In season 2 of The Crown, we saw Queen Elizabeth's awkward, ultimately moving relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy. After such a dazzling, tragic spectacle, it was undoubtedly a tough act for President Lyndon B. Johnson and his first lady, Lady Bird, to follow. The Crown's writers must have felt the same way about re-creating the royals' relationship with them — that is until they could throw Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) into the mix. Let's brush up a little on our Anglo-American history and see what the story really was back then.
The Queen (Sort Of) Snubs The New American President
We're not sure if Queen Elizabeth (now played by Olivia Colman) would have attended John F. Kennedy's funeral in 1963, but she wasn't able to anyway. The queen was pregnant with her youngest son, Edward, at the time. That's the official excuse given for why she actually never met Johnson, though she's met every other U.S. president since Eisenhower.
The "Special Relationship" In Peril
It was Winston Churchill who first coined the term "special relationship" to describe the relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom. If that brings to mind a very awkward friends-with-benefits situation, you're not far off. After World War II, the U.K. borrowed billions from the U.S., and the country took 61 years to pay that back.
We saw how things got a little shaky in this relationship in 1956, when Britain and France tried to take back the Suez Canal from Egypt without seeking U.S. approval. It's clear the U.S. was determined to flex its muscles then. When The Crown picks up in 1965, the countries are still in not exactly the best of friends, but they also very much need each other.
A year earlier in 1964, the British pound was in danger of losing its value, and the U.S. pledged to put up one third of the $3 billion in international aid it needed to get back on its feet. This was despite the fact that Johnson was reportedly not the biggest fan of new Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Meanwhile, Wilson's Labour Party was most definitely not interested in getting the U.K. involved in Vietnam.
Some historians have posited that the president and the prime minister made a secret deal: Johnson would give the U.K. a billion dollars in exchange for Wilson's help in Vietnam. The latter came in the form of special forces instructors, not actual British troops on the ground.
Princess Margaret To The Rescue?
In The Crown, the U.K. gets its billion dollars in a much more fun manner: a fancy state dinner in which Margaret gets to charm Johnson (Clancy Brown) into helping her country.
That's probably not how things happened, but the princess and her husband, Lord Snowden, did embark on quite an infamous tour of the U.S. in 1965. They hung out with all of Hollywood's royalty (though the couple notoriously rubbed elbows with that sort back home too), and were wild enough that Britain still remembered this trip in 1973 and refused to allow them to return to America.
As for their state dinner at the White House, though, things seemed pretty standard. If you like this sort of thing, you should totally read Johnson's official daily diary (not that kind) entry from November 17, 1965. It says that the princess and her husband, along with other officials, met the president, his wife, and two daughters on the second floor. The Johnsons gave the royals an autographed family portrait and two watercolor paintings. Then the whole gang went downstairs for dinner, where the guests also included Kirk Douglas and a whole lot of officials. It also happened to be the Johnsons' wedding anniversary.
"The President stood up and offered a toast to the Queen and then made remarks welcoming Princess Margaret and her husband. He told her he was glad to have her celebrate him the opening of the 32nd year of married life with one of the most wonderful women in the world and offered advice to Lord Snowdon," reads the diary. "Princess Margaret responded — in brief — she was pleased to be here, she was glad to see the President looking so well, and she was sorry not to be staying longer."
All that formality was followed by a lot of dancing. "He had a good time, he looked well, and danced with almost every woman there," the diary states, adding that the president partied until 2 a.m. Those are some Princess Margaret-worthy hours right there.