On 8th September, Britain’s longest serving monarch died at the age of 96, after a historic 70 years on the throne.
During her seven-decade reign, she met some of the most influential and remarkable people in the world, including 15 British Prime Ministers and 13 Presidents of the United States.
She always conducted herself with great dignity and kindness, overlooking any inadvertent breaches of protocol that new heads of state committed and helping them through their first meeting.
Today, we look back at some of the Queen’s most notable meetings, as we fondly remember Britain’s much-loved monarch, who will be so dearly missed.
Sir Winston Churchill
During his visit to Balmoral Castle, when he came to speak with her father; Princess Elizabeth first met Britain’s famous wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, when she was only two years old. The princess was 13 at the outbreak of World War II.
Churchill became PM after his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, resigned due to ill health in 1940. As he guided Britain to victory, the teenage princess grew up with very high regard for Churchill.
She first met him officially when she became Queen, after King George’s death on 6th February 1952. Following their first meeting, Churchill had a very high opinion of the new Queen, who was only 25. She had “quickly captivated” the PM, who sensed her “immense sense of duty” early on, according to his daughter, Mary.
While he was PM, they met every Tuesday to discuss the affairs of state. Churchill looked forward to their meetings, helping to guide Her Majesty through her early years with his expertise and experience.
After declining health forced him to step down as PM in 1955, he paid tribute to Elizabeth, remarking how her “wise and lively” upbringing had made her a modern sovereign who carried out her duties “by instinct”. He praised her “Royal resolve to serve, as well as rule”.
The Queen wrote to Churchill, telling him no subsequent PM could ever take his place, as he had provided her with “wise guidance” during her first years as monarch.
Queen Elizabeth first met Pope Francis at the Vatican in April 2014. She presented him with a generous hamper filled with traditional British foods to mark their meeting.
Appearing “relaxed and at ease” when chatting to the 77-year-old Pope in the small papal studio; the Queen’s meeting with Pope Francis, leader of the global population of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, was described at the time as a “reaffirmation” of the tie between the Church of England and the Holy See. It took place 100 years after diplomatic relations between the two were re-established.
The Pope ditched the official protocol of the Queen having to wear black to meet him when he was told she was having lunch with the Italian Prime Minister first. Included in her schedule was a short delay, so she could change from the lilac outfit she wore for lunch. The Pope suggested to the Queen to “come as you are”- a highly unusual move.
The diplomatic visit helped ease tensions, at a time when the Church of England’s push for female bishops and the ordination of female priests could have put them on a collision course. However, the Queen’s easy manner and well-thought-out conversation ensured it went without a hitch.
Evidence of the more informal approach emerged when the Queen and the Pope appeared to embrace briefly during their meeting.
On hearing the news of the Queen’s passing, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales sent condolences and prayers to the grieving royal family.
Queen Elizabeth met Mahatma Gandhi, the anti-colonial campaigner and president of the Indian National Congress, when she was a child in the 1930s. He was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace by her father, King George VI, following the Round Table Conference – a series of peace talks between the British Government and Indian political leaders.
Gandhi represented the poor of India, as well as the Congress, and wore traditional garb, refusing to conform to the British custom of dressing up for dinner.
When the Queen married Prince Philip in 1947, just after India gained independence from Britain, Gandhi sent a gift that Elizabeth treasured for the rest of her life. He personally made the royal couple an intricate tablecloth, spun from yarn on his own loom. He had embroidered the words “Jai Hind” on the cloth, meaning “Long live India”. Buckingham Palace still has the special gift in its possession. It was said that Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s cousin, suggested the unique wedding present.
When Queen Elizabeth first went to India in 1961, following Gandhi’s tragic assassination in 1948, she paid her respects at his memorial, Raj Ghat, in the capital. Meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018, she proudly showed him the crocheted lace cloth that Gandhi had given her 71 years earlier.
Michelle and Barack Obama
The Queen met the US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, in May 2011 in London, during their state visit to Britain. It was later reported that Michelle Obama made a blunder when she fondly placed her hand on the Queen’s back.
In her memoirs, Michelle revealed how she found out some time later that she had committed “an epic faux pas” in terms of protocol. However, in her usual fashion of making everyone feel at ease, Elizabeth had reacted kindly. Michelle wrote how the Queen had reciprocated the well-meant gesture, standing closer to her and “resting a gloved hand” on her back.
The Obamas visited the Queen three times while in office and she hoped they would come again, even after his term as US President ended. She reportedly spoke of having a “soft spot” for the Americans, although it would have been unprecedented for a president to visit the Queen after his term had ended.
They reportedly considered the Queen as one of their old friends, with Michelle having developed a particularly close bond with her. Paying a touching tribute following her death, the Obamas said her reign had been “defined by grace, elegance and a tireless work ethic”, praising her “dignified public service and generosity”.
The Queen shared a genuine bond with the former actor Ronald Reagan when she met him in his role as President of the United States. Both had a great love of horses, a topic of conversation they both truly enjoyed.
Reagan became the first US President to stay at Windsor Castle. In 1983, he later hosted Queen Elizabeth for a stay at his California ranch. In a newspaper interview afterwards, he spoke of their shared love of horses and told reporters she was a “delightful person” and a “truly fine and gracious lady”. Pictures appeared in the media of President Reagan and the Queen laughing together in San Francisco, appearing to be enjoying each other’s company immensely.
At a dinner with President Reagan, the Queen commented how the most important idea they shared was their “belief in freedom”, adding, “Our two countries have fought to keep it alive.”
The Queen was truly an amazing inspiration to all and will always be remembered for her seven decades of dedicated service to this country and her subjects. Rest in peace, Your Majesty.
Queen Elizabeth II – © Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com
Winston Churchill – Public Domain
Mahatma Gandhi – Public Domain
Michelle and Barack Obama – © K2 images / Shutterstock.com
Pope Francis – © neneo / Shutterstock.com
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