The Crown: Who is Penelope Knatchbull? Everything you need to know about Prince Philip's 'companion'

She has experienced great tragedy

The new series of The Crown has introduced us to a number of new faces – not least Penelope Knatchbull.

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The series depicts her friendship with the royals, notably Prince Philip, as well as the most distressing event of her life; the loss of her child Leonora. But who is Penny in real life? And how did she experience such tragedy? HELLO! takes a look…

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The Countess of Burma, Penelope Knatchbull, was one of the closest companions of both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. She attended the funerals for both the royals – despite COVID restrictions limiting attendance at Prince Philip's service to just 30 people.

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Known informally as Penny, the Countess is the only daughter of butcher-turned-businessman Reginald Eastwood and she became close to the royal family through her relationship with Norton Knatchbull, 3rd Earl of Mountbatten.

Penelope was a close friend and confidante to the Queen and Prince Philip

Penelope was an immediate hit with the royals, but particularly impressed the Queen and Philip when she was first introduced by Norton in 1975.

A royal insider remembered her as "one of the most natural young women I have ever met, outgoing but not brash or flirty".

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Her husband Norton's close friendship with the major royals served as the perfect springboard for Penelope to get closer to the family.

The Queen pictured laughing with Penny

The Earl had attended prestigious independent school Gordonstoun with King Charles as a child, with the then-Prince of Wales serving as best man at the couple's wedding ceremony in 1979.

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Between 1981 and 1986, Penelope gave birth to three children, Nicholas, Alexandra and Leonora. However, tragedy struck in 1991, when Leonora contracted liver cancer and died at the age of five.

Leonora Knatchbull pictured in red in front of Princess Diana

Little Leonora, born on 25th June 1986, played with a number of aristocratic and royal children, moving in similar circles to the royal family. She was even pictured on Buckingham Palace's balcony during the Trooping the Colour in 1991.

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Her tragically short life came to an end on 22 October 1991 when she passed away at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London. Leonora was buried at her family's estate of Broadlands near the town of Romsey.

Prince Philip taught Penny how to drive carriages

Following the tragedy, Countess Mountbatten grew even closer to Prince Philip and the Queen.

Despite an age difference of more than 30 years, a shared love of the outdoors allowed their friendship to flourish, which only strengthened after Philip taught the Countess to drive carriages in 1994.

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While Penelope was seen in public riding alongside Phillip, her friendship with the Queen grew behind closed doors.

Norton Knatchbull and Penelope Eastwood on their wedding day

However, it was the strength demonstrated following her husband's affair in 2010 that particularly impressed Her Majesty and allowed their companionship to become a more public affair.

Refusing to let Norton's departure interrupt royal duty, the Countess took over the running of the Broadlands estate. Despite the family connection between Norton and the royals, a friend close to the family said that "the Queen and Phillip [couldn't] forgive him for what he did to Penny".

Penelope and Norton pictured together in 2017

From that point onwards, the Countess was a fixture at many royal events of consequence; amongst palace staff, she was nicknamed 'and also' as no guest list was considered complete without her.

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