The area’s ties to British history continue to live on in name and tradition. But perhaps no recent memories about those ties are stronger than the ones surrounding Queen Elizabeth II. The monarch — who passed away September 8, 2022 at age 96 — made more visits to Virginia than any other U.S. state. Of those four visits, two were to the Williamsburg region to celebrate and commemorate the legacy of the first English settlement in the Americas. The name, of course, is Jamestown, named after King James I.
Elizabeth’s first state trip to the U.S. in 1957 wasn’t long into her 70-year reign. Then a fresh-faced 31-year-old, Her Majesty visited Jamestown for the 350th anniversary celebration of the founding of the settlement. She was greeted with a red carpet, a 21-gun salute, and by 10,000 cheering fans at Patrick Henry Field – now Williamsburg International Airport – before hopping into then-President Eisenhower’s bubble-top limousine for the trip to Jamestown Island.
In her keynote speech, she told admirers, “Here, at a great period in your history, their descendants proclaimed their faith in certain great concepts of freedom, justice, law, and self-government,” she said. “Those concepts have a profound influence on the political development, not only of the United States, but of all freedom-loving countries.”
Photo Courtesy of Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
The Queen was joined in celebration by thousands of fans lining the streets for a wave and a glimpse of the monarch, with cheers as she and husband Prince Philip were guided down Duke of Gloucester Street in a resplendent horse-drawn carriage. Forty thousand on-lookers attended a celebration at what was in 1957 a “new” Jamestown Festival Park, now Williamsburg Inn. The Queen and Prince Phillip were treated to new museum exhibits and outdoor displays showing America's first permanent English colony. Other events included a gathering at the College of William & Mary, a reception at the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg and then dinner at the Williamsburg Inn.
Of course, a bit changed in the half-century between Queen Elizabeth II’s visits. The world saw a man on the moon, the invention of the smartphone, and the rise of the Internet. But a few things remained the same, notably the ardent admiration across both sides of the pond between the monarch and lovers of deep-seated traditions.
AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool
The royals’ return to Williamsburg in 2007 for the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown was no less glorious than in the earliest parts of their reign. Elizabeth and Philip’s two-day visit to Virginia included a stop at the state capitol and excursions to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, and Historic Jamestowne – with an encore carriage ride down Duke of Gloucester Street accompanied by whoops and cheers from an admiring crowd.
The newest sovereign, King Charles III, visited Williamsburg twice himself. In 1981, the then-prince received an honorary fellowship at William & Mary College and spent a day touring the Governor's Palace and Colonial Williamsburg. He later returned in 1993 for the 300th anniversary of William & Mary’s founding. If history is any indication, Williamsburg’s ties to the British monarchy will continue to reign.
Images courtesy of: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation unless otherwise noted