When Jackie Kennedy Met the Queen

The first lady famously charmed France’s president Charles de Gaulle, but Britain’s sovereign was another matter. Here’s what didn’t make the history books.

By Craig Brown from "Hello Goodbye Hello" from Reader's Digest Magazine | October 2012

When Jackie Kennedy Met the QueenPhotograph by Toni Frissell
That evening, the Kennedys attend a dinner at Buckingham Palace. It proves a minefield. The guest list has been the subject of negotiation: Traditionally, divorcées are not invited, so the queen has been reluctant to welcome Jackie’s sister Princess Lee Radziwill, who is on her second marriage, or her husband, Prince Stanislaw Radziwill, who is on his third. Under pressure, she relents, but, by way of retaliation, singularly fails to invite Princess Margaret or Princess Marina, both of whose names Jackie has put forward. Jackie’s old paranoia returns: She sees it as a plot to do her down. “The queen had her revenge,” she confides to Gore Vidal. “No Margaret, no Marina, no one except every Commonwealth minister of agriculture they could find.” Jackie also tells Vidal that she found the queen “pretty heavy going.” (When Vidal repeats this to Princess Margaret some years later, the princess loyally explains, “But that’s what she’s there for.”)

Over dinner, Jackie continues to feel awkward, even persecuted. “I think the queen resented me. Philip was nice, but nervous. One felt absolutely no relationship between them.”

The queen asks Jackie about her visit to Canada. Jackie tells her how exhausting she found being on public view for hours on end. “The queen looked rather conspiratorial and said, ‘One gets crafty after a while and learns how to save oneself.’ ” According to Vidal (who is prone to impose his own thoughts on others), Jackie considers this the only time the queen seems remotely human.

After dinner, the queen asks Jackie if she’d like to see “some pictures.” Yes, says Jackie, she certainly would. The queen takes her for a stroll down a long gallery in the palace. They stop in front of a Van Dyck. The queen says, “That’s a good horse.” Yes, agrees Jackie, that is a good horse. From Jackie’s account, this is the extent of their contact with one another, but others differ. Dinner at Buckingham Palace, writes Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in his diary that night, is “very pleasant.”

Nine months later, Jackie pays another visit to the queen at Buckingham Palace, this time by herself. She is more in the swing of things now. “I don’t think I should say anything about it except how grateful I am and how charming she was,” she tells the television cameras as she makes her escape.

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