Tens of thousands of spectators lined the streets of Boston 46 years ago to welcome Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, during a 1976 visit, part of the country’s bicentennial celebrations of the American Revolution.
A headline on the front page of the Boston Globe on Monday, July 12, 1976, reads, “200 years later, queen charms Boston,” according to the Globe archives.
A 21-gun salute fired from Old Ironsides welcomed the queen, who was 50 at the time, aboard Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, then the vessel of the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth dressed for “Boston summer,” wearing a pink and white dress with a white hat with red trim, the Globe reported.
Then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis was there, along with Boston Mayor Kevin White, to welcome the queen as she disembarked from the yacht. He recalls the moment — and all the royal protocol — as a bit nerve wracking.
“We were told repeatedly to never touch her. You know, ‘Whatever you do, don’t touch her. Don’t take her by the hand. Don’t take her by the arm,’ ” Dukakis, now 88, said in an interview Thursday outside his Brookline home.
But then the queen, wearing tasteful low-heeled pumps, stepped out onto the slick gangplank and began sliding down the incline. Right toward Dukakis.
“It was a fairly steep descent and I’m sitting there, you know, ‘Do I catch her?’ ” he recalled. “She comes down and stops with a bump but doesn’t fall and then says, ‘Good morning.’ Never forgot it.”
After that fraught first moment, the queen and Dukakis took a motorcade cruise up Hanover Street in a black Cadillac. North End residents “leaned from windows and fire balconies to wave hello,” the Globe article said. The motorcade snaked through the Back Bay and into Cambridge. A sign on Mass. Ave. read “Welcome Liz.”
A service was held in Old North Church with the queen in the congregation, the Globe reported. As she and Dukakis arrived, they were greeted by a line of a dozen “distinguished clerics.” An organist played Bach, and Prince Philip read a scripture — “the only time he spoke publicly during the day,” the Globe reported.
Army helicopters, National Guard officers, local police, and Secret Service were all present to ensure the queen’s safety.
Not everyone welcomed the queen’s visit to Boston. A throng of protesters also gathered, some carrying signs that read “England get out of Ireland now” — a seeming reference to the contentious British rule of Northern Ireland — and “Tyranny is not easily conquered but we will conquer.” People could be heard shouting “English, out now!” and “What do we want? Freedom!” according to the article.
“If the queen was aware of their presence, she didn’t show it,” the article said.
The royals made their way to the Old State House, “the former seat of British authority,” where Queen Elizabeth and Dukakis listened to Harvard poet David McCord recite a poem crafted in the queen’s honor. The queen then ventured to City Hall Plaza for a private luncheon with 192 guests, including White and Senator Edward M. Brooke.
Various bands and dance ensembles entertained thousands of spectators as they eagerly waited outside. “It was a spectacle,” the Globe reported.
Then, Queen Elizabeth herself gave an address:
“We have been very moved by the welcome we have received in this city, particularly since it was here — in Boston— that it all began and it was not many miles from here, at Lexington and Concord, that the first shots were fired in the war between Britain and America, two hundred and one years ago,” the queen said.
WBZ Archives: Queen Elizabeth II Visits Boston In 1976
Fans of The Crown will love this 1976 clip from the WBZ archives: In a scene that Paul Revere and Sam Adams never could have imagined, Queen Elizabeth II gave a speech outside Boston's Old State House, where "it all began."Posted by WBZ | CBS Boston on Wednesday, February 21, 2018
“If Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and other patriots could have known that one day a British monarch would stand beneath the balcony of the Old State House, from which the Declaration of Independence was first read to the people of Boston, and be greeted by the mayor and others in such kind and generous works, well — I think they would have been extremely surprised,” she continued. “But perhaps they would have been pleased. Pleased to know that eventually we came together again as free peoples and friends and defended together the very ideas for which the American Revolution was fought.”
The royal party then moved to Faneuil Hall for a parade of 98 Revolutionary-era militia troops from across New England. The final stop on the Boston tour was spent aboard the USS Constitution, where the queen was given a 32-piece sterling silver teaspoon set by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. She was also gifted a silver copy of a chalice made by Paul Revere.
The royal visit concluded back at the Britannia, where a private party took place before it set sail to Canada, where the queen was slated to open the Olympics, the Globe reported.
Boston was the last stop on the queen’s 1976 US tour, when she visited Washington, Philadelphia, New York City, Charlottesville, Va., and Newport, R.I., in six days as part of the bicentenary celebrations.
Queen Elizabeth II died Thursday at the age of 96.
Brittany Bowker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker. Bailey Allen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @baileyaallen.