The Crown‘s third season finds Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s marriage stronger than ever after two seasons of turmoil. But when it comes to the Elizabeth’s friendship with Lord Porchester (“Porchey”), her family friend and eventual horse racing manager, Philip is still resentful.
It all started back in episode 9 of the show’s first season. Prince Philip’s jealousy of the queen’s friendship reaches a boiling point, but Elizabeth will have none of it. “I have nothing to hide from you. Porchey is a friend,” she tells her husband. “And yes, there are those who would have preferred me to marry him. Indeed, marriage with him might have been easier, might have even worked better than ours. But to everyone’s regret and frustration, the only person I have ever loved is you.”
Despite her assurances, the queen’s potential affection for Porchey rears its head yet again in episode 5 of the newest season, when the two travel to France and the United States together. After Porchey expresses concern for the training of the Queen’s race horses, he whisks her away to visit cutting-edge breeding and training facilities. They spend several weeks bonding over their shared love for the animals and brainstorming ways the queen’s horses can be more competitive.
On the show, it’s impossible to overlook the chemistry and affection Porchey and the queen share. Elizabeth seems to revel in what could have been—a life in which horses are her main concern and Porchey is the one by her side. “Somehow today has managed to be one of the most enjoyable days of my life, and at the same time, one of the most depressing,” she tells him during their trip to America.
Here’s what we know about the real-life relationship between Porchey and Elizabeth—and no, it wasn’t quite as flirtatious as The Crown depicts.
They knew each other from an early age.
Porchey—or Henry George Reginald Molyneux Herbert, Lord Porchester—was a childhood friend of the Queen, according to The Telegraph, and received his snappy nickname from school friends when he was a child.
Porchey ran in aristocratic circles and his family was close to the royals, so it’s no surprise he and Elizabeth were close. He was born at Highclere Castle, best known as the setting for Downton Abbey, to the sixth Earl of Carnarvon in 1924. Porchey’s father was such good friends with the queen’s uncle, Edward VIII (later the Duke of Windsor), that he was asked to intervene before he abdicated. The queen reportedly visited Highclere several times in her life.
Porchey served as a member of the Royal Horse Guards during World War II and later accompanied the future queen (then Princess Elizabeth) to society events, according to his New York Times obituary.
He became the queen’s racing manager in 1970.
Queen Elizabeth’s love of horses is well-documented, with royal historian and The Crown advisor Robert Lacey writing in The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 2, “When those who know the queen best try to define what makes her really tick, they begin and end with her horses.” The queen owns, breeds, trains, and races horses, and Lacey writes that she incorporates that work into her daily schedule, from early calls with the trainers to weekend visits at Windsor to see them in action.
According to Lacey, in the late 1960s, Porchey helped the queen revamp her breeding strategy, and in 1970, she made him racing manager. The two visited Normandy together in 1967 to explore techniques, as The Crown depicts in season 3 episode 5, but it wasn’t romantic and Porchey’s wife accompanied them. The two did not, as The Crown depicts, visit America together in 1968.
The queen is Porchey’s son’s godmother.
Porchey married Wyoming native Jean Margaret Wallop in 1956 and they had two sons and a daughter. Queen Elizabeth befriended Jean, who went by Jeanie, and even visited her family’s ranch in Wyoming. The queen is godmother to the couple’s oldest son, George (now the eighth Earl of Carnarvon).
Historians do not believe the queen and Porchey had a romantic relationship.
Members of the royal family—especially the older generations—are notoriously private about their personal lives, and the palace has never addressed the rumors surrounding Queen Elizabeth and Porchey.
This could be because there’s truly nothing to talk about. Lacey told People magazine in 2016 that Porchey was simply “a sensitive, quiet man who shared her passion for horses” and “he was on the same wavelength” as the Queen.
Another expert, royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith, agreed. “I would not go beyond characterizing them as old friends who had a very deep bond in this mutual love of horses, and horse breeding and horse racing,” she told People in the same piece. “They were extremely fond of each other, but I have no reason to think that it went any further.”
Porchey’s own son, George (the eighth Earl of Carnarvon), spoke fondly of his father’s relationship with the queen, never hinting at anything romantic. “It was a very equal friendship ranging over many interests,” he told The Telegraph. “They were from the same generation. They had been through the war. They shared a great love of the countryside and wildlife as well as horses.”
Porchey died in 2001.
Porchey died of a heart attack at Highclere Castle on September 11, 2001—the same day as the terrorist attacks on the United States. Several days later, Queen Elizabeth issued an emotional statement about 9/11, and one columnist noted it may have been connected to her sorrow over Porchey’s death. The final line reads, “nothing that can be said can begin to take away the anguish and the pain of these moments. Grief is the price we pay for love.”
Some close to the queen are not happy about The Crown‘s depiction of her relationship with Porchey.
The Times reports The Crown’s storyline involving Porchey discomfited those closes to the queen. “The queen is the last person in the world to have ever considered looking at another man,” Dickie Arbiter, the queen’s former press secretary, told the outlet. “Not only is this muckraking—this is gossip that’s been washing around for decades. It’s got absolutely no substance.”