Queen Elizabeth II died yesterday at the age of 96. She reigned for 70 years, beginning in 1953 when she was just 25. For most of us, she’d been the only British monarch we’d ever known. It’s hard to fathom how different the world was when her reign began—when an 18-year-old Elvis Presley cut his very first record, when Apple founder Steve Jobs was two years from being born. In a time sick with change, she was a constant.
And the constant for the Queen? Her faith. And while she was never particularly demonstrative about it—she was British, after all—we see elements of that faith in perhaps the entertainment world’s most sprawling story about her: The Crown, on Netflix.
“She has always been deeply religious,” Robert Lacey, the show’s historical consultant, told PEOPLE magazine. Her Christian faith is fundamental to her in an old-time evangelical way, deriving from the example of her mother, who knelt at her bedside every night to say her prayers. It is said that the Queen does the same.”
In Season 1, as a young Elizabeth (played by Emmy-winning Claire Foy) begins her queenly journey, she’s schooled by her dying grandmother on her divine responsibilities.
“Monarchy is God’s sacred mission to grace and dignify the earth,” she says. “That is why you are crowned in an abbey, not a government building. Why you are anointed, not appointed.” A flashback to Elizabeth’s father, George VI, again reinforces that sense of sanctification, saying that the process of anointing brings him into “direct contact with the divine.”
Season 2 pushed into Elizabeth’s own sense of faith: The theme of forgiveness was an incredibly part of the season (as Elizabeth wrestled with what to do with her uncle, the former King Edward VIII. And it featured an entire episode devoted to her meeting the American evangelist Billy Graham—where Elizabeth tells him that she wants to be a “simple Christian.”
The real queen and the real Billy Graham were real friends—so much so that Graham wrote about her in his autobiography, Just As I Am.
“No one in Britain has been more cordial toward us than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” he wrote. “Almost every occasion I have been with her has been in a warm, informal setting, such as a luncheon or dinner, either alone or with a few family members or other close friends.”
Season 3 might’ve been the show’s most religious—even if it focused more on Elizabeth’s wayward husband. “Moondust,” an episode that takes place around th 1969 moon landing an the death of Philip’s mother, a woman of deep piety who became a nun. By the end of the episode, Philip gives one of the show’s most startling spiritual statements—confessing his own lack of faith and his sudden desire to rekindle it. He says:
There wasn’t a specific moment when it started. It’s been more a gradual thing: a drip, drip, drip of doubt, disaffection, disease, discomfort… My mother died recently. She saw that something was amiss. It’s a good word, that: ‘A-miss.’ She saw that something was missing in her youngest child, her only son: faith. ‘How’s your faith?’, she asked me. I’m here to admit to you that I’ve lost it. And without it, what is there? The loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing but haunting desolation, ghostly silence, gloom. That is what faithlessness is. As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose.
God’s design and purpose. During her 70 years on the throne—about 47 of which we’ve seen so far on The Crown—Elizabeth watched the designs of humankind twist and go awry, their purposes go astray. Her own job required more flexibility than the Queen was sometimes credited with. But it also required her to see beyond the ever-changing cultural eddies to something eternal: The rock on which, apparently, she built her house.
The Queen is dead. Long live the King.