Royal Fever in the District

Royal fever continued unabated in the District this week, as Washingtonians had the opportunity to bask in a small bit of reflected glory from Will and Kate’s wedding.

Fresh off his son’s nuptials, Prince Charles was in D.C. promoting something a little less glamorous – sustainable agriculture and community gardening.

Prince Charles touring the Community Good City Farm in LeDroit Park
Prince Charles touring the Community Good City Farm in LeDroit Park (Photo: Robert Yule)

The historic neighborhood of LeDroit Park had the honor of a prince in its midst (watch out, Prince of Petworth) when Charles visited Washington’s only urban farm on Tuesday.

I managed to see him with a few dozen other onlookers, as we gathered behind the fence of the Community Good City Farm to catch a glimpse of British royalty in our back yard.

LeDroit Park isn’t a neighborhood you’d normally expect to find a royal – although it was formerly home to a Duke (jazz royalty Duke Ellington lived here for a year).

It was also one of the first suburbs and exclusive gated communities in Washington.

LeDroit was developed in the 1870s to the east of the historic Shaw neighborhood, and south of Howard University. It was originally enforced as a whites-only enclave, but was integrated around the turn of the century.

Eventually it became a well-heeled African-American neighborhood, like neighboring Shaw and Logan Circle, and home

LeDroit Park Gate
LeDroit Park was one of D.C.’s first suburbs and gated communities.

to a number of famous black D.C. residents.

After the 1968 riots following the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the entire area fell into decline. But today it’s on the rebound, and the Community Good City Farm is one example of how urban renewal is also helping neighbors in need.

That’s the reason it was on Prince Charles’s itinerary, which also included a speech about the future of food at Georgetown University, a meeting with President Obama at the White House, a reception at the Supreme Court, an event honoring the military at the British Embassy, and dinner with Sen. John Kerry at his Georgetown home.

Of course, I was less interested in why he was here for this particular trip, and more interested in exploring the history of royal visits to the District.

White House - George Munger - 1814-1815
The first time the British visited the White House in 1814 (By George Munger)

Visiting Brits have not always been a welcome sight in Washington, ever since a marauding army sailed up the Potomac River in 1814, torching the White House, Capitol, and most of the other public buildings in D.C.

That resentment lingered all the way until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt made history by inviting King George VI (aka, Colin Firth in The King’s Speech) and Queen Elizabeth (aka, Helena Bonham Carter) to come to Washington after their tour of Canada.

It was the first time any reigning royal had set foot on American soil.

The visit was even more significant because it came just a few months before

FDR and George VI
FDR hosts George VI in D.C. in 1939

World War II broke out in Europe, and signified the beginning of the “special relationship” that would develop between the U.S. and its former mother country.

After the war, the couple’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, helped continue the tradition and the Atlantic alliance. She visited Harry Truman’s White House in 1951, when the king was too ill to make the trip. She would become queen just a year later.

As Queen Elizabeth II, she has paid five official visits to Washington – in 1957, 1976 (the nation’s bicentennial), 1983, 1991, and 2007 (the 400th anniversary of the founding of the British colony Jamestown). While these visits all occurred during Republican administrations, the Queen has met every president since Truman, with the sole exception of Lyndon Johnson.

For Prince Charles, there were certainly other more memorable visits to the District than this one. He mostly made headlines not for anything he did, but for the women surrounding him.

Prince Charles and Tricia Nixon - LIFE-GETTY
Prince Charles and Tricia Nixon at a baseball game at RFK Stadium, 1970 (Photo: Time & Life Pictures – Getty Images)

His first trip to Washington was in 1970, when the bachelor prince was reportedly annoyed by President Nixon’s attempted matchmaking with his daughter Tricia. Whether it was true or not, the media had a field day taking photos of the two as they were paired together for most of the royal visit.

Charles next graced D.C. a decade later in 1981, when he was just three months shy of his wedding to Diana. He stopped in Washington for a three-day U.S. visit, the last stop after a lengthy foreign tour.

His arrival at Andrews Air Force Base caused a mini-scandal when Reagan’s

Chief of Protocol Leonore “Lee” Annenberg curtsied while greeting the young royal.

Perhaps she had gone a little bit native, since her husband Walter Annenberg had previously served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.K.

Regardless, the media had a field day with it, and even Miss Manners weighed in against the curtsey.

Annenberg Curtsey
Lee Annenberg and the curtsey heard ’round the country.

The press was also preoccupied with Charles supposedly “pining” to reunite with his beautiful young fiancée.

President Reagan, who was recovering from an unsuccessful assassination attempt the previous month, gave Charles a bit of wedding advice. “Your sense of humor will carry you through,” he said in a toast at an intimate White House dinner.

First Lady Nancy Reagan would later travel to London to attend the wedding, but Reagan himself stayed home to convalesce.

In 1985, Prince Charles returned to Washington with great fanfare, this time

accompanied by Princess Diana, four years after their seemingly storybook wedding. They attended a star-studded White House dinner, where President Reagan famously botched Diana’s name, calling her “Princess David,” then “Princess Diane.”

The gaffe was forgotten later on the White House dance floor, as photographers snapped photos of the glamorous Diana taking a twirl with John Travolta.

Twenty years later, Prince Charles would bring a new bride with him to Washington. After the royal divorce and Diana’s death, he finally married longtime mistress and royal consort Camilla Parker Bowles.

The couple did their best to impress on their first trip to the U.S. after the wedding, but the visit was a pretty sedate affair.

Even this time around at the Community Good City Farm, the crowd’s attention seemed more focused on a younger prince across the pond. As Prince Charles came to the fence to shake hands, people shouted questions about Will and Kate’s wedding.

Now if you want to see the District truly gripped by royal fever, just imagine a visit by that royal couple…

Prince Charles Farewell - 5.03.11
The royal wave, as Prince Charles departs LeDroit Park. (Photo: Robert Yule)

6 thoughts on “Royal Fever in the District

  1. Hardly royal visits but when America (I won’t say belatedly) entered the second world war Mr Churchill spent several weeks at the White House discussing the war effort with President Roosevelt and, wiithin days, had drunk the rather abstemious White House out of alcohol so that more had to be sent for. He drank sherry all morning, whisky in the evening, champagne at night and brandy before going to bed. One can only wonder how this helped planning the war.

    And it reminds me of my own trips to Washington when your showing me the sites and pubs of your impressive city at night must have led to a dramatic drop in productivity the following day.


  2. This is great, Martin! Thanks for adding…

    Luckily Churchill visited D.C. after Prohibition was repealed. Did you see the Churchill statue by the British Embassy while you were here?

    D.C. bars continue to get better and better – and luckily Washingtonians manage to both play and work hard. But for character and history, I loved your pubs in Edinburgh…

    Looking forward to your next visit!

  3. Great article this week in The Atlantic about the Prince Charles visit, and how LeDroit Park is now making environmental history in the District:

    How to Go Green? Look to D.C.’s Ledroit Park
    By Kaid Benfield
    May 9 2011, 3:43 PM ET

    What a church, a farm, and the Prince of Wales have to do with the exemplary greening of a historically African-American neighborhood…

  4. I didn’t see the Churchill statue but loved the great monuments around the Mall, above all the Lincoln. Grand yet simple and compellingly eloquent. I may be your way in September, a few fays in NYC but I’ll come to Washington for a night. You’d better book the following day as a holiday!

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