the Crown Netflix Season 2 2017 Tommy Lascelles

Photo by Alex Bailey/Netflix

In The Crown, Tommy Lascelles is instantly recognizable. His thick moustache, the bowler hat, the immaculately starched collar and cuffs, the plumb accent mark him as the ultimate royal courtier.

He was decisive, incisive and, above all, loyal to the monarchy. So when he retired as Queen Elizabeth II’s private secretary near the end of the first season of Netflix’s The Crown, fans were left disappointed that scene-stealing Tommy (and his moustache) wouldn’t be seen in its second season.

But have no fear, Tommy is back, and more acerbic than ever in his defence of the constitutional monarchy. Not for nothing, in The Crown it is Lascelles who is often the bearer of harsh truths and bad news. “He knows everything there is to know,” Prince Philip knowingly tells his wife.

TOMMY LASCELLES vs. EDWARD VIII

In the second season’s “Vergangenheit” (episode six), it’s left to Lascelles to reveal the extent of the former Edward VIII’s involvement with the Nazis to the abdicated monarch’s niece, Queen Elizabeth II. It is Lascelles’s revelations that thwart the ambitions of Edward (now Duke of Windsor) to come back to Britain and re-enter society.

Armed with Lascelles’s information, the Queen delivers the final blow to her uncle:

We all closed our eyes, our ears, to what was being said about you. We dismissed it as fabrications, cruel chatter, in light of your decision to give up the throne. But when the truth finally came out. The truth, it makes a mockery of even the central tenets of Christianity. There is no possibility of my forgiving you. The question is: how can you possibly forgive yourself?

Later that night, Philip comes home after an evening drinking with two former enemies: Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Tommy Lascelles. They put aside their differences, Philip tells his wife, for the one thing we have in common: her. “You protected your country and you protected the reputation of your family,” he said, with a drunken slur.

In real life, he guarded the family’s secrets until his death. Twenty-five years later, his letters and journals, published with regal permission, revealed his radical honesty. In 1927, Lascelles, then assistant private secretary to Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII who would abdicate in 1936), secretly visited the prime minister.

The prince was “going rapidly to the devil,” Lascelles told Stanley Baldwin, due to the heir to the thone’s “unbridled pursuit of wine and women, and of whatever selfish whim occupied him at the moment.” Then, in a moment of jaw-dropping honesty, Lascelles confessed that “sometimes when I sit waiting to get the result of some point-to-point [horse race] in which he is riding, I can’t help thinking that the best thing that could happen to him, and to the country, would be for him to break his neck.”

“God forgive me,” the prime minister responded. “I have often thought the same.”

SERVING THE CROWN

Tommy Lascelles served four monarchs in a row, from George V through his sons, Edward VIII and George VI, and then, finally, Elizabeth II, and picked up a bevy of honours from his grateful monarchs, including a GCB (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath), GCVO (Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order) and a CMG (Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George).

Alan “Tommy” Lascelles was born in 1887, grandson of the 4th Earl of Harewood, cousin of the 6th (who married King George V’s only daughter, Princess Mary). He went to the right schools (Marlborough followed by Trinity College, Oxford) then served with the Bedfordshire Yeomanry in the First World War, in which he would be awarded a Military Cross.

His life as a royal courtier started just after the war, in 1920, when he was appointed assistant private secretary to Edward, Prince of Wales. Their once close relationship soon soured as Lascelles, ever the diligent worker, was put off by Edward’s lack of work ethic and, more importantly, his lack of morals.

Disgusted by Edward, Lascelles resigned in 1929, and then spent five years in Canada as private secretary to the Governor General, Lord Bessborough. Then, in 1935, he returned to Buckingham Palace, to be assistant private secretary to the dying George V. After that, bosses changed with a speed not normally seen in royal palaces. First there was a return to working for Edward, now Edward VIII, then, when he abdicated, Lascelles got a new boss: George VI. During the war, Lascelles switched into the private secretary position, one he would hold until 1953, the second year of Elizabeth II’s reign.

One of his most important roles was in updating, and codifying the rules and customs governing the Crown. In May 2, 1950, he sent an anonymous letter to the Times that outlined Crown prerogatives regarding a change of government. By and large, they remained in effect until the government switched to fixed-date elections in 2011.

In the first season, Lascelles tried and failed to forestall Margaret’s doomed relationship with married Peter Townsend, by confronting the war hero when their romance was in its infancy: “Within the close community of those who serve the family, talk–ugly talk, tittle tattle” can spread given the close relationships between the royals and those aid them, Lascelles pointedly tells Townsend. “I would hate you to mistake those feelings for anything else.” While so many took his advice, Townsend did not.

Lascelles’s biting tongue is heard again when palace courtiers proactively investigate Antony Armstrong-Jones, then seeing Princess Margaret. “A straight Christian path is not to his taste,” Lascelles comments. “He is conducting no fewer than three other intimate relationships.”

Lascelles lived his last years in a cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace. Tommy Lascelles died in 1981, at age 94.