Inside Gordonstoun, the brutal boarding school depicted in 'The Crown'.

It’s the behind-closed-palace-doors intrigue that has drawn enormous audiences to British Netflix series, The Crown. But in the second season of the world’s most expensive television series, there’s an episode largely divorced from all the the pomp and extravagance that has proved among the most memorable.

‘Paterfamilias’, the penultimate episode of the 2017 series, takes place at Gordonstoun School in northeastern Scotland. The plot slices back and forth between the schoolboy experiences of Prince Philip and Prince Charles, the boarding school’s most famous alumni, and in doing so establishes an almost standalone drama that explores the foundation of their complex relationship.

Prince Philip’s time there in the 1930s is portrayed as ‘character building’, and the motivation behind his insistence that his lonely, quiet son attend Gordonstoun over Eton College – despite the objections of the Queen and Queen Mother.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that school made me, and it can make Charles,” Prince Philip (played by a a swaggering Matt Smith) says. “He won’t learn a thing about himself at Eton… he might just become another wet, namby-pamby, mollycoddled twit like the rest of the British upper classes.”

Founded in 1934 by Dr Kurt Hahn – a German educationalist who fled the Nazis – Gordonstoun was established on four principles: challenge, responsibility, service and internationalism. Fearing the threat of fascism, Hahn hoped his approach to physical and mental fitness would help develop well-rounded, unselfish children. It’s an ethos that has since been formally adopted by 80 schools around the world.


As well as Princes Philip and Charles, Gordonstoun has also educated Prince Edward, Prince Andrew and later Prince Anne’s children, Zara and Peter. Notable non-Royal alums include Balthazar Getty, heir to the Getty oil fortune, as well as the sons of actor Sean Connery and late musician David Bowie.

Despite being the school’s most notable former pupil, Prince Charles is among its least enthusiastic. He once famously likened the school to “Colditz in kilts” (a reference to the top-security Allied prisoner of war camp from World War II) and dubbed his time there “a prison sentence.”

“The people in my dormitory are foul. Goodness, they are horrid. I don’t know how anybody could be so foul,” the Prince once wrote in a letter home.

“I hardly get any sleep in the House because I snore and I get hit on the head all the time. It’s absolute hell.”

It’s clear The Crown‘s producers have taken Prince Charles’ memories as inspiration for the episode, filmed at England’s Woodchester Mansion.

The series paints Gordonstoun as dark, dreary, cold. A place where Philip and Charles, though decades apart, endured similar Dickensian conditions: hazing, bullying, all-weather morning runs followed by cold showers, manual labour and stiff mattresses beside open windows through which icy rain and wind poured.

And at the centre of it all, the Annual Challenge – a gruelling obstacle course, which Charles failed to complete, leading to him later being admonished by his father for being “bloody weak”.


‘Plus est en vous,’ the school’s motto holds. ‘There is more in each of you.’


The episode is unlikely to make it into Gordonstoun’s advertising material. In fact, principal Lisa Kerr was compelled to recently address the students and remind them that – as impressive as The Crown is – “it is a drama, not a documentary.”

“I didn’t want them to have watched it with their friends and family and to have felt embarrassed or anything. I told them it’s a piece of television, and we know the school that really exists,” she told The Telegraph. “It is not like that at all.”

Head prefect, Stephanie Hobbs, agreed that the episode was far from the reality – as far as she has experienced it, anyway.

“Ugh, I just watched and rolled my eyes,” she told the paper. “Everybody here is so friendly and help you feel so supported. The pastoral support is unbelievably strong.”

Today, the school sticks to the focus on balanced education for its students, which now includes boys and girls aged six to 18. Its curriculum includes mountaineering, seamanship, and survival skills, and its ‘Moray Badge’ became the foundation for the Duke of Edinburgh Award – an international youth development program. All that comes at a cost of £11,084 (AUD$19,170), for a boarding final-year student.

“I believe we have the broadest curriculum in the world,” Principal Kerr said, “and one that teaches tolerance and compassion, ready to face whatever they have to face.”

Even wearing the crown.