- By Chelsea Bailey
- BBC News, Washington
The United States and the United Kingdom have long enjoyed what Winston Churchill called a “special relationship” – but no US president has ever attended a royal coronation. Does this tradition indicate a potential antagonism between the two nations – or something more mundane?
King Charles’ coronation will be marked by centuries of splendor and tradition. The King will be sworn in at Westminster Abbey in front of thousands of subjects and heads of state.
But there will be one glaring absence from the crowd: US President Joe Biden.
He has been invited, the White House told the BBC. But in a phone call with the king, the president said he would send his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, and a diplomatic envoy, instead. The White House did not give a reason for Mr Biden’s absence, but said the President had “expressed a desire to meet the King in the United Kingdom at a future date”.
Absence has sent ripples across the pond.
Conservative MP Bob Seely says walkie talkie that Mr Biden appeared “quite flawed” to overlook “a once-in-a-lifetime event”.
Russel Meyers, deputy editor of the Daily Mail, also told Sky News that the president’s absence was because he was “so proud of his Irish roots, his Irish-American roots”.
“I don’t think there is a real possibility that he will come,” Mr. Myers said.
But historians say the reason is much less political, and it’s actually a centuries-old tradition for American presidents to miss out on coronations.
‘It’s not a snob’
Laura Beers, a history professor at American University who specializes in modern Britain, said: “I certainly don’t see that as a disdain for President Biden.
“The fact that Mr. Biden is anti-British is not a true story,” she said. “He won’t go because no US president has ever been crowned, so why start in the 21st century.”
Prior to Queen Victoria’s reign, Ms. Beers noted that US-British relations were largely adversarial, following the American Revolution and War of 1812.
Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne has opened”Victoria fever” and a new era of Americans enamored with the British monarchy, but even then, President Martin Van Buren did not attend the ceremony.
“It was unrealistic for an American president to come and I think it became a tradition after that,” Ms. Beers said.
Troy Bickham, a member of the Royal Historical Society and a historian, said it was impractical to travel abroad before transatlantic air travel began in 1939, three years later coronation of King George VI.
According to historians, the Second World War marked a turning point in diplomatic relations between the United States and Great Britain.
During the war, King George VI and his daughter, then Princess Elizabeth, developed a relationship with Dwight D Eisenhower, who served in London as Supreme Commander of the Bronze Forces. and oversaw “Operation Overlord”, the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Mr. Eisenhower was elected as the 34th President of the United States just months after the death of King George VI and the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II.
But despite his close ties to the UK, Mr Eisenhower chose to keep tradition and send an envoy to the coronation.
Historian Sam Edwards notes that the United States was embroiled in the Korean War at the time and that President Eisenhower would need Washington as well.
President Eisenhower’s absence at the coronation did not hinder his relations with Great Britain or the royal family. In October 1957, the United States welcomed Queen Elizabeth II for her first official state visit as monarch. Two years later, the Queen received President Eisenhower and his family for a less formal visit at her royal residence in Balmoral.
One queen, 14 presidents
As Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II has reigned through 14 US presidents and met all but one during their tenure. Three sitting US presidents have made official state visits to the UK, while the Queen has made four state visits to the US during her reign.
While he seems to have chosen not to break with tradition by sending an envoy on his behalf to the coronation, President Biden accepted an invitation from King Charles for a state visit. A date has not been set.
Regardless of who attended the coronation, Mr. Edwards said King Charles presided over a commitment to renewing the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.
Attending the coronation, he said, is “just one piece of the puzzle of contemporary transatlantic relationships”.