A TV show ex­plores the role of Billy Gra­ham in Queen El­iz­a­beth’s life. How much is ac­cu­rate?

Did “The Crown” take lib­er­ties in de­pict­ing her re­li­gious de­vo­tion and bond with U.S. evan­ge­list?

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY SARAH PUL­LIAM BAI­LEY sarah.bai­ley@wash­post.com

One of the run­ning themes through­out the Net­flix show “The Crown” is the devout Chris­tian faith of Queen El­iz­a­beth, who is shown kneel­ing for prayer at her bed­side as her hus­band jok­ingly teases her to of­fer one for him. The queen, af­ter all, serves not just as head of state but head of the Church of Eng­land, the mother church of Angli­can­ism world­wide.

“Monar­chy is God’s sa­cred mis­sion to grace and dig­nify the Earth,” her elderly grand­mother, Queen Mary, tells El­iz­a­beth early in the show.

The sec­ond sea­son of the se­ries por­trays the queen as some­one who, feel­ing be­trayed by a fam­ily mem­ber, wres­tled deeply with ques­tions of faith and for­give­ness. The show also de­picts her bud­ding re­la­tion­ship with fa­mous Amer­i­can evan­ge­list Billy Gra­ham, who drew mil­lions of peo­ple to his “cru­sades” around the world and was a friend to many U.S. pres­i­dents.

Sev­eral writ­ers have pointed out that “The Crown” took more lib­er­ties with his­tor­i­cal fact and chronol­ogy in its sec­ond sea­son. So did the show take some lib­er­ties in de­pict­ing the queen’s faith and her re­la­tion­ship with the evan­ge­list? Spoil­ers ahead! “The Crown” shows the queen sip­ping her tea while watch­ing the evan­ge­list on tele­vi­sion preach to a packed sta­dium. Even though sev­eral of her fam­ily mem­bers seemed be­fud­dled by Gra­ham, his fiery preach­ing style piqued the queen’s cu­rios­ity, and she asked for a pri­vate meet­ing with him. “I think he’s rather hand­some,” the queen tells her hus­band.

“You do speak with such won­der­ful clar­ity and cer­tainty,” El­iz­a­beth, played by Claire Foy, tells Gra­ham. Af­ter he de­liv­ers a ser­mon for the royal fam­ily at Wind­sor Cas­tle, the queen says that she felt “a great joy” to be “a sim­ple con­gre­gant, be­ing taught, be­ing led . . . to be able to just dis­ap­pear and be. . .” “A sim­ple Chris­tian,” Gra­ham replies. “Yes,” El­iz­a­beth says. “Above all things, I do think of my­self as just a sim­ple Chris­tian.”

In the show, the royal fam­ily strug­gles with its re­la­tion­ship to for­mer King Ed­ward VIII, El­iz­a­beth’s un­cle who ab­di­cated the throne to marry a di­vor­cée and be­came the duke of Wind­sor. That fa­mil­ial strug­gle be­comes in­creas­ingly tense as the queen learns the fam­ily’s dark se­cret: Her un­cle had be­come friendly with the Nazis dur­ing World War II, plot­ted to over­throw his brother, and en­cour­aged Ger­many to bomb Eng­land.

Af­ter learn­ing the shock­ing de­tails about her un­cle, the queen asks Gra­ham open-ended ques­tions about for­give­ness. Played by ac­tor Paul Sparks, Gra­ham tells the queen that she should pray for those she “can­not for­give.”

So what re­ally hap­pened? Here’s what we know from schol­ars and books.

1. Ev­i­dence of the queen’s faith is eas­ily trace­able.

Schol­ars be­lieve the queen pos­sessed a “deep vi­brancy of her faith” as some­one who read scrip­ture daily, at­tended church weekly and reg­u­larly prayed, said Stan Rosen­berg, a mem­ber of the Fac­ulty of The­ol­ogy and Re­li­gion at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford. De­spite suf­fer­ing pub­lic at­tacks for her han­dling of Princess Diana’s death and her political views, she is widely ad­mired for her faith, and “folks here know her to be thought­ful, au­then­tic, se­ri­ous, and devout but not a press­ingly in­tru­sive Chris­tian,” he said.

