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The Crown: Scientia Potentia Est

“The Queen must never know how much we’ve kept from her.”


In this episode, Elizabeth discovers some of the depths of her ignorance, both in her education and her lack of knowledge regarding what is going on in her own government. The government is weakened by the physical problems of the men in its two top positions: Churchill, who suffers not one but two strokes, and Eden, who has gallbladder problems.


The episode starts in 1940, with airplanes flying overhead – World War II is in full swing – with young Elizabeth learning her lessons. The first words show us how different the princess’s education is from most kids’ – in French, she is reminded that the sovereign must always start the meal. Later there are some great scenes at Eton – I especially like how she is in blue in the center while the Eton youths, all identically dressed in black – swirl around her.

The young Elizabeth, who is being instructed in the Constitution – something truly practical for a future monarch – has a touching moment when she wonders what the other students learn. Eton’s Vice Provost shows her a few exam papers of the youths, but dismisses the knowledge as unimportant for her. Would he have dismissed the information if he had been lecturing a prince instead of a princess? I think the probability is lower, but I don’t know.

When we return to the time of Queen Elizabeth, the background has several reminders of the world’s scientific progress. The Russians are testing an H-bomb. There’s a reference to Mr. Einstein changing his mind again, about what, the Queen Mother does not know.

The episode gives us some lovely artistic shots, treating both eyes and ears. Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, has an illness-related episode on the plane, and the sound is distorted the way it sometimes does when you’re ill. We have several excellent scenes with the ailing leaders: Eden collapsed in some American building, Churchill as he suffers two strokes. I really liked how the hospitalized Eden compelled Churchill to proclaim (with everyone listening in) how important he was. But after Eden demands this admission, he states that without the surgery he will die. Eden, at this point, is facing the reality of his situation. Of course, Eden, with the surgery, has a chance of recovery (and did not die until 1977, so it must have worked), while Churchill is a very old man and strokes are tricky and often death’s harbinger.

Queen Elizabeth is unaware of the crisis in the government, and is consumed by two things. First, the stiff and proper Tommy Lascelles is about to retire, and she prefers the junior replacement to the senior, but Tommy really thinks it should be the senior. Second, she is tired of being ignorant around the leaders of government, who are often intellectual men who rose on merit.

Queen Elizabeth, in an attempt to mend the holes in her education, employs Professor Hogg who starts by asking what she already knows. The queen is mortified to discover how little that is, and she goes to reproach her mother, who retorts that at least Elizabeth had more education than Margaret. The Queen Mother says: “We all have to accept our limitations in life.” But Queen Elizabeth does not. In a sense this is a real coming-of-age story, as Elizabeth realizes how imperfect her parents were and decides not to accept their limitations.

Only by accident does Queen Elizabeth discover that the two top men are incapacitated. She invites Colville to the palace, intending to ask advice about the matter of the private secretary, but he assumes that she wants information about the condition of Churchill and Eden and spills the beans.

I had the sense that Professor Hogg is the only one truly on her side. Is that because everyone else, thanks to palace intrigue, have their own agendas while he is from outside the palace? Because she hired him and his loyalty is only to her? Or because as someone who is truly intellectual he has his own source of power and does not need any of hers? (Perhaps an idealized representation of intellectuals; I have been around professors my entire life and some were real backstabbers.) At any rate, Hogg is the one who encourages Queen Elizabeth to scold the leading men in her government, reminding her that she has right and principle on her side. And she does. And although I liked the conversation and I liked the conclusion, I rather wish the Queen had reached this decision without needing to be bolstered by some elderly male.

Power does not come to those who wait patiently. Power has to be claimed. The same is true of knowledge. It’s great if your parents arranged a first-rate education, but if they didn’t, railing at them won’t fill the gaps. You have to go out and get it for yourself.

(On the other hand, discussing a situation with many people before making a decision is a way to gather information.)

