Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Before the Crown by Flora Harding fictionalizes the royal courtship of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

Tailor-made for enthusiasts of The Crown, Flora Harding’s novel explores the intricate courtship between Elizabeth II and her consort, Prince Philip, now 94 and 99 years old. They married in 1947 and who – as avid royal watchers know – recently celebrated the wedding of their granddaughter Beatrice. Both the show and the novel provide the convincing illusion of breaching the wall that separates these world-famous, ultimately unknowable people from the rest of us.

While it can be read as a prequel to the Netflix series, Before the Crown stands independently and shouldn’t be thought of as “fan fiction.” At its heart, it reveals a love story presented as both predestined (since Elizabeth’s heart is set on Philip as a teenager) and unlikely (due to their very different temperaments, and the political roadblocks in the way of their union).

Harding is an experienced historical novelist who previously wrote Elizabethan-era fiction as Pamela Hartshorne. Her research into this considerably more modern timeframe is as thorough as ever, and her multifaceted characters have well-developed interior lives. Elizabeth, the shy and steadily reliable elder daughter of King George VI, carefully hides her feelings for Philip, whom she’s adored for years, behind a polite reserve. Philip, an outgoing Greek prince and Royal Navy lieutenant uprooted from his home country at a young age, finds himself nudged toward Elizabeth by his maternal uncle, “Dickie” Mountbatten, who knows she’d be a great catch.

Philip enjoys his naval career and a social life in which he does as he pleases, but he comes to appreciate Elizabeth’s kindness and generosity of spirit. His initiation into royal life is rocky and complicated by his sisters’ marriage to prominent Germans (former SS officers, even) and his future in-laws’ antipathy toward him as a suitor. George VI is stuffy and tradition-bound, and it doesn’t help that Philip finds hunting a dull pastime. Eventually he must decide whether to continue to pursue Elizabeth, knowing how much his lifestyle will change if they marry. The scenes at Balmoral Castle, a favorite residence of their joint ancestor Queen Victoria, evoke the rustic beauty of the Scottish landscape as the pair get to know each other better.

For readers interested in imagining what it’s like to be part of the British royals’ inner circle, Before the Crown fulfills its promises. It’s satisfying escapism perfect for these stressful times.

Before the Crown will be published tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 17th) as an ebook by One More Chapter/HarperCollins.  The paperback will be out in December.  Thanks to the publisher for access via NetGalley.


  1. Thank you for the review. Unlikely I will be able to get this one, so I appreciate a really substantial review.

  2. I have this on my TBR pile and I am looking forward to it.

    1. Hope you enjoy it too, Marg. Novels about royalty are a favorite of mine.