How the Crown made a cruel scandal out of a tragedy

How the Crown made a cruel scandal out of a tragedy. Prince Philip’s favourite sister died in a catastrophic plane crash that wiped out much of her family – yet scriptwriters falsely suggested that the schoolboy prince was somehow to blame

  • Heavily pregnant, Princess Cecilie was killed on November 1937
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Of all the fictionalisations and inaccuracies in The Crown, none has caused more offence than the claim that a young Prince Philip was in some way at fault for the death of his favourite sister, Cecilie. 

The third of the five children born to Princess Alice of Battenberg and Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, Princess Cecilie was killed in a plane in November 1937. She had been eight months pregnant.

Cecilie also witnessed the Balkan Wars, in which the Turks were finally expelled from Europe, and the First World War, which led to her family’s exile in Switzerland, and then in France.

Prince Philip was the youngest child and the only boy. 

The Duke of Edinburgh’s favourite sister Princess Cecilie of Greece and Denmark was tragically killed while eight months pregnant in a plane crash in Ostend

Prince Philip of Greece, later Duke of Edinburgh, pictured alongside relatives marching as a mourner at the funeral of his sister, Princess Cecilie, in November 1937

Cecile, pictured in July 1922, was born in June 1911 and was the third of Princess Alice of Battenberg and Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark’s five children

In 1931, Cecilie married Georg Donatus Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse and Rhine, her first cousin once removed and in doing so found herself drawn along by the fascist currents of pre-war Germany.

She joined the Nazi Party at the same time as her husband in May 1937.

The princess was  pregnant with her fourth child when, that same year, she boarded a plane in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, on November 16, bound for London where she was due to attend the wedding of her brother-in-law Prince Ludwig and Margaret Campbell-Geddes.

But the plane crashed after hitting a factory chimney in fog near Ostend.

The fatal accident killed Cecile, her husband, her mother-in-law, as well as their sons, aged four and six, their lady-in-waiting and the best man for the wedding.

The pilot and two crewmen also died,

While searching through the debris, firemen also found the body of a newborn infant that appeared to have been prematurely delivered when the plane crashed.

The child was found lying next to his mother, which led to the conclusion the pilot had been trying to land because Cecile went into labour unexpectedly.

Their youngest daughter, and Prince Philip’s niece, Johanna of Hesse and by Rhine, who was just over a year old at the time, was thought too young for the trip and was left at home.

She was the only surviving member of her immediate family and was later adopted by her uncle, Prince Ludwig and his wife Princess Margaret. However, she sadly contracted meningitis and died in June 1939, three months shy of her third birthday.

Princess Cecilie with her husband, Prince Georg Donatus and their children, Prince Ludwig, Prince Alexander and baby Princess Johanna

The wedding assembles for a photograph at the marriage of Princess Cecilie of Greece to Hereditary Grand Duke Georg Donatus of Hesse at the Schlosskirche, Darmstadt in February 1931

Princess Cecilie of Greece (1911-1937), third child of Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece, sister of the Duke of Edinburgh and wife of Hereditary Grand Duke Georg Donatus of Hesse & by Rhine, who she married in 1931.

Due to the tragedy, the wedding plans for November 20 were scrapped and the next day Prince Ludwig and Margaret were married in a private ceremony. 

The couple then collected the bodies of the princess and her family in Belgium and returned to Darmstadt. 

Prince Philip, then 16, was close to his sister Princess Cecilie and recalled being told to go to the headmaster’s study at Godonstoun where he was told the tragic news.

Years later he said it was one of the worst moments of his life. He wrote: ‘I have the very clearest recollection of the profound shock with which I heard the news of the crash and the death of my sister and her family.’

Cecile was buried with her husband and her three sons, in Darmstadt at the Rosenhöhe, the traditional burial place of the Hesse family.

Photographs from the funeral show the young Prince Philip surrounded by grieving relatives, many wearing the distinctive Nazi uniforms.

One is clad in the uniform of the Brownshirts while another wears full SS regalia.

The street in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, was lined with crowds – many giving the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute.

The depiction in The Crown of the aftermath of her death was criticised for falsely  suggesting that Philip had been blamed by his father for her death.

Prince Philip was reportedly upset by the ‘shockingly malicious’ episode in which his father angrily blamed him for his sister’s death in a plane crash, according to two Royal biographers.

Princess Theodora, Princess Sophie, Princess Margarita and Princess Cecilie, daughters of Prince Andrew of Greece pictured together in 1915

The four sisters of Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh, pictured together in July 1922

The authors said Philip had been hurt by how the death of Princess Cecilie had been depicted in the drama and called on Netflix both to apologise and add a disclaimer to the credits (making it clear that the drama.

Hugo Vickers, a Royal biographer who has dissected The Crown’s falsehoods, described the depiction of Cecilie’s death as ‘disgraceful’, adding that Philip had been ‘very upset’ about it.

‘How disgraceful it was [of The Crown] to turn Prince Philip into a caricature person – never doing any work in the series. The depiction was cruel and deeply unfair. The least Netflix could do was to alert viewers with a disclaimer.’

How The Crown wrongly blamed Prince Philip for the death of his sister Cecile 

Cecile’s death features in the penultimate episode of– entitled Paterfamilias – of the second series of The Crown which explores Prince Charles’s unhappy school days at Gordonstoun, interwoven with flashbacks to his father’s time there.

It is suggested – wrongly – that in November 1937, Philip, then 16, was due to spend half-term with 26-year-old Cecile, married to Grand Duke George Donatus of Hesse.

This arrangement is said to have suited his sister, apparently terrified of flying, because it would have allowed her to avoid travelling to London for the wedding of her brother-in-law.

But Philip then punches a fellow pupil and as punishment is forced to remain at school during the holiday, leaving Cecile no choice but to accompany her family to London.

Philip rings his sister hoping she will support him. Speaking from a German airport, she tells him she agrees with the head’s decision and says she is now ‘obliged’ to fly to the wedding. The camera then cuts to her boarding the plane.

It is true that Philip travelled to Germany for the funeral. But what happens next in The Crown is pure fiction.

Young Philip, played by Finn Elliot, is presented to his mother Princess Alice and father Prince Andrew at the funeral.  His father says: ‘Had it not been for Philip and his indiscipline she would never have taken that flight. It’s true, isn’t it boy? You’re the reason we’re all here burying my favourite child. Get him out of here.’

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