The Real Story Behind the Spy Ring Featured in 'The Crown' Season 3

'The Crown' Season 3 covered the Cambridge spy ring, the five British men who spied against the Soviet Union in the '60s and '70s. Details.

Shannon Raphael - Author

Nov. 18 2019, Updated 2:44 p.m. ET

Source: Netflix

Netflix released Season 3 of The Crown on Nov. 17, and like with every other season of the show, fans are wondering how much of the events covered actually happened to the British royal family. The highly anticipated third season was set in the '60s and '70s, and one of the major storylines concerned the Cambridge spy ring, which was a group of five British spies who secretly worked for the Soviet Union during the beginning of the Cold War.

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The show featured Sir Anthony Blunt, who was one of Queen Elizabeth's most trusted advisors for decades until it was revealed that he was using his insider position to help the enemy. 

How accurate was The Crown's portrayal of the Cambridge spy ring? Keep reading to find out!

Source: Netflix

Samuel West as Anthony Blunt

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How accurate was The Crown's Cambridge spy ring?

There were a lot of salacious plotlines in Season 3, not the least of which was Princess Margaret's divorce, but the revelation that there was a spy ring member working inside the palace initially seemed like it was ripped straight out of a movie, not the headlines. 

Sir Anthony Blunt worked as Queen Elizabeth's advisor in art. He helped her pick her artwork, and was knighted for his efforts in 1956. But, in 1964, it was revealed that he was a member of the elusive Cambridge 5, a group of men recruited from Cambridge, the prestigious university, to disseminate inside information to the Soviets. 

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Samuel West portrayed the character on the show, and though he was only briefly seen during the moment when Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) found out he was really working against her, the story is far more complicated than that. 

Source: YouTube
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In actuality, Anthony Blunt and the four others in the Cambridge 5 were recruited in the '30s to work as spies while they were all still students at Cambridge University. Their jobs were to collect any intelligence they could on the British, and Anthony was of particular importance when he took a job at the palace. He worked there for 19 years before his dishonesty was discovered. Queen Elizabeth, understandably, felt betrayed, especially since Anthony was a (albeit far removed) family member. 

His spy status was discovered when he tried to recruit American Michael Strait (who is portrayed in The Crown scene) into the KGB. Anthony was given immunity in exchange for testifying about the others in the Cambridge 5, and he later said that he joined because of how Cambridge students were subscribing to communist ideals at the time.

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Anthony was stripped of his knighthood by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. News of his spy status was only released to the public in 1979, just four years before Anthony died. He was allowed to stay on as Queen Elizabeth's art advisor before that, apparently, because the Palace feared that he wouldn't be cooperative if he was forced to leave.

Source: YouTube
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His testimony was only made public 25 years after his death, which was in 2009. He noted that becoming a spy was the biggest mistake he had ever made, and it will live on even further in The Crown.

What happened to the other members of the Cambridge 5?

Interestingly, though all identities are known of those who were in the Cambridge 5, none were ever prosecuted for working against the British. Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess were the first members to be discovered when they escaped to the Soviet Union in 1951. They had both worked as diplomats, and they were known for spilling their real job information after having a few drinks. 

Kim Philby was a senior officer in M16 (one branch of the British Intelligence service). He spent 54 years total as a spy for the KGB. In the '60s, he also escaped to the Soviet Union after fearing that he would be harmed once it was revealed that he was a spy.

John Cairncross worked as a scholar and was the most elusive of the Cambridge 5. Though he confessed to spy activity in 1951, his identity in the group was not publicized until 1990. 

The Crown Season 3 is available to stream on Netflix.

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