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Our Own Brush with Royalty

April 29, 2011

As the world celebrates the most highly anticipated union of the year – this morning’s wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton – it might be interesting to look back in history to an earlier time:  the summer of 1970.  Richard M. Nixon was in the White House, temperatures had reached the sultry nineties, miniskirts were popular, and a youthful Prince Charles and his sister, Princess Anne, arrived in Washington, D.C.

Princess Anne and Prince Charles take in Renoir's The Judgement of Paris. On the far left in yellow is Julie Eisenhower. Far right is Marjorie Phillips, then director of the museum.

It was their first trip to the United States, a whirlwind three-day visit for Britain’s royal pair that began on July 16, with America’s first family welcoming them on the South Lawn of the White House.  Prince Charles, a tall, 21-year old heir to the British throne, proclaimed to his greeters that he and his sister, 19-year old Princess Anne, had always longed to come to America.

The Nixons had prepared a tightly packed schedule for the regal tourists, starting with an informal trip to Camp David for a picnic, skeet shooting, and a swim.  That evening during a “walkabout” of the Washington Monument, Charles walked down all 898 steps.  On the second day of their visit, the Prince and his sister went by motorcade to meet with Senate and House leaders in their chambers, where 28 Senate pages, dressed in white shirts and black knickers and black tie, shook hands with the royal couple.  What followed was a tour the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum where astronauts Neil Armstrong and Frank Borman served as their guides, a luncheon sail on the Presidential yacht to George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, and tea at the British Embassy.

It was widely reported that the usually vivacious Princess Anne appeared to be “in a mood” at times, easily understandable since she had hoped to visit a horse farm, a discotheque, and go shopping, none of which were on the schedule! That evening was a dance on the White House lawn with guests of President Nixon’s two daughters, Tricia and Julie, and his son-in-law, David Eisenhower.  The Canadian band Guess Who and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap provided the music.  Optimists hoping for a spark of romance between the bachelor prince and 24-year old Tricia Nixon failed to see any indications as they danced together.

The distinguished party leaves The Phillips. From left to right: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, unidentified, Tricia Nixon, and David Eisenhower. Photo from The Phillips Collection Archives.

That brings us to the day the royals visited The Phillips Collection.  On the final day of their visit, accompanied by Julie and David Eisenhower, and Tricia, the royal pair toured the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center before arriving at The Phillips Collection.  These photographs, along with letters and newspaper clippings, from The Phillips Collection Archives document the Royal visit.  A letter from the British Embassy expresses warm thanks to Mrs. Phillips, “for being so generous as to permit Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Princess Anne to view your paintings at the Gallery in such privacy.  Their Royal highnesses were most grateful that you and your son could find the time to conduct them around some of the paintings in your very fine collection.”

Three years later, in 1973, on her brother Prince Charles’s 25thbirthday, Princess Anne would wed Mark Phillips (a Lieutenant in the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards) at Westminster Abbey in a ceremony that was televised around the world, with an estimated audience of 100 million.  Who knows–perhaps the newest royal couple, also married at Westminster Abbey before a worldwide audience, will follow in their footsteps and visit the Phillips.

Colleen Hennessey, Archives Assistant

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Meg Kuck permalink
    April 29, 2011 7:22 pm

    This is terrific!

    and you know, William and Kate did major in art history in college (although William later changed his major to geography…)

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