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'The Crown': The Head of the Church of England Struggles With the Whole 'Church' Bit

| April 19, 2024 | By

It's hard to reign over a country and a church at the same time -- as The Crown reminds us each season.

The problem with creating a new Protestant church and making it a key feature of your monarchy is that you have now irrevocably tied yourself to, well, that church.

The British ruling family has not been free of religion’s difficult questions since Henry VIII broke from Rome and declared himself the head of the Church of England.

Dramatizing the Royal Family in The Crown

Netflix’s acclaimed historical drama The Crown beautifully portrays the fact-inspired but fictionalized devotions, struggles, and flirtations with both Anglicanism and Catholicism of the current family of royals, the Windsors.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth II in Sept. 2022, and the recent announcements that her son, King Charles III, and his daughter-in-law, Catherine, Princess of Wales, are both battling cancer, the family is in the spotlight as much as ever.

All six seasons of The Crown are available to stream ... and faith plays a role in all of them.

QEII: A Life of Service and Faith

Queen Elizabeth II — the main character of The Crown, if you will — is a devout Christian who values enrichment from services and sermons. As the British monarch, she is head of the Church of England (aka the Anglican Church) but her faith goes beyond her title, stabilizing her throughout her life.

She prays frequently, and clearly takes the God-bestowed gift of her reign very seriously, prioritizing this spiritual duty even at the expense of relationships or displays of emotion.

Additionally, in one episode, the Anglican prelates debate the legitimacy of a certain noble marriage (the existing rules about divorce at that time were not too far from Catholic ones).

Queen Elizabeth II takes on this question as well, pondering whether she can bless the marriage, given her role in the Church and her own morals. She clearly grounds her morals in faith, although her family members do not seem to have followed her lead.

Over the seasons, different actors have played the principal characters as they aged. Below, in a Season 2 episode, young QEII (Clare Foy) watches with rapt attention as Billy Graham (Paul Sparks) preaches in her private chapel, as her husband (Matt Smith) and the Queen Mother (Victoria Hamilton) look on.

The queen then invites Graham over for a chat. She discusses the difficulty of being head of a church, her view of herself as a "simple Christian," and how Christian values have influenced her life. Watch below:


Prince Philip Had His Moments of Doubt and Belief

The Season 3 episode “Moondust” portrays her husband Prince Philip’s (Tobias Menzies) ongoing crisis of faith brilliantly:

He chastises a conference of Anglican clergymen for their lack of initiative, comparing them negatively against the inspiring astronauts just returned from the moon (this episode is set in 1969).

But when he meets the astronauts, he discovers that they are but everyday men, seeking inspiration themselves. He returns to the clergymen, and begs forgiveness. Humbling himself to the movement of grace, he asks them to guide him back to faith.

In the same episode, Philip's mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, arrives from Greece, where she has converted to Greek Orthodoxy, became a nun and founded a convent.

He responds lazily to inquisition about his faith, and she tells him, “You must find your faith; it will help you.” But that seems inadequate to her, and she amends her statement immediately: “No, it doesn’t just help. It’s everything.”

Here's a discussion of the episode, from the Catholic Diocese of Antwerp, Belgium (with Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II):


Princess Margaret Flirts With Dazzle ... and Catholicism

Lastly, one of the less orthodox members of the nobility is QEII's younger sister, Princess Margaret.

She likes to party and has a loose sense of sexual morality, but in Season 4, Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) develops a keen interest in Catholicism through her friendship with Father Derek Jennings. Nicknamed "Dazzle," he was a British civil servant who left his career to become a priest.

He teaches her much about the Faith, and she dallies with the idea of conversion (although she is said to have remained Anglican in loyalty to Elizabeth).

While she seems to be attracted to him on more than just a spiritual plane, their relationship centers around her search for truth and the peace she pursues (and, it is implied, finds) in Catholicism.

From Town and Country:

While the show has been known to take liberties, this religious flirtation is indeed based in fact. In Noel Botham's 2002 biography Margaret: The Last Real Princess, the author spoke with a colleague of Jennings's, who shared:

"[Jennings] was a great comfort to Princess Margret, but she was clearly attracted to him in other ways, too. She became besotted by him. That was the only way to describe her behaviour. She used any excuse to place herself near him, and used a variety of unsubtle ploys to let him know how impressed with him she was. She positively simpered at him. For various reasons, which of course she well understood, he felt unable to respond to her in that way. But he was able to answer her many questions about the Catholic Church, for he was always a superb teacher. And she was an excellent pupil. Like other members of the Royal Family before her, she was extremely attracted to the Catholic religion."

A church colleague of Jennings's also told Botham that "Derek believed that at some point Princess Margaret would ask to be received into the Catholic Church"—an astonishing claim, given the Queen's role as the head of the Church of England—but Margaret never publicly converted.

No matter how removed a royal family seems in the 21st century, the members are only human, with their own humanly complicated relationships with God.

As Bishop Barron observed:


Image: Clare Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in  'The Crown'/Netflix

Sophia Sariego is a Los Angeles native working in the pro-life movement.  She loves Eucharistic Adoration, making music, and hitting the beaches in her spare time.

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