The Queen and Jackie Kennedy's Blood-Covered Dress: Did Elizabeth Really Meet Jacqueline Onassis?

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Claire Foy and Jodi Balfour as Queen Elizabeth II and Jackie Kennedy in Netflix's "The Crown" Season 2. Netflix

The Crown Season 2 syncs up British history with American pop culture by dedicating an entire episode, "Dear Mrs. Kennedy," to Queen Elizabeth II's relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The episode speeds up Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Jackie's (Jodi Balfour) fraught rivalry, fitting their entire relationship into a single hour.

By the end of the episode, Jackie appears on television after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, and Elizabeth is mesmerized to see she's still wearing her blood-soaked pink Chanel dress. In the episode's final scenes, the queen can only pace around Buckingham Palace, unable to help her frenemy beyond grand political gestures.

So how did Jackie and Elizabeth treat each other in private?

As with all subjects The Crown touches, it's difficult to say for sure whether Netflix's drama takes liberties with connecting the dots. (The "dots," however, are pretty realistic in this episode.) We don't know, for instance, if Jackie insulted Elizabeth at a bar because the first lady was allegedly high on a cocktail of drugs.

We do know, however, that the infamous Max Jacobson, aka "Dr. Feelgood," visited the White House more than 30 times between 1961 and 1962. Feelgood's other clients—including Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams—were given injections of "highly addictive liquid methamphetamine and steroids" loosely masked as vitamins. It's not confirmed, though it's plausible, that Jackie may have been under the good doctor's influence while visiting the queen.

The possibly drugged-up Kennedys meet the queen and Prince Philip in "The Crown." Netflix

That said, historians agree that the queen resented Jackie before they even met. Despite being the same age as Elizabeth, Jackie was considered a style icon (not to mention almost a modern American queen in her own right).

As Vogue describes, the exact nature of the rivalry between the two women is among the most plausible plotlines on The Crown, though Robert Lacey, the show's historian, says, "I think that the personal tension between Elizabeth and Jackie is speculative. I'm not saying it didn't exist. You can't say it's false; you can't say it's true."

Still, The Crown does pull some punches. The show ignores, for example, the complex, passive-aggressive situation that preceded Jackie and Elizabeth's meeting. The queen hosted a dinner for the Kennedys, and she knew Jackie would want to be photographed with her stylish sister, Princess Margaret. So Elizabeth kept the princess off the guest list. That was on top of Elizabeth's refusal to allow Jackie's sister and brother-in-law, a twice-divorced man, to attend the dinner. All of that added up to a tense situation before the Kennedys even reached the palace, which explains a bit more of the ill feelings between the two women on display in The Crown.

Jackie Kennedy as she appears in "The Crown." Netflix

The Crown also underemphasizes the harrowing nature of President Kennedy's assassination and the way both Elizabeth and Jackie responded to his murder.

On November 22, 1963, while President Kennedy was riding with Jackie in a motorcade in Texas, he was shot twice and killed. After the first shot hit Kennedy in the upper spine, Jackie reacted by trying to put her arms around her husband. A second bullet entered the back of Kennedy's skull, spraying Jackie with blood, bone fragments and brain matter. Jackie later explained that she had tried, in her immediate panic, to climb onto the trunk of the car she and her husband were riding in, in order to grab the piece of his skull that was sliding down and onto the street. According to his memoir, Secret Service agent Clint Hill ran up to the car and shoved Jackie back into the seat in order to protect her.

In the final few scenes of the episode, Elizabeth and the queen mother watch Jackie on television, climbing into a car while still wearing her pink Chanel suit, splattered with her husband's blood. That image is real—Jackie defiantly wore the bloody suit while standing in the photographs of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as president on Air Force One, telling the aides who tried to help her, "Let them see what they've done."

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Jackie Kennedy, still wearing her pink Chanel suit, stands next to Lyndon B. Johnson as he is sworn in as President on board Air Force One. Wikimedia Commons

The Crown doesn't suggest that Elizabeth knew the full horrors of Kennedy's assassination. But what is clear, on both the show and in real life, is that the queen wasn't used to seeing such a public display of grief, and it inspired a period of mourning at the palace. As Claire Foy does in The Crown, the real Elizabeth decreed that the bell in Westminster Abbey should ring for Jack Kennedy as it had for late members of the royal family.

We'll never know what the women said to each other behind closed doors, but it's clear that the queen reacted with deep grief and horror to the death of Jackie's husband.