Queen Elizabeth II & Ronald Reagan – Moments of Wit and Commitment

President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan meeting Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace, 1988. (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum)

During his administration, President Ronald Reagan was engaged in many diplomatic missions across the world. One of the most famous international meetings he attended was with the then-ruling monarch of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II. In April 1982, the United Kingdom was faced with a military invasion by Argentina against two of its overseas territories: the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. While the United Kingdom had already secured political and military support from the United States, the U.K. government was aware of the pertinent need to visually confirm the bond between the two nations. After speaking publicly about the British intervention in the newly-started Falklands War, Queen Elizabeth II invited President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan to visit the United Kingdom. As they were the very first American presidential couple to stay at the historic royal residence of Windsor Castle, the Reagans’ foreign visit was considered by both the U.S. and U.K. governments to be diplomatically significant. The visit proved to be mutually-successful for both President Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II, with the former describing the Queen as a “charming, down-to-earth” lady. An iconic staple of the trip was the early morning horse ride both President Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II shared on June 8 while at Windsor Castle. The two leaders already shared a personal appreciation for equestrianism, as President Reagan specifically described the Queen’s natural ability to ride a horse. President Reagan later described that Queen Elizabeth II was riding in the modern style of the “forward seat,” and that he could tell that “she was in charge of that animal.”

President Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II engaged in a conversation while riding horses at Windsor Castle, 1982. (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum)

In the afternoon of June 8, President Reagan gave a speech to the U.K. Parliament in the Royal Gallery inside the Palace of Westminster. Speaking on behalf of the United States, President Reagan remarked how much he and Nancy felt at home during the visit, specifically referencing the many political influences and systems adopted by the American government from the United Kingdom. He spoke at length about the need for the democracies and republics of the world to be allied against the totalitarian reaches of the Soviet Union. In keeping with his public announcements to deescalate the probability of global nuclear war, President Reagan mentioned the initiation of the SMART (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) talks in Europe that would be held later that month. As he monologued about countries fighting for democracy across the world, President Reagan explicitly mentioned the British military forces that had been deployed to the South Atlantic to intervene against the Argentinian invasion. To a fervent round of applause from the Parliament, President Reagan asserted that the British soldiers were fighting for a distinct cause, that being the “belief that armed aggression must not be allowed to succeed, and the people must participate in the decisions of government – the decisions of government under the rule of law.” In his most iconic phrase from the evening’s address, President Reagan remarked his confidence that the global pushes for democracy would inevitably “leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.” Queen Elizabeth II thanked President Reagan for expressing his support for the British military later that evening at a banquet, affirming her comfort “from the understanding of our position shown by the American people.” The Falklands War ended in a British victory exactly six days after President Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II gave their speeches.

President Reagan delivering his June 8 address in the Palace of Westminster, 1982. (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum)

In 1983, as part of her ten-day tour of the western coast of the United States, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip traveled to California to meet the Reagans once again. Due to a series of heavy rain storms hitting the Southern California coast, the royal couple flew from Long Beach on Air Force One, meeting the presidential couple in Goleta on March 1. The reception ceremony was held inside one of the hangers to avoid the rain, while a large crowd of locals greeted the four leaders. While the two couples initially rode in separate limousines to the Reagans’ Rancho Del Cielo home in Santa Barbara, they were all forced to move into SUVs in order to get through the stormy weather. In spite of the unprecedented difficulty in getting to the Reagans’ property, Queen Elizabeth II remarked that the whole trip was “delightful and terribly exciting.” When the two couples arrived at Rancho Del Cielo, Queen Elizabeth II publicly expressed her gratitude for the United States’ support of the United Kingdom in the Falklands War the previous year. For the Queen, the political and military support was a reaffirmation of the alliance between the two nations that had lasted for hundreds of years. Two days later, President Reagan hosted a special dinner event at the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. Responding to the days of rain, Queen Elizabeth II joked during the dinner that she was aware that the United Kingdom had “exported many of our traditions to the United States, I had not realized before that weather was one of them.”

The Reagans meeting with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at Rancho Del Cielo in Santa Barbara, California, 1983. (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum)

Written by Nicholas J. Dilley, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

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