American presidents have a long tradition of embarrassing themselves while meeting with the British monarch. Although disrespecting the English is kind of our raison d’être, Queen Elizabeth II was so beloved that many of our leaders took flak at home and abroad for breaching royal protocol.
But now that Charles is in charge, it seems that no one — including the king himself — cares about etiquette anymore.
President Joe Biden kicked off his four-day trip through Europe by meeting with King Charles on Monday. While this was the pair’s first face-to-face interaction as president and king, they have met multiple times over the years, and Biden might have felt a little too comfortable around his old pal. When Biden arrived at Windsor Castle, Charles greeted him with a handshake:
To the untrained eye, this probably looks pretty normal: just two elder statesmen engaging in some literal backslapping. But many observers said that Biden grabbing the king’s arm during their handshake and patting his back was a faux pas. As the Independent explained, “Protocol states that the monarch is generally not to be touched.”
To make matters worse, Biden walked ahead of Charles during the inspection of the honor guard. Then the president spent a few moments chatting up one of the guards as the king gestured at him to indicate it was time to stop fraternizing with the plebs.
Once he finally started walking away, Biden put his hand on Charles’s back again, holding it there for about five seconds. The nerve!
This exact behavior caused media meltdowns during the past two presidential administrations. In her book Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama described putting her arm around Queen Elizabeth’s shoulder as an “epic faux pas.” And Donald Trump was thoroughly mocked for walking in front of the queen during his first trip to the U.K. as president and for briefly placing a hand on her back during his second visit.
But Biden seems to be getting a pass for his allegedly rude behavior. The royal family’s website says there are actually “no obligatory codes of behaviour” when meeting the monarch or a member of the royal family despite the criticisms lobbed at other American leaders. And Buckingham Palace was quick to tell multiple outlets that King Charles actually welcomed Biden’s manhandling. People reported:
… a Buckingham Palace source confirms King Charles was “entirely comfortable” with Biden touching the monarch on the back. “What a wonderful symbol of warmth and affection it was between both the individuals and their nations,” the source says.
The source adds that — despite some claims to the contrary — it was in keeping with the correct protocol that the President, 80, walked in front of the King, 74, during the inspection of the Guard of Honor.
It’s hard to say what exactly is going on here. Maybe people got too worked up about royal protocol in the past because they were looking for reasons to criticize the Obamas and the Trumps. Perhaps Charles was offended but not enough to start an international incident. Or maybe, in the wake of all the Prince Harry drama, Charles has realized there are far bigger indignities in life than a U.S. president getting a little too friendly with him.
More on the royals
- Trump Marks Queen’s Passing by Picking a Fight With Harry & Meghan
- King Charles Pretends He Has ‘No Time’ to See Prince Harry
- King Charles Embraces Prince Andrew, Keeps Shunning Prince Harry