Penny Knatchbull's friendship with Prince Philip: Tragedy, loyalty and unproven affair rumours

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Viewers of The Crown have been left in uproar over reports the upcoming series will portray Prince Philip ‘pursuing an affair’ with Penny Knatchbull.

The Netflix hit series, which is based on the royal family but also weaves in fictional storylines, is reported to have filmed ‘intimate scenes’ between the characters which will air just over two months after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

It is thought the pair will be seen touching hands as Philip talks about his marriage, in a move that has been branded ‘cruel rubbish’ by the late Queen’s former press secretary, Dickie Arbiter.

Prince Philip and Penny Knatchbull (pictured at a polo match) first met in 1975 when she was engaged to Norton Knatchbull, the grandson of Philip's uncle Earl Mountbatten

Prince Philip and Penny Knatchbull (pictured at a polo match) first met in 1975 when she was engaged to Norton Knatchbull, the grandson of Philip’s uncle Earl Mountbatten

The pair (pictured at the Royal Winsdor Horse show in 2009) struck up a close friendship over nearly five decades with Penny described as a'secret keeper' for the Duke

The pair (pictured at the Royal Winsdor Horse show in 2009) struck up a close friendship over nearly five decades with Penny described as a ‘secret keeper’ for the Duke

Penny also developed a friendship with Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and bonded with her over their shared love of horses (pictured at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2022)

Penny also developed a friendship with Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and bonded with her over their shared love of horses (pictured at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2022)

Natasha McElhone (pictured at the premiere for The First in LA, 2018) will play Penny Knatchbull in the upcoming series of The Crown

Natasha McElhone (pictured at the premiere for The First in LA, 2018) will play Penny Knatchbull in the upcoming series of The Crown

Penelope (Penny) Knatchbull, also known as Countess Mountbatten of Burma, who befriended Prince Philip at a polo match in 1975 when she was 20, became one of his closest confidantes despite being 32 years his junior and was pictured on walks with the Duke over the years.

Their closeness had sparked rumours of an affair over their decades-long friendship, however the pair always strenuously denied the accusation.

Also known as Lady Romsey and Lady Brabourne, Penny, 69, bonded with the late Philip over their shared love for the equestrian sport of carriage-driving. 

When she met the Duke, Penny was in a relationship with Earl Mountbatten’s grandson Norton Knatchbull, whom she eventually married. 

Penny Knatchbull, 69, attended the funeral of the Queen today at Westminster Abbey looking demure in an all black outfit and an elegant hat

Penny Knatchbull, 69, attended the funeral of the Queen today at Westminster Abbey looking demure in an all black outfit and an elegant hat

Penelope Knatchbull arrives at Windsor Castle to attend the funeral of Prince Philip in April 2021 following his death at the age of 99

Penelope Knatchbull arrives at Windsor Castle to attend the funeral of Prince Philip in April 2021 following his death at the age of 99

The wedding was delayed for five after Earl Mountbatten was murdered in an IRA bombing in Co. Sligo, 1979. 

Norton, 73, is the grandson of Lord Mountbatten – who was famously close to his nephew Prince Philip. Philip was Norton’s godson, while Norton is the godfather of Prince William. 

Over the years, the Duke and Penny’s friendship had become so close that she was one of just 30 mourners invited to his funeral in April 2021 after he passed away at the age of 99.

After the funeral, The Mail on Sunday’s Caroline Graham reported Penny looked ‘heartbroken’ as she said goodbye to her best friend of nearly five decades.

She quoted a royal aide who said Penny was a ‘keeper of secrets’ for the late Duke who had confided in her throughout their friendship.

The aide said: ‘Penny was one of the few friends that Philip continued to see regularly after 2017 and his withdrawal from Royal duties.

‘They were brought together by tragedy but were there for each other through thick and thin. He trusted her implicitly and she adored him. She never betrayed him.

‘She was a keeper of not only his secrets but those of the entire family.

‘Theirs was a deep and lasting friendship. Penny was always jokingly referred to as ‘and also’ because whenever a list was being drawn up for a family event, be it private or public, it would be “let’s invite X and Y” and then Philip would insist ‘”and also Penny…”‘

Penny Knatchbull (also known as Brabourne) became closer to the Duke and the Queen following the death of her five-year-old daughter Leonora from kidney cancer in 1991 (pictured at Prince Philip's Service of Thanksgiving, March 2022)

Penny Knatchbull (also known as Brabourne) became closer to the Duke and the Queen following the death of her five-year-old daughter Leonora from kidney cancer in 1991 (pictured at Prince Philip’s Service of Thanksgiving, March 2022)

The Duke of Edinburgh and Countess Mountbatten of Burma (pictured riding'easy riders' at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, 2005) remained close over five decades

The Duke of Edinburgh and Countess Mountbatten of Burma (pictured riding ‘easy riders’ at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, 2005) remained close over five decades

After first meeting Prince Philip in the 1970s, mother-of-three Penny is said to have leaned on the Duke and the Queen in 1991 after her five-year-old daughter Leonora tragically died from kidney cancer.

Philip taught the Countess carriage-driving in 1994 and she became his regular companion for the sport. Royal insiders say her enthusiasm for carriage-driving is one of the reasons he continued to take the reins into his late 90s. He was pictured carriage-driving in the grounds of Windsor Castle as recently as 2019. 

After the Duke of Edinburgh retired to Sandringham after stepping down from royal duties, Penny was a regular visitor to Wood Farm on the Norfolk Estate.

However, their close friendship was marred by rumours of an illicit romance as people suspected Prince Philip had been unfaithful with his close friend – something the Duke always strenuously denied.

In 1992, after becoming irritated by the suggestions of infidelity, the Duke told a journalist: ‘Have you ever stopped to think that, for the last 40 years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me?

‘So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?’

The rumours of a romance between the pair were somewhat quietened after Penny also developed a close relationship with the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Penny and Her late Majesty are said to have bonded over their mutual love of horse riding.

In 2010, after her husband left her for a new life and lover in The Bahamas, Penny is reported to have earnt enormous respect from the Queen, who reportedly admired how she had kept their historic estate, Broadlands in Hampshire, running as normal despite her personal turmoil.

In July 2021, while the Queen was grieving for her husband who had died a few months earlier, Penny was spotted with the late monarch at the Royal Windsor Horse Show sharing a joke with her.

The Daily Mail’s Richard Eden reported at the time that the pair remained ‘incredibly close’ and that Penny was a ‘comfort’ to Her late Majesty.

She was also present at the funeral of the Queen at Westminster Abbey last month. 

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