What Really Happened When Jackie Kennedy Met Queen Elizabeth

Prince Philip, Jackie Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II and John Kennedy at a reception at the White House in Washington, in the United States, on June 5, 1961.
Photo: S010/COLLECTION SALINGER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

If you have been watching The Crown, Netflix’s hit series about the life of Queen Elizabeth, you may have been surprised to see American royalty visit with British royalty, when Jackie and John F. Kennedy stopped by Buckingham Palace. Like much of the show, the story was based on real history.

In June 1961, just months after JFK started his presidential term, the Kennedys paid a visit to the Queen, bringing a signed portrait of the president in a silver Tiffany’s frame, with a message he had handwritten: “To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, with appreciation and the highest esteem, John F. Kennedy.” The Queen threw a banquet in their honor, which Prime Minister Harold Macmillan described in his diary as “very pleasant.” In a birthday note to the Queen, JFK himself remembered the festivities fondly. “May I also at the same time say how grateful my wife and I are for the cordial hospitality offered to us by your Majesty and Prince Philip during our visit to London last Monday,” he wrote. “We shall always cherish the memory of that delightful evening.”

While The Crown may have exaggerated the exchange, according to Jackie’s confidantes, Cecil Beaton and Gore Vidal, Jackie did have some criticisms of Queen Elizabeth following the actual 1961 meeting. Per The Telegraph, Beaton claimed that Kennedy “was unimpressed by the palace furnishings and by the Queen’s dress and hairstyle.” And, according to Reader’s Digest, Jackie supposedly told Vidal, “I think the queen resented me. Philip was nice, but nervous. One felt absolutely no relationship between them.”

According to The Telegraph, that wasn’t all. Vidal also claimed that after their meeting, Jackie described Elizabeth as “pretty heavy going.” When Vidal mentioned the comment to Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, years later, she is said to have retorted, “But that’s what she’s there for.” In The Crown, Jackie apologized for speaking unkindly about the Queen, blaming her loose lips on medication, but it’s unclear whether that happened in real life—or even if the Queen knew about Jackie’s disrespect. What history tells us, though, is that when Jackie was in London the following year, the Queen invited her to lunch and Jackie later told the press that she was “grateful” for the invitation and found the Queen “charming.” The friendship seemed to recover from the rumors. When JFK was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, Prince Philip attended the funeral. Later, Queen Elizabeth opened a memorial dedicated to JFK in England and Jackie and her children attended the ceremony.

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