The queen’s Christ­mas mes­sages, a Bri­tish tra­di­tion that goes back to 1932, have pro­vided a win­dow into her pri­vate faith.

“I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad,” she said in 2002. “Each day is a new be­gin­ning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God. . . . I draw strength from the mes­sage of hope in the Chris­tian gospel.”

2. Queen El­iz­a­beth and Billy Gra­ham met in 1955.

Franklin Gra­ham, Billy Gra­ham’s son, said his fa­ther had a good re­la­tion­ship with the queen, not nec­es­sar­ily a pen-pal con­nec­tion where they’d write to each other reg­u­larly, but he spoke sev­eral times in her pri­vate chapel and was knighted in 2001. But Billy Gra­ham ini­tially met re­sis­tance, his son said, and some in Par­lia­ment tried to block him from com­ing. (Franklin Gra­ham, who is plan­ning to speak in Septem­ber, faces his own ver­sion of Bri­tish re­sis­tance now, ac­cord­ing to the Guardian.)

Franklin Gra­ham said the show asked him to con­sult, but he de­clined, say­ing any con­ver­sa­tions he had with his fa­ther were pri­vate. He said his fa­ther usu­ally gave a dig­ni­tary a Bi­ble, of­ten the lat­est one he was car­ry­ing, so he be­lieves he prob­a­bly gave the queen one.

“There’s no ques­tion, she’s very devout in her faith and very strong in her faith,” Franklin Gra­ham said. “Her faith has been con­sis­tent not just with con­ver­sa­tions with my fa­ther but through­out her life.”

The queen’s meet­ing with the evan­ge­list came about af­ter Gra­ham launched one of his “cru­sades.” Gra­ham had spo­ken to “the great­est re­li­gious con­gre­ga­tion, 120,000, ever seen un­til then in the Bri­tish Isles,” ac­cord­ing to a bi­og­ra­phy of the late John Stott, a chaplain to the queen. Dur­ing one of his ral­lies, Gra­ham preached for 12 weeks, draw­ing 2 mil­lion peo­ple.

Gra­ham de­liv­ered a ser­mon for the queen on Easter Sun­day in 1995 in the royal fam­ily’s pri­vate chapel.

“Good manners do not per­mit one to dis­cuss the de­tails of a pri­vate visit with Her Majesty, but I can say that I judge her to be a woman of rare mod­esty and char­ac­ter,” he wrote in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy “Just As I Am.”

“She is un­ques­tion­ably one of the best-in­formed peo­ple on world af­fairs I have ever met,” wrote Gra­ham, who is now 99 and liv­ing in his moun­tain home in Mon­treat, N.C. “. . . I have al­ways found her highly intelligent and knowl­edge­able about a wide va­ri­ety of is­sues, not just pol­i­tics.”

3. It’s un­likely, though pos­si­ble, that the two met alone.

“The Crown” shows the queen meet­ing alone with the evan­ge­list so they could dis­cuss things pri­vately. How­ever, Gra­ham long had a per­sonal rule that he would not meet alone with an­other woman, some­thing that be­came known as “the Billy Gra­ham rule” and has come un­der the spot­light since Vice Pres­i­dent Pence has said he uses the same rule.

His­to­rian and Gra­ham bi­og­ra­pher Wil­liam Martin says Gra­ham be­gan the prac­tice in 1948, and it en­com­passed lunches, coun­sel­ing ses­sions, even a ride to an au­di­to­rium or an air­port, be­cause the pas­tor be­lieved it helped keep him from “even the ap­pear­ance of evil.”

Martin says, how­ever, that there’s not much chance that the queen would have been left truly alone, even if no at­ten­dant was in the room. But if the queen asked for this, Martin and fel­low Gra­ham his­to­rian Grant Wacker think he prob­a­bly would have made an ex­cep­tion.

