Queen Elizabeth's relationships with US presidents
Queen Elizabeth II's 70-year reign spanned the rule of 14 US presidents, all of whom she met except one. These relationships, writes Lauren Good, provide us with an intimate understanding of the alliance between Britain and the United States...
Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign spanned the rule of 14 US presidents, all of whom she met except Lyndon B Johnson. These encounters were more diverse than might be expected, and ranged from traditional teas at Buckingham Palace to the Queen tasting her first enchilada at an American ranch.
And her meetings were not short of the occasional mishap. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter caused consternation when he kissed the Queen Mother and, more recently, President Donald Trump broke royal protocol by standing ahead of Her Majesty during an inspection of the Royal Guard.
Some meetings, though, were triumphant. Queen Elizabeth II exchanged letters with President Dwight D Eisenhower for years after their first meeting, and even shared a family scone recipe. She also found common ground with President Ronald Reagan over their love of horses, and he was the first US president to stay the night at Windsor Castle.
Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with each president was unique, and provides an intimate understanding of the enduring alliance between Britain and the United States since the mid-20th century.
President Harry Truman, 1945–53
The Queen was a princess when she first met Harry Truman in 1951. She was only 25 years old and was visiting the United States on behalf of her father, King George VI, who was unwell at the time of the scheduled overseas trip.
She disembarked from the plane wearing – some observed at the time – a little more makeup than usual. But she needn’t have worried about first impressions: “Whenever anyone becomes acquainted with you,” Truman told her that day, “they immediately fall in love.”
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When greeting Truman, she said: “In that other proud capital where I live, and in Canada from where I have just come, we also are determined to work with all our strength for freedom and for peace.”
These words provided a glimpse of the future relations between the British monarchy and the US federation.
President Dwight Eisenhower, 1953–61
President Eisenhower hosted Elizabeth II for her first state visit to the US as Queen, at a banquet in the White House. Along with his black tails and white shirt, Eisenhower wore the British Order of Merit award given to him by the Queen’s father, George VI. This was in recognition of his work as the supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, during the Second World War.
Eisenhower also visited the Queen at Balmoral Castle in August 1959, during which he was promised a family recipe for scones. We can see from her letters that this was, indeed, shared.
President John F Kennedy, 1961–63
John F Kennedy was the first president to be hosted by Queen Elizabeth II in London. He visited Buckingham Palace with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during their tour of France, Austria, and the UK in 1961.
However, their meeting was not all smooth sailing, and there were reported tensions between Queen Elizabeth and Jacqueline. Cecil Beaton, who photographed the First Lady numerous times, later claimed she was “unimpressed by the palace furnishings and by the Queen’s dress and hairstyle.”
Despite these earlier strains, Queen Elizabeth corresponded with Kennedy until his assassination in 1963.
Following the president’s death, a memorial was erected in Surrey in his honour, where Jacqueline and the former president’s children joined the Queen in paying tribute.
President Lyndon B Johnson, 1963–69
Queen Elizabeth did not meet President Lyndon B Johnson. The palace or White House has never offered any definitive explanation for this, but it is supposed this could be because his presidency was consumed by the Vietnam War.
However, Princess Margaret, the Queen’s younger sister, attended a White House dinner dance in November 1965, maintaining the diplomatic ties between the British royal family and the US presidency. During the evening, both Princess Margaret and the president made speeches, and later partnered in a dance to 'Everything’s Coming Up Roses'.
President Richard Nixon, 1969–74
Queen Elizabeth first met Richard Nixon when he was Eisenhower’s vice president. A few weeks after his inauguration as president, on 15 February 1969, he visited Buckingham Palace.
After this, Prince Charles and Princess Anne made an official visit to the United States. It was at this time that Nixon reportedly attempted to instigate a union between his daughter, Tricia, and Prince Charles. Once the royal family had left, Tricia declared the prince an “excellent dancer” and that “the house is going to seem empty without them”.
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King Charles III later commented on the visit, recalling with apparently less fondness “the time when they were trying to marry me off to Tricia Nixon”.
Ultimately, Nixon failed in his efforts to influence Tricia’s matrimonial choices. Less than a year following the royal’s visit, she married Edward Cox in the White House Rose Garden.
A decade later, in July 1981, Charles married Lady Diana Spencer.
President Gerald Ford, 1974–77
Queen Elizabeth met President Gerald Ford along with Prince Phillip during a state visit to the US, for the bicentennial celebrations of the Declaration of Independence. She was also hosted by First Lady Betty Ford.
When being escorted to the Yellow Oval Room, the Ford’s second oldest son, Jack, appeared with an undone shirt and studs in hand. Betty Ford recalled the Queen having said, “Oh think nothing of it. I have one of those [a son] at home.”
