Visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Czechia remembered 25 years on

Queen Elisabeth II, Joel Rouse/ Ministry of Defence, OGL 3

This Saturday marks exactly 25 years since the visit of the British monarch to the Czech Republic. Elizabeth II, accompanied by her husband Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, came at the invitation of the late president Václav Havel and was the first British monarch to visit the country.

The visit by the British Queen in March 1996 was one of the most important state events in the country’s modern history.

Václav Havel invited the Queen already in 1991, during his visit to Britain, when he was still President of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.

Ladislav Špaček, a long-term spokesman of the late Czech president says that despite the distance of 25 years, he remembers the event as clearly as if it happened yesterday:

Václav Havel,  photo: archive of Radio Prague International

“It was by far the most important state visit to take place in the Czech Republic till then. The British Queen would only go on two state visits a year and she preferred to visit the Commonwealth countries.

“The fact that she accepted the invitation was something extraordinary and it was all thanks to Václav Havel, whose personality attracted state leaders from all around the world, including members of royal families.”

The Queen’s visit took place under strict safety measures and was prepared for months in advance. Mr Špaček recalls that the first advisory teams from Britain arrived in the country nearly a year before the actual visit took place.

Despite providing detailed guidelines concerning the protocol, some minor slip-ups couldn’t be avoided, says Mr. Špaček:

“Upon her arrival in the first courtyard of Prague Castle, the Queen observed the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which is a rather complicated ritual.

“President Havel wanted to assist the Queen and he lightly touched her elbow to steer her in the right direction. At that moment, the officer with the sabre who stood behind her snapped at him: Don’t touch her majesty, please!

“Mr. Havel later told me he thought he might pull out the sword, but luckily, nothing like that happened.”

Ladislav Špaček,  photo: Bohumila Reková / Czech Radio

Despite this little misstep, the visit was regarded a success. In her toast on the first evening of her stay, Queen Elizabeth II expressed her support for the Czech Republic in its aspiration to join the EU and NATO.

The late Czech president presented her with the Order of the White Lion, the highest state order of the Czech Republic, while he was decorated with the order of the Bath, a British Order of Chivalry.

During a walk on Charles Bridge, the British Queen met local residents, and she also paid a brief visit to the Moravian city of Brno. Meanwhile, her husband Philip requested to see the famous Kladruby stud farm.

While she was the first British monarch to visit the Czech Republic, Queen Elisabeth II was not the first member of the British royal family to do so.

Prince Charles, accompanied by his late wife Princess, Diana accepted President Havel’s invitation in 1991 and later returned to the country several times.