Despite Italy's banishing of its own royal family decades ago, the British monarch always had a strong connection to Italy. Her reign of 70 years and 214 days was the longest of any British monarch and the second-longest recorded of any monarch of a sovereign country.
The Queen went to Italy five times, warming the hearts of the Italian people. The Italian journalist Ilaria Grillini even dedicated a book, ‘Elizabeth – The Italian Queen', to the English sovereign on her 96th birthday.
And it was the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, who was one of the first world leaders to offer his "deep condolences." His statement started:
“La Regina Elisabetta è stata protagonista assoluta della storia mondiale degli ultimi settant’anni. Ha rappresentato il Regno Unito e il Commonwealth con equilibrio, saggezza, rispetto delle istituzioni e della democrazia.”
She has been the most beloved symbol of her country and has gained respect, affection, and sympathy all over the world. The published statement referred to how the Queen has guaranteed stability at times of crisis and has kept traditional values alive in society. He also referred to her spirit of service, her dedication to the UK and the Commonwealth, and that she has been a constant source of admiration for generations.
Italian president Sergio Mattarella also offered his condolences on behalf of Italy. In a statement, he said, "A figure of exceptional importance enters history", and praised the Queen's "authoritative wisdom and very high sense of responsibility."
The Princesses' first visit
Elizabeth II first visited Italy in 1951, when she was married to Prince Philip but still a princess. The carabinieri formed a guard of honor to meet them in Rome before meeting President Luigi Einaudi at the Quirinale Palace. During the visit, the Princess is said to have visited an orphanage. The couple visited the Vatican, where they talked to the Pope. Like any other tourist to Rome, she saw the Colosseum.
Philip also took the opportunity to play for Malta’s British naval team against Italian teams in the International Cup of Nations tournament at the Acqua Acetosa polo ground. There is footage of Prince Philip playing polo in Italy on YouTube.
The Princess also celebrated her 25th birthday in the country. The party took place at Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa) in Tivoli about 25 miles from Rome.
Her first Italian visit as a Queen
Elizabeth returned as the Queen for the first time in May 1961. A decade on and Italy had changed a great deal. The president of the Republic was Giovanni Gronchi, who hosted a state banquet at Quirinale Palace.
For this state visit, the schedule included Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, and Rome. The Queen flew to the Decimomannu Italian Air Force base in Sardinia, where the royal couple spent a day on the island. The Queen then boarded the royal yacht HMY Britannia en route to Naples. It’s reported that the yacht anchored off the island of Vulcano, where the couple took a tender to the island for an impromptu lunch on a terrace overlooking the sea.
The Queen also went to Florence, where she met Giorgio La Pira, the mayor of the city at the time, as evidenced by the sovereign’s signature in a visitors’ book at the Palazzo Vecchio. The current Mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, wrote: “On behalf of Florence, with memories of the longstanding friendship between the Royal Family and our city, I offer my deepest condolences for the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.”
The 1980 visit
Another two decades passed, and the Queen of England returned to Italy in 1980 to find the country once again changed. The Margaret Thatcher era had begun in England, and over in Italy, socialist Sandro Pertini was president of the Republic.
This trip saw Queen Elizabeth visit the Vatican. She was welcomed by a Polish pope-John Paul II. She also visited the ruins of Pompeii.
The half visits
The ‘half-visit’ took place in 1992. Ilaria Grillini describes the trip in her book when the Queen had planned to arrive in Palermo and then leave for Malta. She arrived a few days after the Capaci terrorist attack. The book documents the Queen placing a wreath of flowers on the attack site next to that of President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro.
Like other tourists to Italy, the Queen enjoyed the culture, art, and tradition of the country.
For example, during the trip in 2000, the Queen went to the Sistine Chapel and then attended the La Scala opera house in Milan. Her final journey to the country was made in 2014. It was her first overseas trip in more than two years, and she met Pope Francis for the first time. Her lilac outfit and relaxed look were captured by the Italian press.
The Queen’s final visit to Italy was at the invitation of the Italian president at the time, Giorgio Napolitano. He held the monarch in high regard, using a dinner in 2012 at the British ambassador's Roman residence to express gratitude for the royal family's support for the Italian resistance movement during World War Two.
The Italian connection
Each visit to Italy was precisely planned, with meetings with the current Italian president and the Pope, and an immersion in Italian culture, art, and tradition. During her reign, the Queen was received by a pope five times at the Vatican: Pius XII in 1951, by John XXIII in 1961; by John Paul II in 1980 and 2000; and by Pope Francis in 2014.
The Windsors have always had a special relationship with Italy, from George V to the Queen Mother. And, like many Italian Americans, members of the British Royal Family are fond of Italy, its beauty, art, and cuisine.
Stateside, over her lifetime, Queen Elizabeth II met with 12 US presidents, developing friendships and working relationships with both Democrats and Republicans.
In the words of Italian actress Anna Magnani, who lined the streets in Rome in 1961 cheering: “Bella! Viva la Regina! "Beautiful! Long live the Queen!”
Amanda Akien graduated from The University of Wollongong, Australia with an MA in Journalism with Distinction. Her writing has appeared in international travel magazines, as well as The Guardian newspaper. Although Amanda is based in the UK, she has traveled throughout Italy, even interning at a major modeling agency during Milan Fashion Week. Her favorite region is Tuscany - she loves Florence and is also partial to a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo!