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Buckingham Palace responds to Joe Biden’s ‘protocol breach’ with King Charles

US president was accused of breaking royal protocol during his visit to the monarch at Windsor Castle

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Tuesday 11 July 2023 07:26 BST
King Charles welcomes Joe Biden at Windsor Castle

King Charles III reportedly did not mind that President Joe Biden “broke royal protocol” when he patted the monarch on the back during their meeting at Windsor Castle.

On Monday 10 July, King Charles welcomed the president at Windsor Castle for their first formal meeting since the British ruler’s coronation in May.

The reunion saw Charles greet Biden at his car outside, with the pair shaking hands before making their way up to a platform to watch a band play each country’s national anthem. At one point during the meeting, Biden could be seen placing his hand on the ruler’s back.

The gesture prompted speculation that the US president had broken royal protocol, as protocol experts have previously warned against initiating “personal physical contact with a member of the royal family” unless they do so first.

“Best not to initiate personal physical contact with a member of the royal family. Again, it may be that they offered to give you a hug or to put their arm around you, but usually wait and see what’s expected or what’s appropriate for the event,” Lucy Hume, the associate director at Debrett’s, a professional coaching company founded in 1769, previously told Reuters.

However, the King reportedly did not mind Biden’s alleged breach of protocol, as a Buckingham Palace source told People that Charles was “entirely comfortable” with the gesture.

“What a wonderful symbol of warmth and affection it was between both the individuals and their nations,” the source said.

In a statement to CNN, the source added: “Contrary to some reports, that is, in fact, the correct protocol.”

The Palace source also reportedly denied that Biden broke protocol again when he walked ahead of the King during the inspection of the Guard of Honour. The moment took place as the president and monarch walked beside the Welsh Guards on the grounds of Windsor Castle, with Biden seen walking a few feet in front of the King. At one point, the British ruler appeared to move the president along when Biden stopped to speak with one of the Guardsmen.

However, according to the Palace source, Biden was also not wrong to walk in front of the King.

(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The clarification came after former president Donald Trump sparked similar criticism when he walked a few steps ahead of the late Queen during a visit to Windsor Castle in 2018. At the time, The New York Timesalleged that Trump had committed a “royal no-no” when he walked ahead of the Queen.

As for how members of the royal family should be greeted, the official website for the royal family notes that “there are no obligatory codes of behaviour” when meeting the monarch or another royal, but that many people “wish to observe the traditional forms”.

“For men, this is a neck bow (from the head only) whilst women do a small curtsy. Other people prefer simply to shake hands in the usual way,” the website states.

The clarification around Biden’s hand placement comes after Michelle Obama faced similar controversy after she placed her arm around the Queen at Buckingham Palace during her first royal visit as first lady in 2009.

Obama later reflected on the moment in her 2018 memoir Becoming, where she wrote that she didn’t realise until later that she had committed “what would be deemed as an epic faux pas”.

However, at the time, she claimed that, although she hadn’t “done the proper thing, she had “at least done the human thing”.

“I daresay the Queen was okay with it, too, because when I touched her, she only pulled closer, resting a gloved hand lightly on the small of my back,” she added.

The Independent has contacted Buckingham Palace for comment.

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