Queen Elizabeth II – Her Diplomacy in Numbers

As the world reflects on the remarkable reign of Queen Elizabeth II, we look at her record as a stateswoman of unparalleled reach and achievement. 

Reigning for 70 years and 214 days, the longest of any British monarch, her late Majesty provided a model of constancy and unswerving commitment to UK and Commonwealth citizens, and indeed to the world. She ascended to the throne as the sun was setting on the British empire and was laid to rest as war returned to Europe and the UK began another chapter of its international relations from outside the EU. Her constant presence was a comfort to many during years of unsettling social and political change.

One of the strongest symbols of  British diplomacy, she was known simply as “The Queen” well beyond her official realms. Below we explore her diplomacy in numbers.

15 Prime Ministers 

From Winston Churchill to Liz Truss, Queen Elizabeth II’s reign spanned the mandates of fifteen British Prime Ministers, and over her 70-year reign the Queen played a key role in the governance of the United Kingdom.

While the modern monarchy has a highly circumscribed constitutional role and is operationally removed from policymaking, Queen Elizabeth was a trusted confidante to her Prime Ministers. While she gave no indication of her views on political questions, several former Prime Ministers have attested to the valuable advice she offered them during their weekly audiences. They knew that they could rely on her discretion, some noting that their meetings were the only occasion on which they could be assured of confidentiality. Particularly in her later years, she could offer them the benefit of her far longer experience of political affairs and acquaintance often of several generations of foreign leaders. As a constitutional monarch, the Queen had limited political power, yet her background influence, while indefinable, was undeniable. 

120+ Country Visits

Acknowledged as the most travelled monarch in history, Queen Elizabeth II visited over 120 nations, from the Commonwealth members with which she had the closest links, such as Australia and Canada, through to countries with which Britain’s relations were less strong or even quite problematic. Her unique position, experience and skill enabled her to reinforce already strong friendships and emphasise enduring relationships with countries and peoples, even when the politics of the day became difficult.

These unique abilities contributed in no small part to the UK’s “soft power”, enabling the country often to “punch above its weight” diplomatically. Few leaders would have considered declining the prospect of a Royal visit to their country or rejecting an invitation to meet the Queen, particularly on one of the 112 State Visits she hosted. From riding with Ronald Reagan in Windsor Great Park, to making the historic 2011 State Visit to Ireland that set the pace for closer Anglo-Irish relations, the Queen’s ability to charm and develop personal relationships with leaders was an extraordinarily valuable diplomatic tool. The pomp and circumstance of a state visit was desired around the world, and occasionally was able to shift diplomatic relations on to a better track.

13 United States Presidents

The Queen played a particular role in Britain’s diplomacy with the United States, adding lustre to an already “special” relationship. Of the 14 Presidents who served during her reign, from Harry Truman to Joe Biden, she met all except Lyndon B. Johnson. Described by one of President Clinton’s advisers as an “emollient factor in the special relationship”, she helped ensure that UK-US relations were well maintained through political ups and downs — frequently inviting the Commanders-in-Chief to Buckingham Palace or visiting the White House.

The Queen’s diplomacy undoubtedly helped shape trans-Atlantic relations at crucial moments. Her cordial relationship with Ronald Reagan certainly didn’t hurt Margaret Thatcher’s bid to seek US backing for her campaign in the Falkland Islands. Moreover, by extending an invitation to a State Visit to Barack Obama in 2011, only the second she offered to an American President, the Queen laid the groundwork for an affable US welcome for then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012. 

For the Presidents themselves, association with a gracious and well-admired monarch was recognised to be politically advantageous. The Queen won the hearts of Americans throughout her reign. Over the years, the Queen’s visits were majestic occasions that, if carried off well by the President, would foster great national pride. Despite the bitter polarisation that has characterised US politics in recent decades, one thing American Presidents could agree on was the benefit of being seen with the Queen. 

Head of State of 14 Commonwealth Countries

During Queen Elizabeth II’s tenure as head of the Commonwealth, she witnessed gravitational shifts in many of its member states and a widespread move to independence. At the time of her death, she was Head of State of only 14. But the Commonwealth survived the move to independence and, as its Head, the Queen did much to protect and nurture the Commonwealth family, to the extent that among its now 54 members are some that chose to join, despite having never been under British rule. Her late majesty visited all but two Commonwealth countries, making nearly 200 trips to all corners of the world.

However, despite skilfully preserving her distance from political controversy, the Queen came into increasing contact with the challenges presented by the contested legacy of the British Empire. With growing calls to acknowledge and address the darker aspects of imperial history, some, both in the UK and across the Commonwealth, became unwilling to distance the Crown from the acts of an Empire over which it once reigned. The diplomatic challenge was therefore even greater: to be impartial not only in domestic policy but between the differing views in her realms and the wider Commonwealth. These challenges are only likely to become even more acute for King Charles III.

Patron of more than 600 charities

The Queen was patron of more than 600 charities across the UK and the Commonwealth. From the British Red Cross to the Commonwealth Forestry Association, her causes connected her to all sectors of public life, and to all corners of the Commonwealth. Her patronages were instrumental in cultivating her strong diplomatic relationships across the world. Royal tours were peppered with visits to her patronages, providing cherished opportunities to meet with Commonwealth citizens. The Queen’s charitable activities were a key part of her diplomatic “soft power”. Her charities helped raise over £1.4 billion for the organisations she supported.. 

The Queen’s death brings to an end one of the world’s most active and impactful diplomatic careers, but also leaves an invaluable legacy for the UK, the Commonwealth and many beyond.   For much of her reign, she was supported in her work in the Commonwealth and the rest of the world by the now King, whose own international presence and connections are already a substantial asset. We await to see how King Charles III, new Head of State and the Commonwealth, maintains the global connections his late mother forged, and how, under his rule, the soft power influence of the Crown evolves. We will explore King Charles’ past and new role on the international stage in an upcoming article.

Eliza Keogh

Eliza is a Researcher and Programmes Manager at the British Foreign Policy Group.