What continues to leave me in absolute awe of Netflix’s The Crown, is how it has taught me so much more than any history class ever did. And Episode 6 in particular is all about history. Titled ‘Vergangenheit’ (the German word for past/history), the second season’s sixth episode opens with a flashback to Germany in 1945, where we see American soldiers leading a man, Lewis, to a remote wooded area. Lewis leads them into the trees and digs up a metal box, wrapped in an old coat. Inside there are multiple letters, telegrams, all manners of communication. They are, of course, in German, so the soldiers send it off to the Foreign Office in London for translation. And as it turns out, the letters contain something so dire that the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, is immediately notified. Churchill takes the information to the King (Elizabeth’s father), the Queen, and the King’s Private Secretary, Tommy. They all are in agreement that these documents, for the good of the country and its people, must never see the light of day.
Back in the current timeline, an American Reverend is currently in Britain, spreading the word of Christ. His name is Billy Graham, and though most of the Royal family doesn’t seem to like him, Elizabeth is quite in awe of him. She finds herself hanging on his every word, and is so interested in his sermons that she formally invites him to preach at Windsor. During the sermon, it is clear that neither the Queen Mother or Philip care for what he says, but Elizabeth cannot get enough of it. She meets with Billy in private afterwards, praising him on his ability.
“The great joy that I have felt today was that of being a simple congregant, being taught, being led. You see, as head of the Anglican Church, in terms of rank, even the great Archbishops of York and Canterbury are below me. Above me there is only God.”
He imagines that would be quite lonely, and she admits it is. And I think it’s one of the most difficult things about Elizabeth’s position. Even when she does not have the most control or power, she is above everyone when it comes to rank. She can be advised, but she can never be told what to do. And while that is a great thing, it is also a great burden. When she listens to Billy, she is able to escape that role and simply learn, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Meanwhile, outside of Britain, The Duke of Windsor is growing restless. Though he and his wife live a life of nothing but pleasure, it seems even pleasure has its limits. He wishes to serve his country again. However, one of the terms of his abdication was that he would no longer work. But he is determined to convince both Parliament and the Queen that this term should be changed, and his wife, growing tired of her husband’s boredom, is completely supportive. And so, claiming he is visiting Britain for research for a book he’s writing, he returns to England.
He is currently staying in Sussex with a friend, where parties with various members of Parliament are held. They won’t take much convincing. Thanks to the Duke’s lawyer, along with the fact that the government often appears to be a boy’s club, they all believe that the Duke should be able to hold a position and serve his country. This is all done without the Queen’s knowledge. There’s no coincidence in that, and it can’t help but feel like a plot. She is the last person the Duke sees, he ensures that he has everyone else’s support before meeting with her. But only hours before he does, the documents that her father worked so hard to keep buried finally come to light.
While some of the country’s finest historians were hard at work one day, they came across the forbidden texts, and immediately wanted to make them public. That was their duty, as honest historians. And, as it turns out, the Americans have a duplicate of the records. If the British don’t release them, the Americans almost certainly will. But the lead historian, Wheeler, knows the consequences of revealing these documents, so he takes them directly to the Prime Minister. They will then be taken to the Queen herself. The documents will be released no matter what, but the Queen should know exactly what they are before they reach public eye. They do directly affect her family, after all.
The documents in question are called the Marburg Files, and they concern none other than the Duke of Windsor himself. They were discovered, hidden, and given to the American soldiers by the assistant to Hitler’s personal translator. He took these files in hopes that he could secure safety and freedom. They contained information about the relations between Nazi high command and the Duke of Windsor. Michael, the Queen’s private secretary, and the Queen Mother explain this all to Elizabeth, and her mother adds that she hopes her daughter has a strong stomach. It’s a fair comment to make, for the truth is disturbing, to say the least.
When the Duke visits Her Majesty, he informs her of his wish to serve the country. She corrects him by saying that he had the chance to serve his country in the greatest possible way, and yet he turned away from it. No matter, he tells her of the government’s support and of the three jobs they think he might be best suited for. And while she agrees they sound very suitable, she cannot overlook facts.