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Later, in her toast, the Queen described the union between Great Britain and the United States: “History is not a fairy tale,” she said. “What is more important is that our shared language and traditions and history have given us a common vision of what is right and just.”
Betty Ford referred to the Queen’s visit in her memoirs, writing: “If I hadn't kept mixing up Your Highness and Your Majesty, I'd give myself four stars for the way that visit went off.”
President Jimmy Carter, 1977–81
President Jimmy Carter attended Buckingham Palace for a NATO convention on 10 May 1977. When he was introduced to the Queen Mother, he committed the ultimate faux pas by kissing her on the lips. “Nobody has done that since my husband died,” she remarked.
The Queen Mother later commented on the blunder, saying “I took a sharp step backwards – not quite far enough.”
President Ronald Reagan, 1981–89
Queen Elizabeth seems to have been most comfortable with President Ronald Reagan, and met with him many times. He was the first US president to stay the night at Windsor Castle, and visited with his wife, Nancy Reagan, on 8 June 1982. This was one of his three visits to the UK.
During the first stay, Elizabeth II and Reagan bonded over their love of horses, and rode through the Windsor estate for over an hour.
Reagan later described this trip as a “fairy-tale visit” in his memoir, and one of the most “fun” moments of his presidency. He also admitted to the Queen being “quite an accomplished horsewoman”.
Later, the Reagans hosted Her Majesty and Prince Phillip at their home, Rancho del Cielo, near Santa Barbara. There, she first ate enchiladas, tacos, and refried beans which she later mistakenly referred to as “used”.
In 1989, the Queen awarded Reagan with an honorary knighthood, a certain symbol of their close relationship.
President George HW Bush, 1989–93
President Bush and Barbara Bush had lunch at Buckingham Palace in 1989, where they met with the Queen and Prince Phillip.
Two years later, the Queen attended a Major League Baseball game in Baltimore with Bush. According to onlookers, she fully immersed herself in the proceedings, and even held a receiving line with the players in the Orioles dugout.
President Bill Clinton, 1993–2001
Queen Elizabeth first met President Bill Clinton at a dinner on 4 June 1994 in Portsmouth, for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. They met again in 1995 at Buckingham Palace, accompanied by First Lady Hilary Clinton.
President Clinton recorded his thoughts of the Queen in his memoir: “Her Majesty impressed me as someone who but for the circumstance of her birth, might have become a successful politician or diplomat. As it was, she had to be both, without quite seeming to be either.”
President George W Bush, 2001–2009
Her Majesty met President George W Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at Buckingham Palace in 2001.
His later return in 2003 was overshadowed by street demonstrations over the war in Iraq. Security was, therefore, very heavy, and the visit was highly controlled.
Four years later, the Queen visited President George Bush at the White House. “If the Atlantic unites, not divides us,” she said during this trip, “ours is a partnership always to be reckoned with in the defence of freedom and the spread of prosperity. That is the lesson of my lifetime. Administrations in your country, and governments in mine, may come and go… But united we must always remain.”
President Barak Obama, 2009–2017
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama made a state visit to Buckingham Palace on 1 April 2009.
Obama presented Her Majesty with an iPod containing video footage of her previous visits to the United States, along with recordings of Broadway songs. She also received a signed songbook by composer Richard Rogers.
Michelle Obama revealed in her memoir Becoming that she made a faux pas by placing her arm around the Queen. Her Majesty was believed to have taken no offence, as she politely returned the gesture.
“She is truly one of my favourite people,” President Obama commented in 2016. “She’s an astonishing person, and a real jewel to the world and not just to the United Kingdom”.
President Donald Trump, 2017–2021
President Trump visited the Queen at Windsor Castle on 13 July, 2018.
In keeping with tradition, Trump carried out an inspection of the Royal Guard on the palace grounds. However, in a much publicised faux pas, he cut in front of the Queen and blocked her path. The proceedings continued once she had resumed her proper position.
President Joe Biden 2021–
The Queen met Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden on 11 June 2021, at the Group of Seven summit reception in Cornwall. He was the 13th, and last, US president she met during her reign.
Prince Phillip had died only two months prior to this visit, and Biden paid tribute to him during a speech he made the day before. “Today would have been Prince Philip's 100th birthday," he said. "I know there are a lot of people feeling his absence today."
Her Majesty also had an audience with Biden on 13 June at Windsor Castle. Following their meeting, Biden noted the Queen’s graciousness and said she reminded him of his own mother.
He and Jill Biden noted Queen Elizabeth’s legacy after her death, saying “she was more than a monarch. She defined an era.”
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