He no doubt expected it would 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’d be insulted but she reminded me of my mother… the look of her and just the generosity,’ the President said before he boarded Air Force One for Brussels.
While the Queen may have enjoyed the compliment, one wonders if his mother would have been quite so happy.
For it has just been revealed that Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, known to the family as Jean, was far from a fan of Her Majesty.
According to a British TV script writer, Georgia Pritchett, Mr Biden confided how on a trip to the UK, his mother was mortified to hear that the Queen had reportedly once stayed in the same hotel where they were ticketed — possibly in the same room and bed.
A scriptwriter on the comedy drama series Veep, Pritchett had gone to see Biden, then US vice president, to discuss his appearance in a special scene as a surprise for Barack Obama, a big fan of the show.
‘Noticing I was English, I have changed the subject to how much his mother hated the English,’ she recalls in her autobiography, My Mess Is A Bit Of A Life.
In speeches, the President rarely misses a chance to mention tough and proud Mrs Biden, just as he rarely misses an opportunity to refer to himself as ‘Irish’ — even describing himself as the ‘only real Irishman’ in the 2020 election
‘His parents were Irish and she had written several poems about her hatred of the English. He went off to find them and returned with hundreds of poems describing how God must smite the English and rain blood on our heads.’
Pritchett continued: ‘He also told me that when his mother visited the UK she had stayed in a hotel where the Queen had once stayed. She was so appalled that she slept on the floor all night, rather than risk sleeping on a bed that the Queen had slept on. I admire anyone whose principles come between them and a comfy bed.’
Jean Biden, nee Finnegan, died aged 92 in 2010 having had what Mr Biden has described as a ‘profound’ and ‘formidable’ influence on him.
The obvious question is, could that influence have meant some of her unvarnished anti-British sentiment rubbed off on the US President? And, if so, could it affect the relationship between Britain and America?
After all, as the world holds its breath over Ukraine, the need for solidarity between these two long-standing allies in the face of Russian aggression is more vital than ever.
So far, the UK and US have been as one over the Kremlin, although it can hardly be forgotten that British politicians and defense chiefs assumed the same to be the case in Afghanistan — only for them to accuse Mr Biden of pulling out last summer without any consultation and showing alarming indifference to the views of the UK.
Could that casual disregard have been inherited from an Anglophobic mother? Mr Biden remembered her as a comfort, and defend and teacher of American values, as he grew up the oldest of four children in the industrial city of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Queen Elizabeth II and US President Joe Biden attend the president’s ceremonial welcome at Windsor Castle in June last year
In speeches, the President rarely misses a chance to mention tough and proud Mrs Biden, just as he rarely misses an opportunity to refer to himself as ‘Irish’ — even describing himself as the ‘only real Irishman’ in the 2020 election.
The White House hasn’t commented on his mother’s reported antipathy towards ‘the English’ but Mr Biden has previously admitted that old prejudices die hard among his Irish family members.
And that may not be entirely surprising given that his Irish ancestors left for America at the height of the great famine in the 1840s and 1850s, when the devastating effects of potato blight were exacerbated by British government economic policy.
Two families through which Mr Biden claims lineage — the Blewitts of County Mayo and the Finnegans of County Louth — left Ireland for a new life in the US during this period and ended up settling in Scranton.
Mr Biden’s great-grandfather, Edward Blewitt, was reputedly a member of the notorious Molly Maguires, a violent secret society of Irish immigrant miners that partly inspired the villainous gang in the Sherlock Holmes story The Valley Of Fear.
Even though his ancestors left Ireland some 170 years ago, Mr Biden — whose Secret Service code name is ‘Celtic’ — has clung to Irish Catholic roots that can be very useful in US elections.
And ever since he was elected president in 2020, that Irish identification has stoked fears that it might make him rather less well-disposed towards a post-Brexit UK than his Anglophile predecessor Donald Trump.
It certainly seemed that way when, during the last presidential election, Mr Biden dismissed a BBC reporter, saying — albeit with a grin: ‘The BBC? I’m Irish!’
That brush-off was recalled when he clashed with Boris Johnson’s Government over the Northern Ireland peace deal.
Mr Biden forcefully made clear that any trade deal with the UK depended ‘upon respect for the [Good Friday] Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.’
Mr Biden has, however, said he still believes the UK has a ‘special relationship’ with the US
Others, looking much further back, have pointed out that in 1982, as a member of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, the future president provided a staunch supporter of Britain over Argentina’s Falklands invasion, pushing through a resolution insisting the US government stand by ‘ our closest and oldest ally’.
Quite what his mother had to say about her son’s public support for the UK has never been reported but, while Irish-American financial support for the IRA was once a serious issue, Mr Biden has always tried to treat his own family’s anti-British prejudice as a bit of a joke.
On his father’s side, two great-grandparents were also born in Ireland, although the Bidens were primarily of English and French extraction.
‘The Finnegans were fond of their Irish grudges, and they didn’t easily let one go,’ Biden wrote in his autobiography, Promises To Keep. To illustrate this he recalled a maternal great aunt named Gertie once telling him in his youth that ‘your father is not a bad man. He’s just English’.
He has also admitted that his mother was worried that as his political career progressed and he met the world’s top leaders he might let the side down with the Queen.
Biden first met the monarch as a young senator. Just as he was leaving for the airport to fly to the UK, he recalled in a 2013 speech, his mother phoned him.
‘Joey, be polite but do not kiss her ring,’ Biden told his audience she had instructed him, adding, as laughter broke out among listeners: ‘Swear to God.’
Mr Biden repeated his mother’s concern about showing undue deference to the Queen in his autobiography, 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 down to her.” He went on: ‘ “Remember Joey,” she’d say, “you’re a Biden. Nobody is better than you.” ‘
Painting his mother’s defiance as one of spirited refusal to kowtow to power rather than a hatred of the British, Mr Biden also said she’d told him not to be obsequious to the Pope either when he met him.
However, it’s difficult to imagine Mrs Biden — a staunch Roman Catholic — reacting so violently to the idea of sleeping in His Holiness’s former hotel bed as she reportedly did over the Queen.
Described by genealogist Megan Smolenyak (who investigated Mr Biden’s roots) as ‘quintessential Irish-American’, Jean’s father, Ambrose, was a newspaper librarian while her mother was the daughter of a state senator.
Mr Biden has recalled how while at a grammar school run by nuns, one of them had once mocked his stuttering. His mother de el — just 5 ft 1 in — stormed into the school and told the nun: ‘If you ever speak to my son like that again, I’ll come back and rip that bonnet off your head.’ The Queen may have got off lightly.