Did the British Public Really Want Queen Elizabeth to Abdicate in Favor of Prince Charles in 1991, as "The Crown" Suggests?

We dig into the storyline from episode one of season five.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles
(Image credit: Getty)

*Warning—spoilers ahead for episode one of season five of The Crown on Netflix.*

Okay, we’ve got to know: was there really a poll in The Sunday Times in the early 1990s that suggests the U.K. would prefer the Queen abdicate in favor of Prince Charles becoming king? If episode one of season five, “Queen Victoria Syndrome,” is to be believed, the answer is yes. In truth? Let’s unpack it.

In the episode, the Queen’s household staff desperately attempts to hide a copy of The Sunday Times from her, as it contains a poll that says Charles was more popular among the British public than she was. On the show, the front page of the newspaper—dated August 11, 1991—reads “Queen Should Abdicate in Favour of Prince of Wales,” followed by the subheading “Half of British Public Agrees.” The Queen—who turned 65 in 1991—was described as irrelevant, old, expensive, and out of touch; in contrast Charles, who was 43 most of 1991 (his birthday is in mid-November) was called young, energetic, modern, and empathetic.

The reality? The poll, Insider reports, was, first of all, not conducted by The Sunday Times at all (rather, it was from MORI, which stands for Market and Opinion Research International) and showed that the public was largely pro-monarchy. “Despite assaults by the tabloid press and a decade of intimate scrutiny, the royal family enters the 1990s as a remarkably popular part of British life,” it reads. The Queen Mother was Britain’s favorite royal at the time, followed by the Queen, then the Prince of Wales. The article does include the statistic mentioned in The Crown—47 percent, so nearly half—of the British population supported the Queen stepping aside for Charles, but it was followed by the words “at some stage,” not the urgent call for change it was made out to be on the show, Insider reports. The poll was also published on January 21, 1990, when Margaret Thatcher (and not John Major, as portrayed in the show as the one Charles lobbies for his mother’s early abdication) was Prime Minister.

The only mention of the Queen in the August 11, 1991, edition of The Sunday Times was to “the undisputed Queen” in an advertisement for a royal cruise liner.

As to the episode’s title, “Queen Victoria Syndrome”—who ignored calls to abdicate in favor of a younger successor (before Queen Elizabeth II, she was the longest-reigning monarch in British history)—“there is little to no evidence that the term existed in common parlance before the writers’ room for The Crown chose to use it as a way to explain the British public’s dissatisfaction with the aging monarch,” Insider reports.

Other polling around the early 1990s, Town & Country reports, suggested from Ipsos Mori that, in June 1991 82 percent of people thought Charles would make a good king in the future, with just 5 percent thinking he would make a bad one. But, according to the same pollster, by the end of the 1990s—and all of the drama that ensued in that decade—those figures had shifted dramatically, by which time almost as many people thought he would be a bad king as a good one.

Proof that, while The Crown has grains of truth, it also has total dramatization, as well. 

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.