Jill Biden will become the first U.S. first lady to attend the coronation of a British monarch Saturday, although 70 years ago, one of her predecessors was on hand to help document the occasion.
As a 23-year-old freelance journalist, Jacqueline Bouvier described the scene in London as the young Queen Elizabeth II was to be crowned.
“Londoners seem amazed at the hordes of Americans here for the colourful event,” she wrote for the Washington Times-Herald in 1953. Months later, she would become engaged to Sen. John F. Kennedy. And in 1961, she would meet the queen at a gala dinner for her husband at Buckingham Palace.
Kennedy never made it inside Westminster Abbey for the historic ceremony. But Jill Biden will be on hand Saturday along with her 22-year-old granddaughter, Finnegan, as King Charles III is formally crowned.
“The first lady is honored to represent the United States for this historic moment and celebrate the special relationship between the United States and the U.K.,” said Vanessa Valdivia, her press secretary. “Her attendance reinforces the strong and enduring ties with one of our closest allies.”
Even as the first lady has maintained a busy schedule leading up to her departure for London on Thursday, her office has been working closely with the national security team, the State Department, Downing Street and the Royal Protocol Office to coordinate details.
Charles has requested that guests not bring gifts, said a source familiar with the first lady’s travel plans. And in preparation for the visit, “the first lady thought it was important to wear an American designer for the coronation,” the source added.
President Joe Biden called Charles last month to inform him of his wife’s plans to attend the coronation in his place. To many across the pond — and even former President Trump — his decision not to attend is being viewed as a snub.
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“Not at all,” a White House spokesperson responded in a message. “The President has a good relationship with the King, called the King last month to congratulate him on his coronation, and he looks forward to meeting him in the United Kingdom for a visit at a future date.”
Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., was even more blunt in an interview with British reporters Thursday, calling talk of a snub “ridiculous.”
“I think what was behind it was truly just scheduling and logistics,” she said, adding that Biden and the king “will have some much more private time together” when he returns to the U.K. again later this year.
White House officials regularly point out that no U.S. president has ever attended a coronation in the U.K. — although the talking point sidesteps the fact that trans-Atlantic travel was limited to weekslong ocean liner voyages until Elizabeth’s coronation, in the early years of trans-Atlantic air travel.
“Unfortunately the President is not able to attend the coronation, but he is looking forward to having the First Lady represent the United States,” the White House spokesperson added.
Jill Biden met Charles, then still the long-serving heir to the throne, in June 2021, along with his wife, Camilla, who joined her husband at a reception for visiting heads of government during the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England.
Biden met solo with Charles later that year at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Scotland, underscoring one of the policy issues on which the two men find common ground.
Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the U.S., noted that Charles has met 10 presidents and visited the country “at least” 20 times.
“They know each other well and the president has said to me graciously how much he’s looking forward to working with the king as well as the prime minister,” Pierce said on the podcast of the White House Historical Association.
While Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, had met 13 sitting presidents, Charles has a long history of with commanders-in-chief, as well.
He was only 10 years old when he met his first, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, during his visit with the queen and her family at Balmoral Castle in 1959.
At 20, he traveled to the U.S. with his sister, Princess Anne, to meet President Richard Nixon and his family. The future king was then considered one of the world’s most eligible bachelors, and he would later recall: “That was the time when they were trying to marry me off to Tricia Nixon,” according to The Associated Press.
Nixon, however, saw a very serious side to the visit. “I think this could do an enormous amount of good for U.S. British relations,” he wrote in a memo, according to the AP.
Charles later returned to the U.S. in 1985, accompanied by his then-wife, Princess Diana, to visit President Ronald Reagan.
And President George W. Bush hosted Charles and Camilla, now the queen consort, for a state dinner just months after their wedding in 2005.
More recently, Charles met with Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, always putting his climate agenda front and center.
Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, noted that Biden’s decision to have his wife represent the nation at this major royal occasion does have historical precedent: First lady Nancy Reagan attended Charles’ wedding to Diana in 1981.
“This also underscores the close relationship that the Bidens have with each other,” McBride said. “They are partners in everything that he has done in his public life. And this is one example to the world. … It seems to me to be the perfect choice.”
The first stop on Jill Biden’s London trip will be a meeting Friday with Akshata Murty, the wife of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. They will also meet with military veterans and their families before they travel to a school that will be one of many holding coronation fairs as part of the long weekend of national celebrations.
She will attend a reception hosted by Charles on the eve of his coronation. On Sunday, she will join Sunak and his wife again for what they are calling a “Coronation Big Lunch.”
McBride said the meetings allow the first lady “to bring greetings on behalf of the president, bring greetings on behalf of the country, and then bring any messages back to him that they want to share with her.”
“This is one of the things that [I] learned in all my travels with the first lady in the years that I was there: There was no closer person to the president than the president’s spouse. No adviser, no other government official really comes close,” she said. “What they share with them will undoubtedly go straight back to the president.”