Queen Elizabeth II Did What?
On September 13, 2001, the Queen of the United Kingdom broke tradition and ordered a remarkable salute to a hurting people
On September 13, 2001, I watched as ABC News broadcast a remarkable event. My eyes teared up as I saw the band of the Coldstream Guards play the national anthem — our national anthem!
Even Peter Jennings choked up.
As did many in the crowd that day — a crowd that numbered over 3000 and included several hundred Americans.
I later learned that this remarkable tribute was ordered by the Queen herself as a show of solidarity with the United States of America.
“So what?” you may ask. Well, let me explain…
First, the British Monarch is a ceremonial position that embodies the United Kingdom. The entire edifice rests on tradition, and so monarchs are loathe to mess with tradition. They try to stay above politics and keep their personal feelings and views concealed.
But after the horrific attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, it was time to alter some protocols. At least that was the thinking of Queen Elizabeth II.
And this American was grateful for it.
She personally directed the Coldstream Guards to change the well-scripted, well-rehearsed daily ritual of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace to include a tribute to the United States of America.
The U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain was on hand as were several hundred U.S. citizens living in the U.K. The Queen was away at Balmoral Castle, but Prince Charles (now King Charles III) represented her and the royal family.
The Queen would return in time for a memorial service the next day (September 14) at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
What makes Queen Elizabeth’s tribute on September 13 even more remarkable is…
Wait for it!
The Coldstream Guards played The Star-Spangled Banner!
Of course, The Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem of the United States of America, but it’s remarkable that the Queen of Great Britain would order it played — at Buckingham Palace, no less!
In case you need a little history lesson, The Star-Spangled Banner was at first a poem. It was penned by Francis Scott Key during the bombardment of Fort McHenry outside Baltimore Harbor on September 13–14, 1814.
And guess who was bombing Baltimore Harbor.
Key penned this poem while detained on a British ship as he watched the British unleash over 1,500 cannon balls, bombs, and rockets into the defenses of Fort McHenry!
Exactly one hundred and eighty-seven years before the Queen ordered the Coldstream Guards to play America’s national anthem at Buckingham Palace, Francis Scott Key was writing the words to that very anthem as the British were bombing Fort McHenry!
From 1812 until 1815, the United States was at war with the British Empire.
And the war wasn’t going that well in 1814 — not for America, that is.
On August 24, 1814, after conducting numerous raids along the Eastern seaboard, the British army captured the nation’s capital and put its government buildings to the torch. The U.S. government was scattered and in disarray.
On September 13, 1814, they began their attack on Baltimore. Had their combined land-and-sea assault succeeded, they would have effectively gutted the United States of America.
Thankfully, as Key recorded, when the sun rose and the smoke cleared on September 14, “our flag was still there.”
Officially, the War of 1812 ended on December 24, 1814, thanks to a treaty signed in Ghent, but it took weeks for word to get from Europe to North America. The Americans would win a decisive battle at New Orleans in January 1815 before hostilities fully concluded.
Tensions remained between the Mother Country and her former colonies for much of the nineteenth century. But, eventually, peace would prevail. And the two nations would become allies and close friends in the twentieth century.
The Queen of England was not only showing solidarity with the United States, she was doing so with a song that — in its words — pointed to a victory that the United States had over her country 187 years before.
(Note: The War of 1812 was essentially a draw, but the battle over Fort McHenry — the basis of The Star-Spangled Banner — was an American victory).
This was a deeply humble and magnanimous gesture on Her Majesty’s part toward the people of the United States in 2001 — a gesture she repeated a year ago for the 20th anniversary of 9/11/01.
As the world mourns the passing of Queen Elizabeth II now in 2022, it’s only fitting that the people of the United States extend our condolences and best wishes as well.
She was an exceptional leader, full of grace and dignity. She will be missed.
The Queen showed friendship and solidarity with the people of the United States. May we do the same for the people of the United Kingdom.