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Queen Elizabeth II and the many popes she’s met during her long reign

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 02/24/22

Can you guess how many pontiffs the British sovereign has met? (Careful, it's a trick question!)

Looking back at the Queen’s 70 years as monarch, it’s incredible to think of all the engagements she has undertaken. Aside from governmental and charity appointments, the head of the Church of England has also had the opportunity to meet a number of popes.

During the Queen’s 70-year reign, there have been a total of seven popes. And unlike her very distant relative, Henry VIII, who was responsible for causing so much division in Christendom, Elizabeth has had a better relationship with the Catholic Church, meeting with a number of pontiffs.

If you look below you can see the five popes the Queen has met — she never met Pope Paul VI, or John Paul I (although his papacy only lasted 33 days, so this is not a surprise). Incredibly, Elizabeth II has met two papal saints, as you’ll see below.

Pope Francis


The Queen met the current pontiff for the first and only time in 2014 on a day trip to Italy. The pair spent half an hour together, and according to Time Magazine, 17 of those minutes were alone.

Any pomp and protocol was avoided for this private meeting, with the elderly sovereign opting to wear a lilac skirt suit and hat. According to the BBC, while Elizabeth II gifted the pope with a hamper of British products, including venison and whiskey, Francis offered her a gift for her first great-grandson, Prince George: a royal orb made of lapis lazuli with a silver cross on top that symbolizes the world under Christianity.

Pope Benedict XVI

In 2010, the pope emeritus made a four-day state visit to Britain, where he met the Queen at Holyrood House, in Edinburgh. The pair seemed genuinely happy to meet each other, and after their talk, Benedict visited the beautiful Scottish city in his popemobile.

Pope John Paul II


The Queen met with the now-saint three times during his papacy — first in 1980 at the Vatican, then in 1982 at Buckingham Palace, and a third time in the pope’s private office in the Vatican in 2000.

During the 2000 Vatican visit, the Queen narrowly escaped making a sartorial faux pas. While she may be a monarch, she is not a Catholic monarch and has had to adhere to a certain dress codes when meeting the different pontiffs.

As her dresser and confidante, Angela Kelly shared in her book, In The Other Side Of The Coin: The Queen, The Dresser And The Wardrobe, the Queen’s advisors told her she would be able to wear a bright colorful day dress to meet John Paul II. Kelly claims she questioned this advice but the private secretaries at the Vatican assured her they were right.

That was not the case, however, so thankfully, Kelly, who was brought up a devout Catholic, had packed a more suitable black outfit that Elizabeth was able to wear for the occasion.

Pope John XXIII

The Queen went to the Vatican to meet the aging pope in 1961. During her visit she had the opportunity to review the Swiss Guards, an activity that would be very familiar to her with the regular inspections she makes of her own troops. John XXIII was canonized in 2014 by Pope Francis, the last pope Elizabeth II has visited.

Pope Pius XII

Princess Elizabeth at the Vatican prior to meeting PiusXII in 1951.

While still a princess, Elizabeth met with Pope Pius XII in 1951. Just one year later she would be crowned and begin life as the “Defender of the faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England,” a role that she has taken to her heart over her 70 year reign. It is indeed her vow to God made during her coronation that stops her from abdicating at the great age of 95.

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