Queen Elizabeth II reigned over the United Kingdom for nearly a third of the United States’ existence, a poignant observation from the national capital of a country that her predecessors once fought to keep as a colonial outpost.
She started out as a princess, became queen and seemed to evolve into the definition of regal restraint and poise. She was the longest reigning monarch in her nation’s history, a woman who kept a stiff upper lip and her head above the tumults of the day, be they the end of the nation’s colonial empire or of family scandals. Her job was to personify the national ideal and she did.
She visited the Library twice and left the staff in awe both times. The lady had presence.
The first was in 1951, when she was Princess Elizabeth, and then in 1991, when she was Queen Elizabeth II.
Here’s account of the latter visit from the Library’s Information Bulletin:
“On May 15 the Library rolled out the red carpet. The occasion was a call from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as part of a three-day state visit to Washington. She came came with a party of 17, including her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
As hundreds of onlookers craned their necks, stood on their toes, binoculars at the ready, for even a peek at her majesty from behind a blockade across the street, the official party was greeted at about 1 p.m. … A long, black limousine with the queen arrived at the southwest front of the Jefferson Building driveway …”
The royal party was greeted by then-Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and led up a red carpet to be received by a large delegation of Senators and Congressmen. A high school band played, and a reception included film and entertainment personalities including actors Jane Fonda (with her then-husband Ted Turner), Ben Kingsley and Angela Lansbury, who, with director Martin Scorsese, were in attendance as part of a British film festival co-sponsored by the Library and BAFTA, the British Academy of Film & Television Arts.
In 1951, she was still Princess Elizabeth and Harry Truman was still president.
Here’s how the Library’s Information Bulletin recorded that visit:
“Their Royal Highnesses, Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, expressed great pleasure that [the Library of Congress] was included in their tour on Friday, and the Princess was deeply impressed with the fact that so many staff members turned out to greet them. Mr. Clapp conducted the 20-minute tour of [the Library], which included viewing the Main Reading Room from the Gallery and exhibits on the second floor.
“In addition to Their Royal Highnesses, the Royal party included the British Ambassador Sir Oliver Franks and Lady Franks, Canadian Ambassador Hume Wrong and Mrs. Wrong, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester Pearson and Mrs. Pearson, the Princess’ Lady in Waiting, Their Royal Highnesses’ Equerry, the Secretary of the Royal Household, and Mr. John F. Simmons, chief of protocol in the State Department. Official photographers and press representatives also accompanied the party. LC staff members who were presented to the Royal couple were: Messrs. Buck, Mearns, Andreassen, Adkinson, Wagman, Keitt, Fisher, Gilbert, Krould and Webb.
“Besides viewing the Main Reading Room and the Shrine documents, the visitors saw the memorabilia of the Presidents, the “Milestones of American Achievement” and other regular LC exhibits, and a special display arranged in their honor, which included: A letter of condolence on the death of President Lincoln from Queen Victoria to Mrs. Lincoln; a letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe calling attention to the importance of friendship with Great Britain; a letter in King George V’s handwriting to President Wilson expressing “deep satisfaction” that the two English-speaking nations were working together; and a sketch of the Battle of Trafalgar between Lord Nelson and the combined fleets of France and Spain, with a letter describing the action.
“Both the Princess and the Duke expressed keen interest in the exhibits. They had learned the Gettysburg Address and were pleased to see the original; the Princess was particularly interested in Queen Victoria’s letter, asking how LC happened to have it; the Duke studied the sketch of the Battle of Trafalgar; and both of them asked questions about the Shrine documents and the new preservation processes.”
It was, of course, another time. There’s a new King now, Charles III, and a new era. Carry on.
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A black and white version of the topmost LOOK Magazine photo shown here has been posted at the University of Maryland’s “Maryland Today” website, at https://today.umd.edu/the-day-the-queen-cheered-on-the-terps, illustrating a piece titled “The Day the Queen Cheered on the Terps.” As explained there, “At the invitation of Maryland Gov. Theodore McKeldin, she and Prince Philip visited the university on Oct. 19, 1957, to watch her first and only U.S. football game, when the Terps upset North Carolina, 21-7. The contest became famous as the Queen’s Game.” The article goes on to explain that Prince Philip had expressed the desire to see a typical American sport during their visit.
Thank you for these special moments in history. As a librarian, I feel comforted that Her Majesty took the time to visit our magnificent library.
Queen Elizabeth II was unique and conservative. I appreciate her attempts to be a leader with candid and relevant expertise. Her presence will be missed.
On October 20, 1957 Elizabeth and Philip attended National Presbyterian Church with President and Mrs. Eisenhower. Does the L of C have pictures/ reports of that? Of course, she has Presbyterian links in Scotland.
She was the queen of whole world not only Britains.
Una persona excepcional. La voluntad, su persistencia y disciplina fueron pilares en su vida.
I am remembering today the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and his Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, to the Library of Congress in May 1991. The Library visit was part of the State visit to Washington, D.C. that week by the royal couple and launched a week-long Festival of British Film and Television, co-sponsored by the Library and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
At the time, I was Director of Special Events at the Library and in charge of major events and protocol for the institution. I and my co-director, Kim Moden, were charged with planning and coordinating the royal visit which included a sit-down luncheon for 350 distinguished guests. We were aided by the Library’s own planning committee and by the representatives from the British Embassy and U.S. Department of State.
