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The U.S. And The U.K. Royals

May 16, 2018
Originally published on May 16, 2018 7:53 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Have you heard? There's a big wedding this weekend - a royal one, in fact. The nuptials of Britain's Prince Harry and America's Meghan Markle have many of you asking questions about the relationship between the royal family and its former colonies. Here's a newsreel from 1939.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Eyes of the world are on Washington as Secretary of State Hull welcomes Great Britain's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This is the first time in history that ruling British monarchs have ever set foot in the capital of the nation that once formed a part of their empire.

MARTIN: Six-hundred thousand well-wishers lined the streets of Washington to greet the current monarch's father and mother, but relations have not always been so warm. We're going to bring in commentator Cokie Roberts now to look at the history between America and the royal family. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, HOST:

Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Our first question goes back almost to the founding of the republic, and it comes from Brandon Forster, who asked this on Twitter. He writes, quote, "what was it like between the U.S. and the royals in less friendly times, like 1812?"

ROBERTS: Well, in 1812, there were no relations because we were at war with Great Britain.

MARTIN: Right.

ROBERTS: But the lead up to that period was very dicey. I mean, remember the Declaration of Independence, the colonists made a long series of charges against King George, calling him a tyrant unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Even so, when John Adams presented his credentials as the first representative of the new country to the Court of St. James, the king was cordial. But then when Jefferson came over and visited from his post in France, he was the author of the declaration, and he claimed that the king was most ungracious and needed to learn common good manners. But then when Jefferson became president, he retaliated by being unbelievably rude to the British ambassador and his wife. And that's part of the reason relations stayed testy, and the War of 1812 followed.

MARTIN: Right, no love lost there.

ROBERTS: No.

MARTIN: OK. That leads right to our next question.

MIKE KOEPPEN: Mike Koeppen from Arlington Heights, Ill. With such a rocky start, when did the relationship get better with the U.S. and the royal family and why?

ROBERTS: Well, after the War of 1812, things settled down. It was our last war with Great Britain. John Quincy Adams, who had negotiated the peace treaty of that war, became ambassador. And he and his family had a very nice time in London, unlike his father and especially his mother, Abigail, who thought the English lacked political wisdom. Later, Queen Victoria became a big champion of then-Ambassador James Buchanan's niece, Harriet Lane. She named her an honorary ambassadress. And then when Buchanan became president, Victoria's heir, the Prince of Wales, came to the United States. And it was a very big deal when he visited Mount Vernon, the home of the man who had defeated his great grandfather.

MARTIN: Our next listener, Paul Guinnessay, wants to know why Americans give one hoot about the royal family. He asks, why does it matter what the relationship is between the two? Yes, the royals are the U.K. head of state, but all the power is in the Parliament. Why do we care, Cokie?

ROBERTS: Well, first of all, the American people seem to care. I mean, witness the frenzy over this royal wedding. But also, monarchs might not be powerful, but they are influential. And the reason George VI came in 1939 with that wonderful newsreel voice is that President Roosevelt wanted him to come because Europe was on the eve of war. So he wanted to consult with him. Queen Elizabeth, by the way, has met with every U.S. president since Truman, with the exceptions of Johnson and Trump. So the special relationship is not just between governments but also between individuals.

MARTIN: Commentator Cokie Roberts. You can put your questions to Cokie by emailing us at askcokie@npr.org, or you can tweet us your questions with the hashtag #AskCokie.

Thanks so much, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Always nice to talk to you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.