February 2021 will mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 69th year on the British throne. In all of those years during which she witnessed some of the world’s most pivotal events, one can say — if one is a Texan — that we deserve an honorable mention amongst those events from her majesty’s life. Specifically, her 1991 two-day visit to the Lone Star State.
Elizabeth was the first British monarch ever to visit Texas and we gave her a Texas-sized tip of the ole Stetson. She loved it. She asked her U.S. chief of protocol, “Why didn’t I come here sooner?” During her visit she gave Texans one of the finest compliments we’ve ever had, but I’ll save that until the end.
Texas has long had a special relationship with Great Britain – one of the first European nations to recognize the new Republic of Texas. We actually flirted for a while with the notion of becoming part of the British Empire in the 1840s, but the U.S. had other plans.
Five years before the Queen was here, Her Majesty’s son, Charles, the Prince of Wales, came to Texas to help celebrate the Texas Sesquicentennial. He cut into the 45-ton, world’s largest birthday cake with a three-foot sword. I mean, it was Texas, what else was he supposed to use?
At the Capitol the prince was given a giant gavel. He laughed and said that it was the biggest he had ever had and “extremely appropriate coming from Texas.” While touring San Jacinto later that week – It was February but warm – he asked, “if it’s as hot as this in the winter, what is like in the summer?”
Texas has had fourteen kings, but it was a queen who was celebrated by Texans. In May of 1991. Queen Elizabeth visited Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston with an itinerary jam-packed with visits to the River Walk, NASA, the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and the Alamo. She even took a ride on the San Antonio River on a beautifully decorated barge.
When she arrived at Love Field Airport, she was greeted with strains of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” The words to “God Save the Queen” were recited before the playing of the song, so that the mostly Texas audience wouldn’t sing “My Country Tis of Thee” to the familiar tune.
While in Dallas, she knighted Cecil Howard Green, the British-born founder of Texas Instruments and cofounder of the UT campus there.
Accompanying Her Majesty on the visit was her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Sitting next to him at the Hall of State dinner commemorating the 150th anniversary of Dallas was Louise Caldwell, president of the Dallas Historical Society. Of the experience, she remarked, “It was very hard to find anything that he didn’t know more about than me… including Texas history.”
The queen delighted the audience there by recounting the well-known Texas story by John Gunther in which a man tells his son: “Never ask a man where he’s from. If he’s from Texas he’ll tell you. Otherwise no use embarrassing him by asking.”
At the Capitol, Gov. Ann Richards hosted the queen and 8,000 people gathered to catch a glimpse. The queen declared, “No state commands such fierce pride and loyalty. Lesser mortals are pitied for their misfortune in not being born Texans.” And she, the most travelled monarch in the world, knows what she’s talking about.