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Footnotes in Texas History

Her Majesty’s Visit

Queen Elizabeth II’s 1991 trip to Texas was a momentous occasion

During her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has witnessed many of the world’s pivotal events, and one honorable mention where she became the event is her 1991 two-day visit to the Lone Star State.

Elizabeth was the first British monarch to visit Texas, and Texans gave her an impressive tip of the Stetson. She loved it. She asked her U.S. chief of protocol, “Why didn’t I come here sooner?”

Texas has long had a special relationship with Great Britain, one of the first nations to recognize the Republic of Texas. Texans even flirted with the notion of becoming part of the British Empire in the 1840s, but the U.S. had other plans.

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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 3-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 remarked, “If it’s this hot in the winter, I’d like to see what it’s like in the summer.”

Texas has had 14 kings, but it was a queen who was most celebrated by Texans. In May 1991, Elizabeth visited Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston with an itinerary that included visits to the River Walk, the Alamo, NASA and Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Houston. She even took a ride on the San Antonio River on a beautifully decorated barge.

When Elizabeth arrived at Dallas’ Love Field, she was greeted with strains of The Yellow Rose of Texas. The words to God Save the Queen, the British national anthem, were recited before the playing of the song so that the mostly Texan audience wouldn’t sing My Country ’Tis of Thee to the familiar tune.

While in Dallas, she knighted Cecil Howard Green, an honorary title for the British-born founder of Texas Instruments and co-founder of the University of Texas campus there.

Prince Philip, the duke of Edinburgh, accompanied Elizabeth on the visit, part of their 13-day trip to the United States. Sitting next to him at the dinner commemorating the 150th anniversary of Dallas’ founding was Louise Caldwell, president of the Dallas Historical Society. She remarked, “It was very hard to find anything that he didn’t know more about than me, including Texas history.”

The queen recounted the story 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 traveled monarch in the world, knows what she’s talking about.