'Stay Home!' A Look at Queen Elizabeth's Politically Charged Visits

Despite her duty to stay out of politics, Queen Elizabeth II’s symbolic role nonetheless saw her take on some politically charged official visits.

1964, Canada: unwelcome in Quebec

Queen Elizabeth’s trips to Canada, where she was the head of state, were on several occasions marked by opposition from separatist and anti-royal demonstrators in the French-speaking province of Quebec.

“Elizabeth, stay at home!” they shouted in French during a visit in October 1964.

AFP reported at the time that young demonstrators lining the road “conspicuously turn their back” on her.

The demonstrations descended into riots on what is remembered as “Truncheon Saturday”, when police charged a crowd of students and separatists protesting against the visit.

During a 1990 trip, when Quebec was at odds with the central government in Ottawa over a failed bid for decentralisation, the queen called for unity.

“I am not just a fair-weather friend, and I am glad to be here at this sensitive time,” she said outside parliament in Ottawa. “I hope my presence may call to mind those many years of shared experience and raise new hopes for the future.”

1965, Berlin: the wall

On May 27, 1965, at the height of the Cold War, more than one million West Berliners turned out to cheer the queen during her six-hour visit to the city which had been divided into Soviet and Western Allied zones after World War II.

The Berlin Wall, constructed to stop East German citizens escaping, had left West Berlin isolated in an enclave deep inside the east.

“By her presence and the enthusiasm that she unleashed, Elizabeth II, despite the repeated statements coming from the other side of the wall, confirmed that West Berlin belongs to the Western family,” an AFP report said at the time.

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The queen’s car stopped at the wall for around three minutes.

“Contrary to other celebrated guests, Elizabeth II did not leave her seat to climb on the platform from which one can see what is happening in East Berlin. That would not have been worthy of the queen,” AFP wrote.

Her speech for the occasion did not follow that of US president John F. Kennedy who on a 1962 visit won praise for his message of solidarity: “I am a Berliner.”

A queen “does not use slogans”, AFP wrote, adding though that the warmth of the cheers of the crowd, which stretched along 36 kilometres (22 miles) of the route, showed her visit was just as successful as Kennedy’s.

1977, Northern Ireland: ‘The Troubles’

In 1977, on the 25th anniversary of her accession, the queen was determined to visit Northern Ireland, torn apart for eight years by the conflict between Protestants loyal to Britain and Catholics who wanted union with the Republic of Ireland.

In the days leading up to her arrival, bomb attacks by the paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA) caused hundreds of thousands of pounds (dollars, euros) of damage in Belfast.

To protect the queen, who was joined by her husband Prince Philip and their two youngest sons, major security precautions were taken — more than 32,000 police and military were mobilised.

A missile-armed destroyer accompanied the Royal Yacht Britannia. Shortly after her arrival at Coleraine University, northwest of Belfast, the IRA carried out a small bomb attack on the campus that caused no injuries.

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She pleaded for peace, calling on Protestants and Catholics to end the “senseless violence”.

A 2011 visit to Ireland — the first to the republic by a British monarch in 100 years — was seen as a key moment cementing the two countries’ friendship after the 1998 peace accords.

1991, South Africa: invitation to Mandela

In 1991, anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela — who had just been freed from prison — was extraordinarily invited to a summit in Zimbabwe of the Commonwealth group of nations, mostly formed of former British colonies.

The Commonwealth had excluded apartheid South Africa in 1961 and Mandela, not yet president, also did not have the rank to attend a queen’s banquet. The invitation broke with protocol and was highly symbolic.

Days before, Elizabeth, as the head of the Commonwealth, had also broken with a policy of neutrality and hailed the crumbling of the racist apartheid regime.

South Africa was readmitted to the Commonwealth in 1994, the year Mandela became the country’s first black president.

In the early 1980s, the queen had also given discreet support to Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney’s push for economic sanctions against South Africa, to which his British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher, was opposed.

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