Thatcher papers show fascination with Reagan visit

President Reagan went horseback riding with Queen Elizabeth II on the grounds of Windsor Castle in 1982.
Bob Daugherty/Associated Press/File
President Reagan went horseback riding with Queen Elizabeth II on the grounds of Windsor Castle in 1982.

LONDON — Few people keep Queen Elizabeth II waiting, especially when she has issued a personal invitation, but President Reagan did so in 1982 without causing any lasting damage.

It happened in 1982, when the Reagan White House failed to reply in a timely way to a personal invitation from the queen for the president and his wife, Nancy, to stay with her at Windsor Castle during a planned visit to England.

Formerly confidential papers made public Friday reveal there were raised eyebrows, and bruised feelings, when Reagan did not answer the sort of invite that usually commands a prompt reply the world over. The queen’s invitation was left to languish for weeks — something the British believe is simply Not Done.


‘‘It is really for the president to respond to her invitation, which he has not done personally, something that I have pointed out several times here,’’ writes Nicholas Henderson, Britain’s ambassador to Washington, in a memo to the British Foreign Office. ‘‘As you know those surrounding the president are not deliberately rude: It is simply that they are not well-organized and do not have experience of this sort of thing.’’

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The misunderstanding was eventually cleared up — and Reagan even found the time to go horseback riding with the queen.

A former Reagan official today offers one possible explanation for the delay in replying: Nancy Reagan’s need to consult an astrologer. ‘‘You have to remember that Mrs. Reagan was very strict about his schedule, and she would consult her astrologer to see if this was the right time to travel,’’ William F. Sittman, a special assistant to Reagan who was involved in planning the trip, told the Associated Press. ‘‘Sometimes she would back up departures.’’

The tiff over the tardy reply is but one revelation contained in nearly 500 pages of newly released documents relating to the Reagan visit made public Friday by Britain’s National Archives. The dossier shows the British government — led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — to be extraordinarily interested in pleasing the president on his two-day visit.

British leaders also fretted that perennial cross-Channel rivals might triumph in the tug-of-war for presidential face time in a visit that had to be sandwiched between two summits on the European mainland. They feared he might cancel, because of time pressure or a reluctance to offend other European leaders who wanted meetings with Reagan.


The dossier is filled with serious political concerns — how to maximize Britain’s influence on US policy — and lighter matters, including what gift to give the Reagans (they decided on a carriage clock), and what type of horse and saddle Reagan would most enjoy for his ride with the queen.

At one point, the president’s men pose a fashion question on his behalf: Just what should the president wear to go riding with the queen?

The answer: Something smart, but casual. Riding boots, breeches, and a turtleneck sweater would do fine — no need for formal riding attire.

The papers show that top Reagan adviser Michael Deaver had a way of annoying his British counterparts with last-minute changes and requests, and also surprised them with some of his objectives. Deaver, remembered as a shrewd image-builder, said he wanted Reagan to be photographed outside of formal venues, so he wouldn’t be seen ‘‘exclusively in white tie’’ at palace functions, even suggesting that Reagan go to a village pub to soak up the atmosphere.