Queen Elizabeth II: The monarch’s special relationship with 14 American presidents

During her seven decades of reign, the British sovereign met with all the US leaders in power at the time, with one exception: Lyndon Johnson

Queen Elizabeth II toasts US President Barack Obama at an official dinner in 2011.
Queen Elizabeth II toasts US President Barack Obama at an official dinner in 2011.Lewis Whyld (AP)

She danced with Gerald Ford, rode a horse with Ronald Reagan, who praised her equestrian skills, and planted a tree on the White House lawn with Jimmy Carter. During her seven decades of reign, Queen Elizabeth II saw 14 American presidents come to power and met every one of them, with the sole exception of Lyndon B. Johnson. With some she maintained a strong relationship, such as with Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. With others, like former president Donald Trump, the smiles were much less warm.

Queen Elizabeth always had a close relationship with the United States, a reflection of the special kinship between the former metropolis and its first independent colony. The monarch participated in key commemorations in US history, from the bicentenary of the American declaration of independence, which was celebrated in 1976, to the acts commemorating Jamestown, the foundation of the first British colony on North American soil. Her speech after the September 11 terrorist attacks moved the people of a shocked country. Queen Elizabeth has always been very popular in the United States, a country that has republicanism engraved in its DNA, but at the same time, has always been interested in news of the British royal family. Queen Elizabeth II was, according to all polls, the most beloved living member of the Windsors among the American public, although Diana of Wales, who died in 1997, surpassed her year after year in popularity ratings when she was alive.

“She was the first British monarch to whom people all around the world could feel a personal and immediate connection,” US President Joe Biden said Thursday in a condolence statement signed with his wife, Jill Biden. “Queen Elizabeth II was a stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy who deepened the bedrock Alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States. She helped make our relationship special.”

Under Biden’s orders, the American flag will be flown at half-staff on official buildings on the day of the royal burial. Elizabeth II “stood in solidarity with the United States during our darkest days after 9/11, when she poignantly reminded us that ‘grief is the price we pay for love,’” said Biden.

Other former US presidents have also sent their condolences. “Michelle and I were lucky enough to come to know Her Majesty, and she meant a great deal to us,” said Obama, perhaps the president with the closest personal relationship with the queen. “Back when we were just beginning to navigate life as President and First Lady, she welcomed us to the world stage with open arms and extraordinary generosity.”

He continued: “Time and again, we were struck by her warmth, the way she put people at ease, and how she brought her considerable humor and charm to moments of great pomp and circumstance.”

“Melania and I will always cherish our time together with the queen, and never forget Her Majesty’s generous friendship, great wisdom, and wonderful sense of humor,” said Donald Trump, who attended a state dinner in his honor at Buckingham Palace in 2019. “What a grand and beautiful lady she was — there was nobody like her!”

However, judging by the photos of that dinner, there was limited rapport between the two leaders. The images of the event, which showed Queen Elizabeth II with an unusually stern expression, quickly became fodder for social media.

The first US president the queen met was Harry Truman. She met visited him in 1951, a year before her ascension to the throne, while on a trip to Washington with her husband, Prince Philip.

Six years later, she met Dwight Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, who received the now queen at the White House. Elizabeth II returned the invitation by receiving Eisenhower at Balmoral Castle, her summer residence in Scotland. During his visit, Eisenhower raved about the drop scones ―a type of pancake typical of Scotland. When they returned to the United States, the queen sent them her personal recipe.

The queen’s meeting with John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline was more controversial, according to the gossip at the time. The queen was not very amused, it seems, that Jackie Kennedy asked her sister and brother-in-law, both divorced, to be invited to Buckingham Palace as well. While Jackie Kennedy was disappointed that the two royals she wanted to meet, Princess Margaret and Princess Marina, were not present at the reception. Although any frostiness was soon forgotten: from Washington, JFK sent the queen a message of thanks in which he assured: “We shall always cherish the memory of that delightful evening.”

There was more controversy in 1967, when former US president Gerald Ford asked the queen to dance during a gala dinner at the White House. The invitation was not the source of scandal, but rather the song that was playing at the time: Frank Sinatra’s The Lady is a Tramp.

One of the presidents the queen dealt with most often was Bill Clinton (1993-2001), who was invited along with his wife Hillary Clinton to spend the night on the royal yacht Britannia during the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landing in 1994. Although the Democrat president did not always accept the sovereign’s invitations: in 1997 he declined to attend tea, preferring to spend his visit to London behaving like any other tourist: visiting gardens and going shopping, according to documents published by CNN.

The last US president the queen received was Joe Biden, whom she met last year, in one of her first public acts following the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was also her first meeting with a foreign head of state since the death of her husband, Prince Philip, in April 2021. “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was more than a monarch. She defined an era,” said Biden.

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