With its sixth season, Netflix’s hit series, The Crown, came to an end that left most disappointed. The concluding season said too much and yet too little, painting the royal family in brushstrokes that were too sentimental and uncritical.
One of the several issues season six of The Crown dealt with happens to be the way Prince Harry’s Nazi costume fiasco is portrayed. The controversial 2005 incident continues to cast a long shadow on the royal family, particularly on Harry himself.
Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth brushed the incident as youthful folly on The Crown, chastising the person who leaked those photos to the press more harshly than their grandson. In reality, Harry has carried the burden of that one moment for all these years. Prince Harry’s own account provides a more nuanced perspective on the choices made that fateful night.
On the show, Prince William and Kate Middleton accompany Harry to a costume store where Harry picks out the outfit with a Nazi-co-opted swastika on the armband. While Kate scoffs and asks Harry to cover the armband at least, William quickly comes to Harry’s defence, saying wearing a costume doesn’t make him a Nazi. The Crown depicts the subsequent party scene where Harry, seemingly carefree, dons the Nazi uniform, oblivious to the storm it would create.
However, Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, offers a different narrative. According to his recollection, the idea for the controversial attire came from William and Kate during the planning for a themed party with a “cringy” ‘Natives and Colonials’ theme. Harry described his reluctance to dress up for costume parties but ultimately succumbing to the desire to make Kate laugh.
The incident, occurring just days before the 60th Holocaust Remembrance Day, triggered widespread controversy and drew sharp criticism. Prince Harry, in his memoir, admitted his regret over the costume choice, acknowledging, “There were moments over the course of the next several weeks and months when I thought I might die of shame,” he wrote.
“The typical response to the photos was: What could he have been thinking? The simplest answer was: I wasn’t,” Harry confessed. “When I saw those photos, I recognised immediately that my brain had been shut off, that perhaps it had been shut off for some time. I wanted to go around Britain knocking on doors, explaining to people: ‘I wasn’t thinking. I meant no harm.’”
The fallout from the Nazi costume incident played a role in creating a wedge between Prince Harry and Prince William. Robert Lacey’s insights, as detailed in his book Battle of Brothers, suggest that Harry resented the perceived leniency afforded to William in the aftermath.
Despite the public backlash, King Charles, then the Prince of Wales, allegedly demonstrated surprising understanding. As per Spare, chastised his son but attributed the incident to immaturity and the foolishness of youth. Charles sent Harry to the Chief Rabbi of Britain, who lectured him on the gravity of Nazi-related jokes but ultimately granted forgiveness, recognising Harry’s sincere attempts at atonement.
But Harry knew this incident would haunt him for a long time, as he wrote in his memoir, “The shame would never fade. Nor should it.”