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Who Was Sir Anthony Blunt, the Queen's "Art Advisor"?

Spoiler: He wasn't just an art advisor.

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Anthony Blunt - Courtauld Institute of Art
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Spoilers for The Crown season 3 ahead. If you're the King of England, of course you're going to need an art advisor to help you with your collection. And if you needed artistic direction in 1945, you'd call on Sir Anthony Blunt, who shows up in the third season of The Crown, to be your guide.

Initially appointed to serve the King of England, Blunt spent more than two decades helping out at Buckingham Palace, curating the collection of the King and later the Queen. Season three kicks off with the Palace dealing with the unmasking of Blunt's history as a Soviet spy from the '30s through to the '50s.

Blunt knew a lot about art, obviously.

Blunt And Velasquez
Sir Anthony Blunt in 1962
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From 1933 to 1974, Blunt was a professor at the University of London and the director of the Courtauld Institute of Art. (He's often credited for molding it into the institution it is today.) In 1945, he was named the Surveyor of the King's Pictures, and, later, the Queen's Pictures. He was in charge of the Royal Collection for 27 years—one of the largest and richest collections of art in the world.

In 1956, he was knighted as Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order for his work in the role. His contributions expanded the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace, which opened in 1962.

But Blunt was a Soviet spy.

In 1964, Blunt was confronted by British authorities. He confessed he was a Soviet agent and part of a spy ring to secure immunity from prosecution. Blunt claimed he had been recruited by Guy Burgess in the '30s while at Cambridge, but had cut off all contact with the Soviets by 1945.

His secret would not surface to the public until 1979, seven years later, by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He was then immediately stripped of his knighthood. He died four years later, in 1983.

Blunt At Cambridge
Anthony Blunt (left) at Cambridge in December 1929.
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The Queen Mother had suspicions about him.

Blunt was a third cousin of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the late Queen Mother. (Could a world get smaller?!) According to diaries of Guy Liddell, Deputy Director of the MI5, the Queen Mother became interested in Blunt and his motives after he intimated during one of their meetings that he was an atheist. While today that probably wouldn't 100 percent give it away someone was a secret agent for Russia, I have to give a round of snaps to the Queen Mother for her strong instincts.

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II Courtauld Institute of Art Visit - London University
Queen Elizabeth II with Anthony Blunt at the Cortauld Institute of Art in 1959.
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Blunt is played by Samuel West in The Crown.

While Samuel West went to Oxford to study English literature in the mid-80s, acting was ultimately his calling. You've probably spotted him in movies like Howard's End (which he received a BAFTA nomination for,) Darkest Hour, and Notting Hill. Fun fact: his mother, Prunella Scales, played Queen Elizabeth II in Screen One: A Question of Attribution (1991) about the life of Anthony Blunt.

And, in fact, this will be the second time he will play Blunt. His first time channeling the character was in Cambridge Spies (2003).

"The Watsons" - Press Night
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In the series, Blunt is shown immediately as a longtime, trusted advisor to the royal family, and in a moment of pure comedy, the Queen believes Harold Wilson to be the Soviet spy her advisors warn her is in their midst. (Harold Wilson, contrary to rumors at the time, was never a Soviet spy, and he and the Queen formed a strong bond during his tenure as prime minister.) The family is devastated—the Queen appalled, Prince Philip furious—when it emerges that their art advisor, of all things, has been manipulating them.

In the series, the Queen is forced to keep the scandal under wraps to avoid bad press, which means publicly honoring Blunt in a painfully awkward ceremony. This part is true: the Queen did, in fact, have to keep Blunt's true identity a secret, even from her own mother, and the truth wasn't revealed until a full 15 years later. (I imagine the Queen Mother muttering, "I told you so.")


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