Because the Library was established in our nation’s colonial era and has as its core collection the personal Library of Thomas Jefferson, it was decided that the visit would highlight the two countries’ shared history and that our nation’s third president would be the focus.
The Queen, Prince Philip and entourage were greeted at the main entrance to the historical Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library by then-Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who escorted them through the Great Hall, the elaborate Italian Renaissance treasure that is the “gateway” to the building. The 350 luncheon guests had arrived earlier and were arranged shoulder-to-shoulder around three sides of the balcony overlooking the Great Hall, in position for the Queen’s walkabout. After moving down the line of guests, while smiling, nodding, and occasionally shaking hands with individuals she recognized, she was then ushered into a holding space for a brief period while guests found their seats at luncheon tables.
When all were seated in the Southwest Curtain and adjacent Pavilion, the Queen’s scarlet-coated Equerry (aide) stepped into the Curtain with golden staff in hand. Guests stood as he rapped on the floor three times with the staff and announced loudly, “Ladies and gentlemen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” She and Prince Philip entered the room and followed the Equerry to the head table where Dr. and Mrs. Billington greeted them again and introduced them to the other guests at their table. Once they were seated, all guests took their seats and conversation began at each table. It was a hot day for May, underscored by the crowded room and an aging conditioning system, and guests were beginning to feel the effects.
Waiters moved through the crowded room to begin beverage service at each table. Wine was planned for each course of the luncheon, but sparkling water, iced tea and other soft beverages were to be offered at this point. After taking the Queen’s order, Prince Philip turned to the waiter and asked for a cold beer. Oops…not in the grand plan and not on the premises. The owner of the catering company, Maynard & David, who was onsite to oversee arrangements and service, sprinted across the street to a liquor store and was back within minutes with cold beer for His Royal Highness.
The menu was based on foods imported, grown or served by Thomas Jefferson, a result of extensive research into the detailed records kept by the third President and his family and the vast collection of Jefferson material in the Library’s collections–asparagus bundles, grilled turkey breast with figs, raisins, blood oranges and spring cherries, glazed with mulberry wine; James River wild rice pancakes; Timbales of macaroni and Shenandoah cheddar; early plantation snap peas; copper skillet spoonbread and dessert. (Jefferson introduced macaroni, vanilla and varieties of figs, raisins, anchovies, and Parmesan cheese to the colonies). The table linens and china replicated those found at Monticello and the flowers chosen for the centerpieces were listed in the estate’s farm journals. A printed program was placed at each place setting to provide guests with this background information.
Meanwhile, as guests took their seats, the Equerry took his seat alone at a tiny round table just inside the door to the Curtain. Before the first course was served to guests, it was served to the Equerry—a nod we were told, to the days when the Monarch had a food taster.
After dessert was served, the spoken program began. Dr. Billington welcomed guests, other speakers followed, and finally invited the Queen to the stage. Learning from the “Talking Hat” mistake made by the White House at its ceremony the day before (where the Queen spoke at a lectern so high that only her hat was visible in photos and media coverage), we had built overnight in the Library’s carpentry shop a sturdy podium (platform) that was moved into place for the Queen to stand on while at the lectern. With good humor, she remarked that she hoped everyone could see her.
The agenda called for the Queen and Price Philip to leave the luncheon after her remarks, to begin a tour of the building and to view a display of historic documents. Instead, she made an executive decision to return to her table to finish her dessert—a Jeffersonian Trompe L’oeil Book (gingerbread cake, layered with lavender honey and verbena lemon mousse) and macaroons (prepared using Jefferson’s hand-written recipe).
It was a banner day for the Library of Congress!
Thank you for this wonderful article on this day. May Queen Elizabeth II forever rest in peace.
I stood at the edge of the Main Reading Room when the Queen and Prince Philip visited. My friend Josephus Nelson was at the Center Desk to assist Suzanne Thorin in a demonstration of the online catalog. Several books were on display, and the Queen held up one, and said (approximately) “Look, Philip. They have Charles’s book.”
A luncheon was held in the Jefferson Building, and at one point Prince Philip asked for a beer. An LC staffer ran to Gandels and procured a beer for him. I am sure he never knew he was drinking a Sam Adams, named for the American Revolutionary.
First, Princess Di and now the Queen. I do not think the Monarchy will ever be the same. It is truly the end of an era.
Queen Elizabeth II was an incredible person with a wonderful sense of humour and love of animals . May the Queen rest for eternity surrounded by love, light, laughter and life.
Now I am curious about that letter from Queen Victoria.
Thank you for your service, Your Majesty! It was nice seeing you once in London.
Nice, The wisdom keeps her alive forever. As in history, current and the future. The article is written stylistic amotion.
Rest in peace
As a British citizen, I’m humbled by the affection the late Queen was held in throughout the world. The comments from my US colleagues are fascinating to read, and a real testament to the pleasure the Queen’s visits gave to the LOC.