Elizabeth dresses down Lord Salisbury sternly, but is gentler with Churchill, possibly because of his age, because he is the PM, because he did do a lot to defeat Hitler, or simply because he is now a stroke victim and may not be able to withstand the wrath of his Queen. At any rate, she allows him a face-saving statement – “I can retire now because you are ready.” In my opinion he did little to prepare her to become ready, except in insisting that PMs should always stand in the presence of their sovereigns.

The episode gives us some salacious banter between Philip and Elizabeth at the end, which seems a little out of place but reminds us that they are different people when they have that chance. Philip complains that he is out of the loop – again conceding potential power. And Elizabeth decides to go with Tommy Lascelles’ recommendation for his replacement, perhaps feeling she has been defiant enough in this episode.

Title musings. The title, “Scientia potentia est,” is Latin, which translates as “knowledge is power.” Also scientia sounds a lot like science and potentia sounds like potential. Science is in the background here, and we are reminded that the UK is not the leader of the scientific world these days. Russia is testing an H-bomb. The Americans have the medical expert needed by Eden. These are both signs that these two countries have eclipsed the dignified UK, no matter what Churchill pontificates. President Eisenhower also did plenty in the war, and deserves a little more credit than Winston is willing to give.

Bits and pieces

When young Elizabeth catches a glimpse of what the Eton students are learning, we see a little bit about triangles. How could you deny any student the beauty of trigonometry? Trigonometry combines the study of the polygon with the fewest number of sides, the triangle, with the polygon with the greatest the circle (its number of sides can be perceived as infinite).

I imagine that after WWII most people have a pretty good idea with respect to first aid, so the aide giving Eden a shot is understandable.

Liked the dial tone when Eden hung up on Churchill. Eden is at least facing the fact that he is mortal.

The Queen Mother is watching TV when her daughter reproaches her for lack of education. We are reminded this is the pre-remote era, because the TV remains on during the scene.

Eisenhower was acutely aware of the danger of the military industrial complex and how it would start wars to feed itself.

“I can’t just give them a dressing down, like children.” This bit of dialogue reminds me of a female employee I had who was intimidated by reporting to the corporate boards. I told her to yell at them like she would her kids.


French governess: C’est toujours le souverain qui commence le repas.

Anthony Eden: And I need the surgery, Winston. It’s my life that’s at stake now.

Professor Hogg: but this isn’t about education or intelligence. This is about integrity and principle.

Overall rating

I liked this episode a lot. First, its focus appealed to me, because I love learning. Second, I was relieved not to be dealing with Philip’s whining about where he lives or the romance of Margaret and Townsend. Third, I am a sucker for coming-of-age stories. Fourth, I believe in scolding old men who think they have the right to lie and cheat to stay in power. Four out of four red copybooks.

Victoria Grossack loves birds, math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.


  1. Very much enjoying your recaps and comments, Victoria. I blew through these episodes a few months ago, so now I get to experience them a little slower by reading your pieces.

  2. That was very interesting that Elizabeth's education was so limited. I had just assumed that royalty received very good educations, boys and girls.

    I felt bad for Elizabeth, she had to fight the men running things for everything that she wanted. She was told over and over that what matters is protocol, tradition, and the way things have always been done. I kept wanting her to tell them that she was Queen, so do what she wanted. I guess she had to pick her battles.

  3. I loved Claire Foy's performance in this episode. She felt like a Queen, and it was so admirable that she realized how lacking her education was and took steps to remedy it when let's face it --
    she sure didn't have to. I'm not into fashion but I also loved every dress she wore this time. And I kept feeling incensed that she couldn't have Martin instead of Michael. If the Queen can't have the personal secretary that she wants, who can?

    John Lithgow is an amazing actor. I had to love that moment when she dressed Churchill down and his face actually crumpled.

  4. The whole episode led up to the scene with Elizabeth and Churchill and, wow did it work. For the first time, she seemed confident and mature. Churchill's realization of how far she has come and what the consequences of his actions are were fantastic.


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