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Did Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher Actually Get Along? What "The Crown" Got Right

Oprah Daily logo Oprah Daily 11/25/2020 McKenzie Jean-Philippe

Though we'll never tire of Olivia Colman's take on Queen Elizabeth in Netflix's The Crown, there's no escaping the fact that two other women's compelling storylines (and the actors's near-perfect performances) steal the spotlight in season 4. And yes, we're talking about Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson).

But let's narrow in on Thatcher, Britain's first-ever female prime minister and leader of the country's conservative party. During her 11 years in office from 1979 to 1990, Thatcher was known as "The Iron Lady," another powerful woman at the helm of a country that had already seen the queen as its steadfast monarch for decades. In season 4, The Crown takes care to explore the dynamics between the two remarkable women, who were just six months apart in age.

"There are a lot of similarities between them. Obvious ones like marriage, and kids, and faith," Anderson told "But there are a lot of differences, too, about how they approach issues of the day. And so it's quite easy to imagine how they might have not riled each other...but how there could have been some friction there along the way."

Gillian Anderson wearing a blue shirt: The Crown S4 © Des Willie The Crown S4

Anderson continued, "Thatcher was prime minister for 11 years, which is the longest time a prime minister has been in. And the Queen has seen people come in and out of that chair for many years, and I think this is the first time that somebody who was so divisive was sitting in front of her."

More on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher below—and what The Crown may have missed about their story.

First, did Margaret Thatcher really undergo a "Balmoral Test" like in episode 2?

a man and a woman standing in front of a building: crown s4 © Netflix crown s4

If you've made it to the second episode of season 4, you know exactly what we're talking about. Upon being elected as prime minister in 1979, Margaret Thatcher was invited to stay at the Queen's beloved Balmoral Castle in Scotland, in-line with the tradition of many U.K. prime ministers before her.

In the show, what followed was a largely unsuccessful trip, as Thatcher struggled to adapt to the royal family's idea of fun, seemingly failing the fabled "Balmoral test."

"Any prospective spouse who fails to enjoy the Spartan surroundings, or the tiring days spent tramping the hills in the rain, will not do," wrote royal biographer Michael Paterson in his book A Brief History of the Private Life of Elizabeth II. Now, while no royals have every confirmed the existence of such a "trial," let alone admit how Thatcher might have faired herself, we do know a bit about how the prime minister handled her time at the ancient castle in the Scottish Highlands.

Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher standing in a room: gettyimages-836649930 © Mirrorpix - Getty Images gettyimages-836649930

According to another royal biographer, Ben Pimlott, Thatcher once compared her experiences at the getaway to "purgatory." And as depicted in The Crown, The Guardian reports that the politician never brought the proper shoes when she visited palace grounds, often having to borrow Wellington boots.

Prince Phillip is also said to enjoy a barbecue during weekends at Balmoral, during which Thatcher and her husband Denis Thatcher reportedly found it difficult to navigate alongside the royal couple. A royal official described the dynamic as "each couple trying desperately to be informal," according to The Guardian. They also said Thatcher arranged for a swift early morning 6 a.m. departure from the weekend.

But one positive that might have come out of it all? After watching the queen wash dishes with her bare hands during one particular weekend at the estate, Thatcher reportedly gifted the monarch a thoughtful pair of rubber gloves for Christmas that same year.

Was Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth's relationship really as awkward as in The Crown?

Margaret Thatcher et al. that are talking to each other: gettyimages-73492169 © Tom Stoddart Archive - Getty Images gettyimages-73492169

Seeing as they were two of the most powerful women in the world—at the same time in history—in the media, much was made about how Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher got along during the latter's years as prime minister. In The Crown, the women seem to put professionalism before personal feelings, always respecting one another while at the same time maintaining a respectful personal distance.

"They are quietly businesslike," Thatcher wrote of she and the queen's weekly meetings in her autobiography, according to biographer Andrew Marr. "Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience."

Marr also says that many officials acknowledged there was a "stiffness" about their relationship, and called it "much too deferential." The queen even had a small gripe about Thatcher curtsying a bit too low for her liking.

Cherie Blair, Tony Blair that are talking to each other: gettyimages-150343816 © ADRIAN DENNIS - Getty Images gettyimages-150343816

Yes, there really was a controversy about the Queen's view of Thatcher in The Sunday Times.

The real tension between to two seemed to be centered around their differences in political opinion. Of course, Thatcher was a conservative, while Pimlott described the queen as "a bit of a leftie." In July 1986, an article in The Sunday Times caused controversy in the U.K. as it had featured the queen's press secretary acting as a source in a piece that criticized the way Thatcher ran the country, a storyline that's depicted in The Crown.

According to the Independent, it was headlined, Queen dismayed by ‘uncaring’ Thatcher, and at the time the New York Times wrote that the piece explained Queen Elizabeth felt Thatcher "lacks compassion and should be more caring toward less privileged members of society"—amongst other concerns. As head of state, the queen is supposed to remain bipartisan and keep her feelings on policy private.

"The newspaper said the Queen's concern about Mrs. Thatcher's policies went well beyond the disagreements within the Commonwealth over imposing sanctions against South Africa.

The Queen has been described in recent press reports as worried that Mrs. Thatcher's firm opposition to sanctions threatened to break up the 49-nation Commonwealth."

-The New York Times, 1986

Thatcher biographer Charles Moore later wrote that the prime minister was "desperately hurt" by the report and the queen personally apologized for its publication.

The two did seem to make amends, however. The Crown accurately depicts that Queen Elizabeth later awarded Thatcher with the prestigious Order of Merit in 1990, not long after her resignation as prime minister. The title is considered the highest honor in the UK and is personally awarded by Her Majesty. Only the queen and 24 other people across the world are members at any given time.

Queen Elizabeth was invited to Margaret Thatcher's 70th birthday.

Replay Video

In a less formal setting, five years after Thatcher resigned as prime minister and leader of the conservative party, the queen attended the politician's star-studded million dollar 70th birthday party. You can see the two greeting one another with wide smiles (and a low curtsy) in a video above.

In an unprecedented move, Queen Elizabeth attended Margaret Thatcher's funeral.

Elizabeth II wearing a uniform: gettyimages-166811380 © Samir Hussein - Getty Images gettyimages-166811380

Following Thatcher's death on April 8 in 20123, in a rare occurrence, Queen Elizabeth attended the politician's funeral. It was the first time she attended a former prime minister's funeral since Winston Churchill's in 1965. And according to many British media outlets, her presence meant it was a ceremonial "state funeral in all but name." The honor was also given to Princess Diana and the Queen Mother.

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