Is the Russian historical letter in The Crown true?


“The Crown” isn’t bad television. But it’s not true television either.

At best, one can agree that there are certain embellishments and creative licenses taking place every season, which anyone who has grown up British will tell you, is par for the course for any program trying to dramatize actual events in order to be entertaining for the masses.

The biggest challenge for viewers, however, is trying to separate what really happened from what might or might not have happened. Or what the producers and writers would have liked to have happened. It’s certainly a tricky road to follow, since historical letters and recent facts show us that sometimes British history and prominent personalities are crazier than what scriptwriters can come up with.

One recent example that made some viewers ask, “Did that really happen?” was in Episode 6 of Season 5. The story begins in 1918 with Britain’s royal family discussing amongst themselves whether to officially extend a formal welcome to the family of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II, which was currently living in exile following the Bolshevik Revolution.

The request was more than one deposed leader asking a current leader for sanctuary: there were close family connections as well between the Windsor family and the Romanov family.

Queen Alexandra, the great-great grandmother to the current King Charles, married King Edward VII and had a son, George, who later became King George V. Alexandra’s sister Maria married Tsar Alexander, and their son was Nicholas, who later became tsar.

Historical letters show that Nicholas and George were friends for much of their lives, contemporaries and spent time together on family outings. They even had nicknames for each other; Georgie and Nickie.

In the episode of “The Crown,” the family was shown to be reading what turned out to be a historic letter seeking asylum. The episode also showed them weighing the pros and cons of saying yes, ultimately deciding on declining the request.

Certainly, some of the dialogue around the table may or may not have taken place, but King George was certainly concerned about the national optics of a deposed Russian leader and his family taking refuge in the U.K.

At the time, pro-Bolshevik views were taking effect worldwide, including in England. Many of the British saw Russia as a new ally and didn’t want to anger the new government by welcoming a previous leader. Plus, the family had ties to Germany, another opponent in World War I. So, he doubted the population would likely be supportive of efforts to give shelter to a former leader.

In a historical letter, he shared that even if he personally had nothing but love for his cousin and his family, he had to decline the request for the good of the nation.

The decision unfortunately sealed the fate of the family. Soon after, they were all executed, including the children.

Relations between the countries, especially world leaders, were also strained for more than a century. Though the U.K. and Great Britain ended up as allies during World War II, there was also some degree of distrust.

As a footnote in real life and on “The Crown,” Prince Phillip was asked to provide a DNA sample to help the Russians positively identify the Romanov’s remains before they were reburied at Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg in 1998.

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