He no doubt expected it to warm the hearts of his hosts when, after meeting the Queen at Windsor Castle last June, Joe Biden compared the monarch to his mother.
“I don’t think she would be offended, but she reminded me of my mother … her look and just generosity,” the president said before boarding Air Force One bound for Brussels.
While the Queen may have enjoyed the compliment, I wonder if his mother would have been so happy.
For it has just come to light that Katherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, known to the family as Jean, was far from a fan of Her Majesty.
According to British TV screenwriter Georgia Pritchett, Biden admitted that during a trip to the UK, his mother was distressed to hear that the Queen had reportedly once stayed at the same hotel where they were billeted – possibly in the same room and bed.
VP comedy-drama writer Pritchett went to Biden, then Vice President of the United States, to discuss his appearance in a special scene that would surprise Barack Obama, a big fan of the series.
“When he noticed that I was English, he changed the subject to how much his mother hated the English,” she recalls in her autobiography, My Mess Is a Bit of Life.
In speeches, the President rarely misses the opportunity to mention the tough and proud Mrs. Biden, just as he rarely misses the opportunity to call himself “Irish” – even calling himself “the only real Irishman” in the 2020 election.
“His parents were Irish and she wrote several poems about her hatred of the English. He went looking for them and returned with hundreds of verses describing how God is to smite the English and shed blood on our heads.”
Pritchett continued: “He also told me that when his mother visited the UK, she was staying at a hotel where the Queen used to stay. She was so shocked that she slept on the floor all night so as not to risk sleeping on the bed where the queen slept. I admire anyone whose principles come between them and a comfortable bed.”
Jean Biden, née Finnegan, died at age 92 in 2010, leaving him with what Mr. Biden called a “profound” and “tremendous” impact.
The obvious question is: could this influence mean that some of her overtly anti-British sentiment was passed on to the US president? And if so, could it affect relations between the UK and America?
After all, while the world has held its breath over Ukraine, the need for solidarity between these two longtime allies in the face of Russian aggression is more urgent than ever.
Until now, Britain and the US have been as one over the Kremlin, though it can hardly be forgotten that British politicians and defense ministers assumed the same thing in Afghanistan — only to blame Mr. Biden for withdrawing troops last summer without any consultation and demonstrating a disturbing indifference to British opinion.
Could this careless neglect have been inherited from an Anglophobic mother? Mr. Biden remembered her as a comforter, protector and teacher of American values as he grew up the eldest of four children in the industrial city of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Joe Biden attend a presidential welcome ceremony at Windsor Castle last June.
In his speeches, the President rarely misses the opportunity to mention the tough and proud Mrs. Biden, just as he rarely misses the opportunity to call himself “Irish” – even calling himself “the only real Irishman” in the 2020 election.
The White House has not commented on his mother’s stated antipathy for “the English,” but Mr. Biden has previously acknowledged that old prejudices are dying hard among members of his Irish family.
This is not surprising, given that his Irish ancestors left for America at the height of the great famine in the 1840s and 1850s, when the economic policies of the British government exacerbated the devastating effects of potato disease.
The two families from which Mr. Biden claims descent, the Blewitts of County Mayo and the Finnegans of County Louth, left Ireland during this period to start a new life in the US, eventually settling in Scranton.
Biden’s great-grandfather, Edward Blewitt, was reputedly a member of the infamous Molly Maguires, a violent secret society of immigrant Irish miners who partly inspired the gang of villains in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Valley of Fear.”
Despite the fact that his ancestors left Ireland some 170 years ago, Mr. Biden, whose Secret Service code name is “Celtic,” clings to Irish Catholic roots that could be very useful in US elections.
And since he was elected president in 2020, this Irish identification has raised fears that it could make him less favorable to Britain after Brexit than his Anglophile predecessor Donald Trump.
It really seemed that way when, during the last presidential election, Mr. Biden fired a BBC reporter, saying, albeit with a smirk, “BBC? I’m Irish!’
This brush-off was remembered when he clashed with Boris Johnson’s government over the Northern Ireland peace deal.
Mr Biden has made it clear that any trade deal with the UK depends “on respect for [Good Friday] Agreement and non-admission of the return of a rigid border. Period.’
However, Mr Biden said he still believes the UK has a “special relationship” with the US.
Others, in hindsight, have pointed out that in 1982, as a member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the future president proved to be a staunch British supporter of the Argentine invasion of the Falklands by pushing through a resolution insisting that the US government stay on the sidelines. . our closest and oldest ally.”
What his mother had to say about her son’s public support for the UK was never reported, but while Irish-American financial support for the IRA was once a major problem, Mr Biden has always tried to deal with his family’s anti-British prejudice. like some kind of joke.
On his father’s side, two great-grandparents were also born in Ireland, although the Bidens were mostly English and French.
“The Finnegans loved their grudges against the Irish and couldn’t easily let them go,” Biden wrote in his autobiography, Promises to Keep. To illustrate this, he recalled how a maternal great aunt named Gertie once told him in his youth that “your father is not a bad man”. He’s just English.”
He also admitted that his mother was worried that as his political career progressed and he met with the world’s top leaders, he might let the queen down.
Biden first met the monarch as a young senator. As he left for the airport to fly to the UK, he recalled in a speech in 2013, he got a call from his mother.
“Joey, be polite, but don’t kiss her ring,” Biden told his audience that she instructed him, adding as listeners burst into laughter, “I swear to God.”
Mr Biden, in his autobiography, echoed his mother’s concerns about being overly deferential to the Queen, this time recalling: “When I told my mother I was going to have an audience with the Queen of England, the first thing she said was, ‘Don’t.’ You bow before her.” He continued, “Remember, Joey,” she said, “you are Biden. Nobody is better than you.” ‘
Describing his mother’s defiance as a vigorous refusal to submit to authority rather than hatred of the British, Biden also said she told him not to obsequiously pope when he met him.
However, it’s hard to imagine Ms Biden – a staunch Catholic – reacting so violently to the idea of sleeping in His Holiness’s former bed at the hotel, as she reportedly did because of the Queen.
Genealogist Megan Smoleniak (who researched Mr. Biden’s roots) described him as “typically Irish-American.” Jean’s father, Ambrose, was a newspaper librarian and her mother was the daughter of a state senator.
Mr. Biden recalled how, at a gymnasium run by nuns, one of them once made fun of his stuttering. His mother, only 5 feet 1 inch, burst into the school and told the nun, “If you ever talk to my son like that again, I’ll come back and rip your cap off.” The queen could easily get off.