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'The Crown': Did Jackie Kennedy really badmouth the Queen?

by Daniel Arkin /
First Lady Jackie Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II on June 5, 1961 at Buckingham Palace. Claire Foy as the queen and Jodi Balfour and the first lady in Netflix's The Crown.Bettmann via Getty Images file, Netflix

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Netflix’s glossy royal family drama “The Crown,” now in its second season, turns its viewers into amateur historians. (Who among us has not scurried off to Google in the middle of an episode, itching for factoids about the Suez Crisis and the Profumo affair?) The hit series takes many liberties with the historical record, of course — but NBC News is here to help you separate fact from fiction.

Let’s move on to Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy, the queen of Camelot. (Fact check: That's not a real title.) In the second season of “The Crown,” the first lady (Jodi Balfour) pays a visit to Buckingham Palace with her husband, President John F. Kennedy (Michael C. Hall). That really happened. What’s far less clear is whether a feud between Jackie and Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) touched off a small-scale diplomatic tiff.

Did the two regal women really butt heads? Let’s go to the record.

Jackie didn’t really say those nasty things about Elizabeth, did she?

Well, sort of. On “The Crown,” Jackie Kennedy trashes the queen as “incurious, unintelligent and unremarkable” and dismisses Buckingham Palace as “second-rate, dilapidated and sad.” Ouch! That’s quite a Yelp review. (She also slams the palace as a “tired institution without a place in the modern world,” in case we didn’t get the message.)

In real life, “there is some evidence that Jacqueline Kennedy was critical of Buckingham Palace and the Queen,” said Carolyn Harris, a historian and author of “Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting.” She explained: The legendary photographer Cecil Beaton “claimed that Jackie was unimpressed with the palace furnishings and the Queen’s comparatively old-fashioned wardrobe and hairstyle” during the 1961 visit.

OK, so that’s not exactly a compliment. But it appears the writers of the eighth episode, “Dear Mrs. Kennedy,” turned up the heat on Jackie’s insults, giving them a more cutting edge for dramatic effect. And that leads us to our next question …

Did an Elizabeth-Jackie rivalry really shape foreign policy?

Almost definitely not. On “The Crown,” Elizabeth is jealous of the American first lady, who wows world leaders with her charm, elegance and command of the French language. And so Foy’s Elizabeth, eager to even the scales with Jackie, travels to the commonwealth nation of Ghana to prove that she, too, is a major player on the world stage. It’s a good conceit — if only it were true.

“There is no evidence that the Queen traveled to Ghana in the aftermath of a rivalry” with Jackie O., Harris said. “The Queen has … taken her role as Head of the Commonwealth seriously and undertaken Commonwealth tours.” In other words: Her Majesty did not go on a high-stakes diplomatic odyssey just to get back at the first lady.

But that visit to Ghana went pretty well, right?

That seems to be the case.

“There were security concerns regarding the Queen’s visit to Ghana, but the tour was a success,” said Harris. The high-point of “Dear Mrs. Kennedy” was inspired by an indelible real-life moment: Elizabeth danced with Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah at a banquet thrown in her honor.

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