“Gra­ham al­ways meant for the rule to be ob­served with com­mon sense,” said Wacker, who is a his­to­rian at Duke Di­vin­ity School. “The point was to pre­vent can­dlelit din­ners far from home.”

4. How Gra­ham might have re­sponded to the ques­tion about for­give­ness.

The queen tells Gra­ham she asked him to re­turn to Buck­ing­ham Palace to talk about for­give­ness. “Are there any cir­cum­stances, do you feel, where one can be a good Chris­tian and yet not for­give?” she says. Gra­ham says Chris­tian teach­ing is very clear that no one is be­neath for­give­ness. But for­give­ness is con­di­tional, she coun­ters.

“One prays for those one can­not for­give,” he says.

The ex­change high­lights a fuzzy line be­tween per­sonal for­give­ness and pub­lic for­give­ness. Does El­iz­a­beth, as a niece, have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to for­give her un­cle? Should she, as the queen, ex­tend for­give­ness to some­one who, by the show and his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments’ ac­count, be­trayed his coun­try?

It’s un­clear ex­actly what was said in those meet­ings. Wacker said that af­ter Gra­ham re­vealed pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with Pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man, Tru­man never for­gave him, and Gra­ham re­solved not to dis­cuss any con­ver­sa­tion with any head of state again.

How­ever, Queen El­iz­a­beth has made sev­eral pub­lic com­ments about the role of for­give­ness in her life.

“For­give­ness lies at the heart of the Chris­tian faith,” she said in 2011. “It can heal bro­ken fam­i­lies, it can re­store friend­ships and it can rec­on­cile di­vided com­mu­ni­ties. It is in for­give­ness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

5. The queen mother might have liked Gra­ham more than the se­ries por­trayed.

The show por­trays the queen and the queen mother watch­ing the evan­ge­list on tele­vi­sion, and the queen mother ap­pears shocked that Eng­land seems enthralled by “some­one who learned their trade sell­ing brushes door-to-door in North Carolina,” and that peo­ple would turn “out in droves for an Amer­i­can zealot.” “He’s not a zealot,” El­iz­a­beth tells her mother. “He’s shout­ing, dar­ling,” she replies. “Only zealots shout.”

But “The Crown” his­tor­i­cal con­sul­tant Robert Lacey writes in his show com­pan­ion book that the queen mother pos­sessed “a deep and lit­eral faith,” “ex­pe­ri­enced the Sec­ond World War as a bat­tle against god­less­ness,” and wel­comed Gra­ham’s vis­its.

In Gra­ham’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, he wrote that the queen mother had a “quiet but firm faith.”

“The last time I preached at Wind­sor, as I walked in I saw her sit­ting over to my right, with oth­ers in the royal fam­ily,” he wrote. “She de­lib­er­ately caught my eye and ges­tured slightly to let me know she was sup­port­ing me and pray­ing for me.”

6. Ruth Gra­ham prob­a­bly didn’t wear ugly shoes to meet the queen.

Anne Blue Wills, who is work­ing on a bi­og­ra­phy of Ruth Gra­ham, Billy Gra­ham’s wife, says that it’s un­likely that Ruth (seen only from a dis­tance) would have worn flat brown san­dals for her visit to Buck­ing­ham Palace.

“The whole out­fit, ac­tu­ally, struck me as dumpy — and in­ten­tion­ally unattrac­tive Chris­tians were a pet peeve for Ruth,” Wills said.

A pic­ture of the pair leav­ing for the 1954 cru­sade aboard the SS United States shows Ruth with a fur stole over one arm, wear­ing leather gloves and a cor­sage. “She had a great sense of style and un­less ugly san­dals were ‘in,’ I don’t think she would have worn them to meet the queen for the first time,” Wills said.


Claire Foy, with Matt Smith as Prince Philip, por­trays Queen El­iz­a­beth, below, in Net­flix’s “The Crown,” which de­picts the monarch’s re­la­tion­ship with Amer­i­can evan­ge­list Billy Gra­ham, below.

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