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For Queen Elizabeth II, Biden Is U.S. President No. 13

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FALMOUTH, England—President Biden will this weekend undergo a rite of passage experienced by all but one of his predecessors since World War II: a meeting while in office with Queen Elizabeth II.

Mr. Biden became the 13th sitting U.S. president to meet the British monarch at a reception on Friday of the leaders of the Group of Seven nations. He will meet her again with his wife Jill on Sunday for tea at Windsor Castle. In her nearly 70-year reign, the queen has proved an important weapon in Britain’s diplomatic armory, wooing U.S. leaders in good times and the not so good.

While still Princess Elizabeth, she and her husband Prince Philip were hosted in 1951 by President

Harry Truman.

Since becoming queen the following year, she has met every sitting president since

Dwight Eisenhower,

with the exception of Lyndon Johnson, giving her unequaled experience of successive occupants of the Oval Office.

For Queen Elizabeth II, Biden Is U.S. President No. 13 2

While still Princess Elizabeth, she was hosted in 1951 by President Harry Truman.



Photo:

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The 95-year-old monarch is again playing a diplomatic role as the U.K. hosts the G-7 summit on England’s south coast. She and her family hosted a reception for G-7 leaders on Friday evening.

“Are you supposed to look as if you are enjoying yourselves?” the queen quipped as the leaders took part in a socially distanced family photo.

The president will then on Sunday become the fifth U.S. leader the queen has received at Windsor Castle. It won’t be their first meeting: Mr. Biden met the queen while he was senator for Delaware about 40 years ago.

As head of state, the queen’s role is purely ceremonial. The British government makes policy decisions and organizes visits.

“Her role on foreign affairs is arguably one of her most important functions,” said Robert Blackburn, professor of constitutional law at King’s College London. “She doesn’t get involved in political negotiations or talks but all heads of state need to generate goodwill and it’s that capacity for creating goodwill that is so important.”

For Queen Elizabeth II, Biden Is U.S. President No. 13 3

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip with President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy at Buckingham Palace in 1961.



Photo:

Keystone Press Agency/Zuma Press

The queen’s reign has coincided with a period when the U.K. has needed America on its side more than ever. From the Cold War to its exit from the European Union, Britain has repeatedly leaned on its U.S. ally.

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In the latest chapter, Mr. Biden and British Prime Minister

Boris Johnson

met on Thursday and signed a new Atlantic Charter—an updated version of the historic document the two nations signed in 1941 aimed at underscoring their vision for the democratic world. “It’s been a needy relationship throughout her reign,” said Robert Hazell, a professor at the University College London.

The first official royal visit to the U.S. came in 1939 when the queen’s father, George VI, urged America to get more involved in European affairs as World War II loomed. 

Her first state visit as queen to the U.S. was in 1957 when she met Mr. Eisenhower. She subsequently hosted John F. Kennedy in Buckingham Palace in 1961, went horse riding with

Ronald Reagan

in 1982 and most recently in 2019 hosted

Donald Trump’s

family.

America ousted the British monarchy but its leaders have often seemed enamored by the queen. Part of her appeal is her longevity, royal watchers say. Few people can say “the hand you are shaking now has welcomed every president going back 70 years,” said Prof. Hazell.

Not all brushes with the U.S. have gone smoothly, with several breaches of protocol that the queen has shrugged off. During the 1951 visit, which followed Winston Churchill’s victory in a British general election, an elderly American lady accosted Princess Elizabeth and said, “I am so pleased your father has been re-elected,” the late Prince Philip once recalled.

In 1976, Gerald Ford took the queen onto the dance floor and the band began playing “The Lady Is a Tramp.” In 2009,

Michelle Obama

put her arm around the queen. In 2019, the queen nimbly sidestepped past Mr. Trump when he appeared to break protocol and walk in front of her.

For Queen Elizabeth II, Biden Is U.S. President No. 13 4

The queen and President Donald Trump inspected a guard of honor during a ceremony at Windsor Castle in 2018.



Photo:

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

In recent months, courtiers worry that America’s view of the monarchy has been damaged by a split in the royal ranks. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex alleged in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that there was racism in royal ranks, an allegation the queen said the family would look into privately.

Since then, in April, the queen lost her husband of more than seven decades, despite which her charm offensive with American presidents continues.

Write to Max Colchester at [email protected]

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