Elizabeth tells her uncle of the documents that have been discovered, documents that will soon be released to the public. Her anger is contained, but it is there, nonetheless. Her frustration grows the more the Duke denies it, so she begins to detail specifics.
“In one telegram, from 1940, it states that you were considering publicly going against the government, and pledging your support for peace with Germany, thereby breaking with my father, the King. In another, it says that, in return for your support, the German government offered you a home in Spain, where you could wait out the rest of the war in peace and safety while your countrymen gave their lives.”
Despite this concrete evidence against him, he is determined to convince Elizabeth that these are nothing but lies. He knows there is only one thing that might save him now: his niece’s humanity. He begs her forgiveness, promising that her people would never believe these baseless rumors, and that all he wants is to serve her, to be closer to her.
She is completely at odds with herself. Not only as a Queen, not only as a niece, but as a Christian. Doesn’t the bible teach people to forgive? She confides in her husband, asking his opinion on the matter. He stands firmly against the Duke, so much so that he says something none of us ever thought we would hear.
“It’s not often I say this, so perhaps if I do, you will take it seriously. Ask Tommy Lascelles to come and see you.”
Philip has never attempted to hide his dislike for Tommy, but his opinion on the man doesn’t matter in this instance. Tommy served the Duke during his reign as King. He knows him better than anyone else, and he’ll be able to tell Elizabeth exactly what happened. She’s as shocked as the rest of us at this advice, which makes her take it to heart. She doesn’t summon Tommy (he is retired, after all), but wastes no time in visiting him herself. And what he has to say is harrowing.
It was known that the Duke shared classified information with the Duchess, and it was believed that she was sharing a bed with the German Ambassador at the time. The situation became so dire that important documents were soon kept out of the Duke’s red box. It was soon after that the abdication took place, but that was not the end of their worries. Shortly after, the Duke and Duchess visited Germany and took tours of the concentration camps. Tommy is sure to clarify that this was before “the true horrors” took place, but he still visited nonetheless. Not only that, but there was even a plan hatched to reinstate the Duke as King, throwing his own brother off the throne and giving German forces free reign across Europe.
This information shakes Elizabeth to her core. Her uncle is nowhere near the man she thought he was, and though she had every intention of forgiving him, these acts of betrayal are too great to ignore. She lets the Duke know as much. She also curtly tells him that the sovereign no longer finds pleasure in his return to the United Kingdom, and as such he is no longer welcome. He shall not return to Britain as long as she lives. She is the Queen before she is his niece, so there cannot be an argument. But he is sure to insult her one last time, telling her she has no mind of her own, before he leaves for good.
Though she knows her decision was a necessary one, she still wrestles with. Speaking to Billy a second time, she asks him about forgiveness, and if there is ever a situation where forgiveness cannot be given. He doesn’t believe so, but if one finds oneself unable to forgive, what they must do is pray. Pray for the person who has wronged them, and God will hear. So that is what Elizabeth spends the night doing when Philip bursts in, clearly drunk. She’s unimpressed until he informs her that it was her mother and none other than Tommy Lascelles that he was drinking with! An odd threesome they make, but they all put aside their differences to celebrate Elizabeth and her decision to finally rid the family and country from the terrible burden that was the Duke of Windsor. She can’t help but be amused, but she still feels guilty as a Christian. Philip insists that she shouldn’t.
“You protected your country, and you protected the reputation of your family. Not to mention successfully banishing Satan from entering the Garden of Eden. That’s Christ’s business in anyone’s books. So it’s a gold star from Jesus. And a gold star from me.”
Elizabeth laughs, though Philip is being entirely serious. He begins to take off his jacket and unbutton his shirt to her surprise. They start laughing together as she turns out the lights. What started as quite a disturbing and conflicting day turned into a beautiful night. One that will only bring Elizabeth’s family and country closer together. And as for the Duke? He can barely look at himself in the mirror, and rightfully so. The episode ends with a series of photographs, taken of the actual Duke of Windsor and the Duchess visiting the camps and in conversation with Nazi high command. Something that was never even mentioned to us in school, and yet something incredibly important to know. The Crown continues to amaze.
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