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The true story of Leonora Knatchbull, seen in 'The Crown'

Her family set up a charity for children's cancer in her honor.

Season Five of “The Crown” focuses on the characters you know, like Princess Diana, Prince Charles (now King Charles), Camilla Parker Bowles and Queen Elizabeth II.

But the season also spotlights lesser-known figures the royals intersected with — including Penny Knatchbull, the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, a close friend of the late Prince Philip, and her daughter Leonora.

The Duke of Edinburgh with Penelope Knatchbull
The late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, seen in 2009 with Penelope Knatchbull, then known as Lady Brabourne.Steve Parsons / AP

This season, “The Crown” explored Knatchbull and Philip’s close bond, which apparently deepened following the tragic death of Knatchbull's 5-year-old daughter, Leonora, from cancer.

Knatchbull’s connection to Philip and the royal family only grew over the decades, and she was one of just 30 mourners invited to attend Philip’s funeral service in 2021, when events were limited in size due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Knatchbull, 69, also attended Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in September 2022.

In one emotional scene from the second episode of "The Crown" this season, Knatchbull, played by “Californication” actor Natascha McElhone, attends Leonora's funeral in 1991. 

In another poignant scene, Philip comforts Knatchbull as they stand at Leonora’s grave at her Broadlands estate.

With “The Crown” bringing fresh attention to the tragic loss of Leonora, here are some more details to know about her story.

Who was Leonora Knatchbull?

Leonora Louise Marie Elizabeth Knatchbull was the youngest child of Norton Knatchbull, 3rd Earl of Mountbatten, and Penelope Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma. 

She was born on June 25, 1986, and died from kidney cancer on Oct. 22, 1991 at the age of five.

How was Leonora Knatchbull related to the royal family?

Leonora’s father, Norton Knatchbull, was Prince Philip's godson. Knatchbull was also the grandson of Prince Philip’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, often referred to by his nickname, Dickie, in “The Crown.”

Norton Knatchbull, who previously used the title of Lord Romsey, and later Lord Brabourne, wed Penelope Knatchbull (née Eastwood), in 1979. 

These connections made Leonora a cousin of both King Charles and Prince Philip.

In 2016, Charles walked Leonora's older sister Alexandra down the aisle at her wedding, as her father was ill.

Leonora was diagnosed with cancer while on vacation with her family

Leonora’s family first became aware of her illness during a vacation on the Spanish island of Majorca in August 1990, according to an obituary in Scottish newspaper The Herald

The former Prince Charles and Princess Diana had been on holiday with the Knatchbulls at the time, according to the Herald, and “comforted the family” as arrangements were made to fly Leonora home.

Over the next 14 months, Leonora reportedly underwent treatment for a kidney tumor and “showed great bravery and cheerfulness” during her long course of chemotherapy and radiation, according to her obituary.

Trooping The Colour
Leonora, pictured wearing a red hat, attended the Trooping the Colour celebration in 1991 with several members of the royal family.Jayne Fincher / Getty Images

Leonora made an appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in June 1991 during the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony.

She sported a vibrant red hat as she watched a Royal Air Force flypast alongside Prince Harry, then 6, and Princess Beatrice, then 2. 

Royals Palace Balcony
Leonora (center, in red) with other members of the royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palance on June 15, 1991.Tim Graham / Getty Images

Princess Diana was also on the balcony behind Leonora and could be seen pointing something out to Leonora during the flypast.

Later in the summer of 1991, Leonora’s condition seemed to be improving, according to her obituary, and she and her family went on a Mediterranean cruise with the Prince and Princess of Wales. 

Sadly, however, Leonora died at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London that October. Princess Diana had visited her at the hospital prior to her death, according to the Herald.

She's buried at her family's estate, Broadlands

Leonora is buried at Broadlands, her family home in Hampshire, England.

Leonora was survived by her sister, Lady Alexandra Hooper, now 39, and her brother, Nicholas Knatchbull, Lord Brabourne, now 41.

Penelope and Norton Knatchbull, who styled themselves at the time as Lord and Lady Romsey, opened up about their loss in a 1992 interview with The Telegraph, as quoted by royal reporter Andrew Morton in his 1992 book, “Diana: Her True Story, in Her Own Words.”

“We had our ups and downs separately,” Norton Knatchbull, then known as Lord Romsey, apparently told the Telegraph.

Lady Romsey said her husband was the “pragmatic one."

“My faith was tried at one stage — sorely — but it is stronger now," she said. "I accepted her death intellectually, but my heart didn’t.”

Princess Diana was shaken by Leonora's funeral — but was not her godmother

In “The Crown,” it’s said that Princess Diana was Leonora’s godmother. In reality, however,  Diana was the godmother of Leonora’s older sister, Alexandra. According to her obituary in the Herald, Leonora's godfather was King Juan Carlos of Spain.

Diana, who attended a funeral service for Leonora, was deeply saddened by the child's death, according to Morton's 1992 biography of the late princess.

Tearful Princess Diana of Wales with Prince Charles at the Leonora Knatchbull memorial.
Princess Diana and Prince Charles were photographed in their car on the day of a memorial service in London honoring Leonora Knatchbull on Dec. 19, 1991.Douglas Doig / AP

“As Diana left the service, held at St James’s Palace, she was photographed in tears,” Morton wrote. 

Diana was also reportedly upset that Camilla Parker Bowles (now Queen Consort Camilla) was “present at such an intimate family service” despite only having known Leonora’s parents “for a short time,” according to Morton.

“It was a point she made vigorously to her husband as they traveled back to Kensington Palace in their chauffeur-driven limousine,” Morton wrote. “When they arrived at Kensington Palace the Princess felt so distressed that she ignored the staff Christmas party, which was then in full swing, and went to her sitting-room to recover her composure.”

How is Leonora Knatchbull’s memory honored today?

Leonora’s parents founded the Leonora Children’s Cancer Fund in 1994. That May, Prince Philip attended a reception in aid of the charity, according to the Independent.

The fund later merged with The Edwina Mountbatten Trust to form the Edwina Mountbatten and Leonora Children’s Foundation, which focuses on “the relief of sick, distressed or needy children in any part of the world,” according to the charity’s government registration page.

The charity also promotes the “art and practice of nursing, the support of nurses caring for children suffering from cancer (and) the furtherance of primary research into causes of pediatric cancer.”