Prince Philip and Penny Knatchbull: Who is the Prince’s friend, and who plays her in The Crown season 5?

An entirely new character is here for the season 5 line up

Prince Philip and Penny Knatchbull: Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip and Natascha McElhone as Penny Knatchbull in The Crown season 5
(Image credit: Keith Bernstein/Netflix/Future)

Season 5 sees brand new character Penny Knatchbull introduced to the Royal saga, leaving viewers wondering who she is - we have the lowdown.

After waiting just shy of two years for The Crown season 5 (opens in new tab) to land on Netflix, the wait is finally over. The usual extra time is needed to watch a single episode, caused by the inevitable pausing the show to search if an event really did happen, and absolutely everything about it. Fans can’t get enough of the chaotic Royals, and watching their lives unfold in a long and luxurious series of episodes is ultimate TV viewing. Although the cast of the hit series changes every two years to reflect the aging dynasty, occasionally new characters are added to the lineup. For season 5, Prince Philip’s friend and newly introduced Penny Knatchbull is subject to the pause and search phenomenon the show induces. To help with this, we have everything you need to know about Penny Knatchbull, and the actress who plays her.  

While viewers research the real circumstances surrounding events depicted in the show, the debate continues around how much of The Crown is true or fake (opens in new tab) - celebrities continue to weigh in on the argument. Such is the intensity of speculation surrounding the truth of the series, Netflix released a statement defending The Crown (opens in new tab) as a dramatisation of historical events. While some fans ask did the Queen watch The Crown (opens in new tab), Prince Philip himself made his feelings on it very clear - his answer when asked if he'd seen it, is just what you'd expect.

Who is Prince Philip’s friend Penny Knatchbull?

Penny Knatchbull’s official title is Penelope Meredith Mary Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma. She was a lifelong friend and confidante to Prince Philip. Her mother Patricia Knatchbull was third cousin to the Queen. 

She was born Penelope Meredith Mary Eastwood in London, and is the only daughter of Angus Steakhouse founder Reginald Eastwood. She grew up and attended schools in Switzerland, until leaving to study at the London School of Economics. According to People (opens in new tab), Penny was known as the "keeper of secrets" for Prince Philip, with a close friendship forming immediately, when the pair met in 1974. 

Although there was a 32-year age gap between Penny and the Prince, the 2020 biography Prince Philip Revealed penned by Ingrid Seward, claimed Penny was “second-most important woman in the Duke of Edinburgh's life - a constant confidante, and loyal companion.” The book also weighed on a dance the two shared at a ball, with the author describing "When I saw Philip and Penny gilding around the dance floor at the Royal Yacht Squadron Ball during Cowes Week, neither of them gave a damn who saw them or what anyone might say”.

Penny and Philip frequently took part in carriage driving competitions together, and she became a frequent visitor to the Royal Windsor Horse Show as a guest of the Royals. She was one of only 30 mourners in attendance at Philip’s funeral April 17, 2021 as numbers were severely restricted due to COVID-19 regulations. She was also present at the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on September 19, 2022.

Penny Knatchbull attending Prince Philip's funeral

(Image credit: Zuma Press Inc/Alamy)

Penny Knatchbull: Husband

Penny Knatchbull’s husband is Norton Louis Philip Knatchbull, 3rd Earl Mountbatten of Burma - he was Prince Philip’s godson. 

The pair married in 1979, with Prince Charles acting as best man. Their wedding took place just two months after the death of Norton's grandfather Lord Mountbatten, who was murdered by the IRA. The event, covered in an earlier season of The Crown, saw the Earl lose his brother Nicholas and grandmother, Lady Brabourne, when a bomb was planted on the family's fishing boat on a trip to County Sligo.

Until 2005, Norton was known as Lord Romsey, and until 2017 as The 8th Baron Brabourne. He was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford, and later Gordonstoun in Scotland - the school Prince Charles famously despised. After graduating from University of Kent, Norton followed his father into the film industry working as a location manager. He is a descendant of Queen Victoria - his maternal great-great-grandmother Princess Alice was Queen Victoria’s daughter. Norton is also godfather to William, the Prince of Wales. 

Norton Knatchbull, 3rd Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and Penelope Knatchbull leaving the funeral of Countess Mountbatten of Burma at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, in 2017.

(Image credit: PA Images/Alamy)

Is Penny Knatchbull still married?

Penny Knatchbull remains married to Norton Knatchbull, despite him allegedly having an affair between 2010 - 2014.

It is believed Norton even left Penny for a time to be with his mistress. However, he has reportedly been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and has returned to the family home of Broadlands in Hampshire. He has not been seen publicly for several years. 

According to Cosmopolitan (opens in new tab), the latest season of The Crown is set to depict Penny and Philip in "in intimate scenes", and pursuing an affair together. Those close to Penny are said to be angry at this portrayal, with the Queen’s former press secretary Dickie Arbiter saying "coming just weeks after the nation laid Her Majesty to rest next to Prince Philip, this is very distasteful and, quite frankly, cruel rubbish. The truth is that Penny was a long time friend of the whole family. Netflix is not interested in people’s feelings". 

Prince Philip and Penny Knatchbull in a car together.

(Image credit: Getty)

Penny Knatchbull: Daughter Leonora Knatchbull

Penny Knatchbull sadly lost a daughter, Leonora, to kidney cancer at the age of 5. She has one surviving daughter, Lady Alexandra Victoria Edwina Diana Knatchbull. She also has a son, Nicholas Louis Charles Norton Knatchbull, Lord Brabourne.

Leonora Knatchbull was the third and youngest child of Penny and Norton, born on June 25, 1986. Tragically, Leonora developed kidney cancer, and passed away at the age of five at St. Bartholomew's Hospital on October 22, 1991. She is buried at her family's estate of Broadlands in Hampshire, and in 1994, Norton and Penelope set up Leonora Children's Cancer Fund in her memory. 

Lady Alexandra was born on 5 December 1982, and her godmother was Princess Diana. She married PCEO of Third Space Learning Thomas Hooper, on 25 June 2016. They have two sons together, Inigo Norton Sebastian Mountbatten Hooper (born December 21, 2017) and Alden Peter Theodore Mountbatten Hooper (born March 27, 2020).

Lady Alexandra Hooper and her husband Thomas Hooper at the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II

(Image credit: PA Images/Alamy)

Who plays Penny Knatchbull in The Crown season 5?   

Penny Knatchbull is played by Natascha McElhone in The Crown season 5. The 50-year-old actress is best known for appearances in The Truman Show, and Designated Survivor

Speaking to Radio Times (opens in new tab) about her character's relationship with Philip role on the iconic show, McElhone said "Well, I’m loath to say, because I hope it’s on the screen. I think that’s the point of the exploration, probably. What I loved about it is we so rarely see a man and a woman on screen who have a deep friendship where romance is not alluded to. The richness of those friendships, that loyalty. Our story starts because he really sees her when she’s in deep pain and in grief, and he reaches out a hand and gives her a nudge back into life".

She added "There’s a strange assumption that as soon as you see a man and a woman together, you assume that they’re romantically involved, so that exploration felt really appropriate. It’s being looked at as a wild idea, but what happens if they’re just friends. I don’t want to put 'just' in front of it, because friends can be everything. So that was the way I approached it".

Related Netflix Features:

Video of the Week