Queen Elizabeth II 'floored' Americans during final visit to US in 2007

She impressed in the Jamestown settlement with her grace and ability to wear heels on rocky ground

Queen Elizabeth II at the White House during her state visit to the US in 2007, to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first English settlers. Getty
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Queen Elizabeth II left a lasting impression on Americans during her final visit to the US, given her grace, confidence and ability to wear heels on rocky ground.

The late monarch and her husband Prince Philip embarked on a six-day tour in 2007 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the first British settlement in America.

The couple were received by the president at the time, George W Bush, and his wife Laura. The pair threw a state dinner at the White House in honour of the sovereign.

The queen, a lifelong lover of horses, also attended the Kentucky Derby during her tour. However, it was her visit to the Jamestown settlement in Williamsburg, Virginia, that personified the significance of the historic visit.

“It was very, very clear that she was reflecting on our site,” David Givens, director of archaeology at the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, told The National. “She conveyed to the team overall that this was the beginnings of the British Empire ― Jamestown. We were floored.”

The small island near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay became the first successful English colony in 1607 ― and thus the British Empire had spread to the US.

Archaeologists have for years worked at the site in an attempt to discover the workings of the first English settlers. When the queen visited Jamestown in 1957 for the 350th anniversary, researchers believed the remains of the fort were underwater. By the time she returned five decades later, there had been a breakthrough as diggers had unearthed the foundations of the settlement on land.

Queen Elizabeth II impressed staff at the Jamestown Rediscovery Project by touring the site in heels. Photo: Jamestown Rediscovery Project

Mr Givens described how it was “such an honour” to have the queen visit the site and have his team’s archaeological dig acknowledged by such a prominent figure. Staff showed her and the Duke of Edinburgh their remarkable finds, including a pit filled with dozens of sword hilts used by settlers who crossed the water on boats.

Before receiving their guest of honour and her consort, the team went to a local DIY store to pick up supplies. Members then built custom-made stairs to enable the queen to walk down to the archaeological site.

But while extra safety measures were shunned by the monarch’s team, President Bush’s inner circle demanded a railing be constructed especially for the leader’s visit the following week.

“I was concerned…'do we need railing for her, do we need any kind of safety things?',” Mr Givens said, recalling a conversation he had with the queen’s private secretary. “And he said ‘oh no, she’ll just pop down into the site'.

“The queen of England walked down those ding-dang stairs. And in heels. She was wearing heels. She walked a third of a mile from the museum out to the site.

“President Bush also used those stairs ― but his secretary asked us to install a guard and handrail. That kind of struck me ― the differences.”

The queen’s trip also included a meeting with the leader of a tribe of Native Americans.

Throughout her 70-year reign, the sovereign visited the US several times and undertook three state visits of the country.

From Harry Truman to Joe Biden, the head of Britain’s royal family met with 13 of the last 14 US presidents.

The death of the queen at Balmoral on September 8 “was our loss as well”, Mr Givens said, as he praised the monarch for time and again reaching out to the American people.

“Her grace at the site was just something to behold,” he said. “She was such a powerful person and she exuded that in the way she conducted herself.

“You primed yourself just to be in amazement.

“As Americans, we’re a former part of a British colony, we often project things on to people but, at that time, I was struck that she was exuding a confidence and a character that you don’t often see.

“She was just phenomenal.”

His colleague Michael Lavin, director of collections and conservation at Jamestown, commended the queen for her “great run” of 96 years of life and 70 years on the throne.

“She was not disinterested, she was not going through the motions, she was not doing this to tick a box,” he told The National, recalling his meeting with her in 2007. “This was something that she wanted to do and she cared about what we here at the small little site were doing. It was very sad to hear of her passing.”

Queen Elizabeth II in the US - in pictures

Updated: September 20, 2022, 11:00 AM