Queen Elizabeth II has invited the crowned heads of the world to lunch at Windsor Castle this Friday, May 18 to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. Although the guest list will not be publicly announced until the day, the Queen’s guests are presumed to include the crowned heads of Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands and Norway as well as the Emperor and Empress of Japan and the new King of Tonga. While the Queen will host the Jubilee Lunch, Prince Charles will invite the visiting royalty to a dinner in his mother’s honour the same day, serving locally sourced organic food to the visiting royalty.
The royal family has courted controversy by extending an invitation to the festivities to Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain. The King of Bahrain has been condemned worldwide for crushing pro-democracy protests by force in 2011, resulting in injuries and fatalities among his own people. Sheikh Hamad, however, has maintained a friendly relationship with the British government, meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street last December. An unnamed palace source reputedly told the Daily Mail newspaper, “It was the Queen’s decision to host the lunch and her decision to invite every world sovereign. It would have been very rude to have left anyone off the list and the Queen would never want to offend anyone.”
The friendly relationship between Prime Minister Cameron, and Sheikh Hamad suggests that the Queen’s invitation is not simply an attempt to be inclusive of all the world’s monarchs. Throughout her reign, the Queen has taken her role as an impartial Head of State seriously, entertaining world leaders who are friends of the British government regardless of her personal feelings toward their activities.
This commitment to supporting the United Kingdom’s elected government impartially helps explain why Sheikh Hamad received an invitation while the former King Constantine of Greece, Prince Philip’s cousin and godfather to the Duke of Cambridge, is reputed to have been left off the list. Cameron also seeks to maintain a friendly relationship with the Greek government, which refuses to grant the exiled King citizenship and a passport because of his continued use of his royal title.
Since Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for sixty years, the impartiality of the constitutional monarch appears to be a longstanding custom. Her approach is actually a departure from the reigns of her predecessors, who were known to oppose their government’s relations with foreign powers. While Queen Anne’s Whig ministers courted the House of Hanover after the 1701 Act of Settlement entailed the throne to the descendants of Electress Sophia, the monarch refused to allow Sophia or her son, the future King George I to visit England. In the late nineteenth century, Queen Victoria’s widowhood provided her with a pretense to avoid meetings with difficult world leaders, leaving the reception of these visitors to her son, the future King Edward VII.
In 1929, Elizabeth II’s grandfather, King George V pleaded illness when the new Soviet Ambassador arrived at Buckingham Palace to present his credentials, following his longstanding policy of refusing to shake hands with representatives of a regime that he considered responsible for the murder of his cousin, Emperor Nicholas II, in 1918. This stance placed the King in opposition to Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government (1924 and1929-1935), which attempted to normalize relations with the Soviet Union. MacDonald wrote, “The King was rather excited over Russia, and talked a lot of man-in-the-bus nonsense about Bolsheviks etc.” In contrast to his granddaughter, George V did not see any contradiction between his open disagreement with his Prime Minister’s foreign policy and his office as a constitutional monarch.
The 2012 Jubilee lunch is ostensibly an informal gathering of the world’s monarchs to celebrate Elizabeth II’s sixty years on the throne. Like every other reception hosted by the Queen, however, the luncheon is also a political statement, reflecting the monarch’s commitment to supporting her elected government impartially. The Queen has invited world leaders who enjoy friendly relations with her government to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee at Windsor Castle.