VILNIUS - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II will likely cherish her first ever visit to the Baltic states, not only for the warm welcome she received but because the monarch learned that she herself carries Lithuanian heritage.
The queen and her husband, Prince Phillip, arrived to Vilnius late on Oct.16. The next morning, the 80-year-old monarch learned that she had blood ties to one of Lithuania's greatest medieval rulers 's Grand Duke Gediminas, founder of Vilnius.
The Lietuvos Rytas daily reported that British historian Stephan Rowell and prominent Lithuanian historian Alfredas Bumblauskas discovered that the family trees of Elizabeth II and Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas intersect in the 15th century.
Bumblauskas claimed that Elizabeth II and Gediminas were related through the Lithuanian Duke's great-grand-daughter, Sofija, who in the 15th century married into the German Hohenzollern dynasty. The Hohenzollern female line is mentioned among ancestors of the Stewart-Hanover dynasty, which is Elizabeth II's lineage.
After receiving this news, the queen was saluted by soldiers dressed in 14th-century uniforms at the Presidential Palace before meeting with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus. The monarch was so impressed with the soldiers, she reportedly asked to see them again before dinner, although this was not included in the official program.
After their meeting, the queen and Adamkus exchanged gifts and state decorations. The president honored the monarch with the Baltic state's top award, the Order of the Grand Duke Vytautas - who happened to be a grandson of the queen's distant relative, Gediminas.
Before visiting Parliament, Elizabeth also stopped at the Antakalnis cemetery to honor the victims of Lithuania's fight for independence and to talk with soldiers who recently served in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Speaking to a full-house Parliament, the queen praised Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia for their progress since breaking-away from the Soviet Union 15 years ago.
"You have emerged from the shadow of the Soviet Union and blossomed as sovereign states, taking up your rightful places in the international community and as respected members of the European Union and NATO," she said. "It is a transformation 's political, economic, and social 's for which there are few parallels in the history of Europe."
But the monarch also brought up one of Lithuania's darkest periods.
"Here in Vilnius, we cannot forget the tragedy of the holocaust. There are many in the British Jewish community whose families lie buried in Lithuania," the queen said.
Lithuania has a one of the worst Nazi genocide death rates 's more than 90 percent of the nation's 220,000 pre-war Jewish community perished during the holocaust.
The queen mingled not only with politicians, but with common folk as well. During her visit to City Hall Square, she spoke with Vilnius residents, who adorned her with flowers. The British ambassador to Lithuania later hosted a reception in City Hall, where 80-year-old Lithuanians, each representing one of the nation's 10 counties, were invited.
Liuda Siauciukeniene, one of the 10 pensioners, was delighted with the event.
"Everything was so neat and nice, and the queen was so inviting and warm. We did not talk with her, but I had a chance to shake hands and to speak with Lithuanian president," she told The Baltic Times.
Adamkus was just as delighted to meet Queen Elizabeth II.
"The queen is one of the most salient and most respected personalities in the world. I think that many today envy us," the Lithuanian leader said.
Yet not everybody in Vilnius welcomed the queen. Two young girls from the animal rights group PETA were detained at the British Embassy in Vilnius for protesting the fact that the British monarch's guards wore authentic bear skin headwear.
Although the queen did not see the girls, the animal rights protestors said they were planning to follow her to Latvia and Estonia.