If you’ve just finished Season 3 of Peter Morgan’s spectacular series “The Crown,” you’re probably having withdrawals already (especially given that Season 4 likely won’t be released until late 2020). Spanning a full decade and involving two prime ministers, various royal affairs and countless PR disasters, Season 3 was a rich tapestry that impressed staunch monarchists, devoted historians and drama-loving viewers alike.
But of course, for every moment that “The Crown” shows of the royal family’s lives, there are a million that it doesn’t show. And for hungry fans, what’s better than filling in those gaps, or speculating what might have been? That’s exactly what the books on this list attempt to do. Ranging from serious to silly, these five titles are perfect for those in need of a little pick-me-up after Season 3, and may help you envision what’s to come in the next installment.
*Note: this article contains spoilers for Season 3 of The Crown (to the extent that historical events can, in fact, be considered spoilers).
1. “Prince Charles” by Sally Bedell Smith
Prince Charles, the queen’s firstborn son and heir apparent, was a major focal point of Season 3. We witnessed his transformation from sheltered Cantabrigian to earnest young statesman beginning to understand the demands of his role — a role that impacted everything from his education to his personal life (most notably in his fraught early romance with the future Camilla Parker-Bowles). Charles emerges as an independent thinker, determined to forge a different path … but to what extent has he actually done so?
This definitive biography by Sally Bedell Smith answers that question, as well as every other question you might have about the current and longest-serving prince of Wales. What was his childhood like, and what spurred the intensely intellectual outlook that’s guided him ever since? How has he applied himself to one of the most important roles in the royal family, all the while lying in wait for one that’s even more important? Why did he marry Diana, knowing that Camilla was his true love? Smith’s account is sympathetic without being biased, painting a nuanced portrait of a man who’s been both adored and reviled in his lifelong quest for individual purpose under the shadow of the crown.
2. “Game of Crowns” by Christopher Andersen
Speaking of the crown and its line of succession, Andersen’s book delves directly into the subject — but in an unusually refreshing way, focusing on the women involved rather than the men. Elizabeth still takes center stage, but Andersen also sheds light on the lives and personalities of Camilla and Kate, as well as their complex relationships with one another.
Those who have seen the latest season of “The Crown” will know that the queen and Camilla were first acquainted in 1971, so theirs is a long and storied history. But while Elizabeth didn’t object to Camilla initially, circumstances had changed by the time Charles and his first love reunited: Elizabeth was cool toward Camilla, believing her to be the cause of Charles’ divorce. But Camilla’s steadfast manner and Charles’ clear affection for her won Elizabeth over eventually. (The legitimizing effect of their marriage certainly didn’t hurt.)
And what of Kate Middleton, longtime public favorite and Camilla’s opposite in many ways? Though Kate has lived much of her life in the spotlight, there’s still quite a bit you may not know about her, particularly regarding her feelings toward Camilla and the queen. Readers will be struck by both the unexpected clashes and similarities among these three women and delight in the confessional tone of “Game of Crowns,” coupled with exquisite details that only a skilled journalist like Andersen could uncover.
3. “The Duchess of Windsor” by Greg King
Another fascinating, albeit peripheral, figure in “The Crown” is Wallis Simpson: the controversial American wife of Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in order to be with her. Season 3 shows her mourning the loss of her husband, and with his death, it’s safe to say we probably won’t see her again in the series. But that doesn’t mean her story ended (or indeed, began) with him.
“The Duchess of Windsor” is an unprecedentedly thorough biography of Simpson, covering her upbringing and the scandalous social life she enjoyed long before meeting the Duke of Windsor. Simpson herself came from a family of means, traveled widely and lived extravagantly, and was twice-divorced by age 40 — which caused a constitutional crisis when Edward announced his intention to wed her. But what viewers of “The Crown” might not realize is that she pleaded vehemently against this; Edward, even more stubborn, insisted on marrying her anyway.
From then on, Simpson would be abhorred by the British public and exiled alongside her husband. She reportedly summed up her life as, “You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.” Nonetheless, as King proves in this biography, Simpson was much more than a would-be queen consort: She influenced some of the most famous figures of the 20th century and even worked for the Red Cross. So if you feel the Duchess of Windsor got the short end of the stick from Peter Morgan, know that this book somewhat rectifies matters.
4. “Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret” by Craig Brown
If Charles is the most prominent figure of Season 3, and Wallis Simpson the most mysterious, then surely Princess Margaret is the most tragic. First, Elizabeth denies her wish to take on more royal responsibilities — which Margaret has always felt she was born to do. Then her abusive marriage finally comes apart at the seams, leading Margaret to overdose on sleeping pills (though whether this was an actual suicide attempt is a matter of much conjecture).
But for all her sorrows in “The Crown,” the real Margaret had enough lively moments to quite literally fill a book. The result is “Ma’am Darling,” which chronicles the life of the indomitable princess in the eyes of 99 different people, from heads of state to iconic actors and actresses to alleged “friends” of the princess herself.
These anecdotes are always amusing, if rarely flattering: Margaret demonstrates terrible table manners but a consistently quick wit, becoming more and more snobbish as she ages, and living life to the fullest even as she enters her final years. Presented in sharp, memorable snippets, this book is a must-read for anyone who loves “The Crown” but lacks the patience for typical plodding biographies (a sentiment the princess herself would surely share).
5. “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett
Finally, for those who favor the dramatized side of “historical drama,” let’s throw a little fiction onto the pile. “The Uncommon Reader” is Tony-winning playwright Alan Bennett’s answer to the eternal question, “What if the queen were a little less, well, boring?” Fittingly, Bennett’s method for effecting this metamorphosis is both wonderfully charming and entirely quotidian: One day, like a rebellious, spirited Austen heroine, she simply starts devouring novels.
What follows is a humorous yet thought-provoking romp: the queen’s character changes completely and she begins ignoring royal duties in a manner that would shock her real-world self. In classic Alan Bennett fashion, she even becomes a borderline socialist, after encountering different perspectives from her own mega-privileged existence.
In other words, it’s a delightful, all-too-brief window into what might happen if the queen were to pursue more of her recreational interests, and to allow others’ views to impact her both personally and politically. If your favorite episodes of “The Crown” are those where Elizabeth confronts how the other half lives — or if you enjoy seeing her genuinely happy as she pets her corgis and grooms her racehorses — “The Uncommon Reader” is the book for you.