reflection of how high profile the role is. But the highly personal relationship is unlikely to be welcomed as a storyline by Her Majesty or the rest of the Royal Family.”
Penny hasn’t commented publicly on her or Philip’s depiction in the show just yet, but stay tuned!
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