The date for The Queen’s coronation, Tuesday 2nd June 1953, was chosen on the advice of meteorologists who said that this date was statistically the most likely to have the best weather. Needless to say, in true British style, it rained.
For the first time in history, the ancient ceremony of the coronation was broadcast on television in front of millions of people who bought a television for the first time for the coronation. It was the coronation being televised that led to the boom in the popularity of the television, before that it was seen as “radio’s weaker brother”.
Sir Winston Churchill and many other political figures were against the Coronation being broadcast. In the end it was the new Queen herself that decided that the coronation should be televised.
Prince Philip was not crowned alongside The Queen like wives of Kings are as he was not King Consort (he isn’t even technically Prince Consort), however he was the first person to pay homage to the new Queen after the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Queen’s coronation gown was designed by Norman Hartnell and was kept top secret until the Coronation day. It was in fact so secret that a policeman guarded the door of the room where the dress was being sewn by the Royal School of Needlework. The school eventually decided that everyone with the school (including even cleaners) would be able to sew a stitch onto the dress; in order to do this they covered up the dress and each person sewed one stitch in.
The Coronation gown was intended to project the image of hope for Britain after such difficult times. It featured the floral emblems of the countries of the United Kingdom and those of the other states within the Commonwealth of Nations, including the English Tudor rose, Scottish thistle, Welsh leek, Irish shamrock, Canadian maple leaf, Australian wattle, New Zealand silver fern, South African protea,lotus flowers for India and Ceylon, and Pakistan’s wheat, cotton, and jute.
In the whole ceremony, The Queen was reported to have only made one minor mistake, which was forgetting to curtsey with her Maids of Honour at the north pillar of Westminster Abbey. Fortunately, the mistake was so minor, no one except the Archbishop of Canterbury noticed and everything ran on as it should have.
The tune Zadok the Priest was sung at the coronation at the moment of crowning, just like at every coronation since it was composed for the coronation of George II, though the words of the anthem have been used in every English, and later British, coronation since that of King Edgar at Bath Abbey in 973.
Prince Charles was the first Royal heir to have attended his mother’s coronation in history. Princess Anne was deemed too young to go and was forced to watch the procession at Buckingham Palace. She recalls in a recent interview that she felt frustrated at not being able to go.
Street parties were a common thing during the Coronation in the UK, but they were also an international hit. In the United States, coronation parties were mounted, one in New York City.
In order for Her Majesty’s overseas subjects to be able to watch the Coronation, RAF Canberras flew film of the ceremony across the Atlantic Ocean to be broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
The coronation was held a year after the accession of The Queen (like almost all Coronations before) for two primary reasons. Not only was time needed to plan and arrange the ceremony, but it has always been believed that because a Monarch accedes usually after the death of the previous that a celebration so soon after would be inappropriate.
As The Queen and her 6 coronation maids prepared for what was surely the greatest day of their lives, The Queen, rather cannily, is reported by the maids to have said, “ready girls” before they all set off for the 3-hour coronation service.
The Queen chose to be crowned with the St Edward’s Crown at her Coronation. Monarchs sometimes choose (only recently) to be crowned with the lighter Imperial State Crown, though Queen Elizabeth chose to stick with tradition and use the same crown that was placed on her father’s head 16 years before in the same ceremony. The St Edward’s Crown is only used at the point of crowning, the Imperial State Crown is used at every occasion requiring a crown from then.
The Queen held rehearsals at Buckingham Palace with her Maids using sheets tied together to represent the coronation robes in the run up to the event.
Sadly neither the tradition of a coronation banquet, nor that of The Queen’s Champion riding in full armour on horseback into Westminster Hall declaring a challenge to anyone who doubted the new Sovereign was revived for the Coronation.
Aside from The Queen, the only individuals authorised to wear crowns at the coronation were the Kings of Arms, the United Kingdom’s senior heraldic officials. Garter, Clarenceaux, and Norroy and Ulster Kings of Arms, who have ‘heraldic jurisdiction’ over England, Wales and Northern Ireland and also the Lord Lyon King of Arms, Scotland’s heraldic chief.
The correct term for the headdress worn by other participants in the ceremony (including the peers) is a Coronet. Wives of peers present largely wore tiaras.
The traditional Latin shouts of Vivat Regina (long live The Queen) could be heard during the Coronation service. This ws incorporated into the anthem ,”I was glad” by Hubert Parry. “Vivat Regina… Vivat Regina Elizabetha”.
The Queen was crowned at 12:23pm exactly.
The crowning of the Sovereign is an ancient ceremony, rich in religious significance, historic associations and pageantry. For the last 900 years, it has taken place at Westminster Abbey as the royal church for the Palace of Westminster. Before the Abbey was built, Coronations were carried out wherever was convenient, for example at Bath, Oxford and Canterbury.
Queen Elizabeth II is the sixth Queen to have been crowned in Westminster Abbey in her own right. The first was Queen Mary I, who was crowned on 1 October, 1553.
The Queen succeeded to the Throne on the 6th February, 1952 on the death of King George VI. She was in Kenya at the time and became the first Sovereign in over 200 years to accede while abroad.
The Queen’s grandmother, Queen Mary, aged 81 was the first Queen to see a grandchild ascend to the throne. However, she died before the Coronation took place.
The Coronation service used for Queen Elizabeth II descends directly from that of King Edgar at Bath in 973. The original fourteenth-century order of service was written in Latin and was used until the Coronation of Elizabeth I.
The Earl Marshal is responsible for organising the Coronation. Since 1386 the position of Earl Marshal has been undertaken by The Duke of Norfolk. It was the sixteenth Duke of Norfolk who was responsible for The Queen’s Coronation (1953). He was also responsible for the State funerals of Sir Winston Churchill (1965), as well as the investiture of The Prince of Wales (1969).
The Queen, with The Duke of Edinburgh, was driven from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Gold State Coach, which was pulled by eight grey geldings: Cunningham, Tovey, Noah, Tedder, Eisenhower, Snow White, Tipperary and McCreery. The Gold State Coach has been used by The Queen twice since her Coronation – at the Silver and Golden Jubilees.
Royals from all over the world attended the coronation including the Queen of Tonga, Crown Prince Olav of Norway and King Michael of Romania.
The Coronation Bouquet was presented to The Queen by the Worshipful Company of Gardeners to take with her on the drive to Westminster Abbey. The all-white bouquet comprised orchids and lilies-of-the-valley from England, stephanotis from Scotland, and carnations from Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, with additional orchids from Wales.
The Duke of Edinburgh wore full-dress Naval uniform for the journey to and from the Abbey. While in the Abbey, he wore a coronet and his Duke’s robe over his uniform. The Duke’s page was Mr Nigel Rees, a Royal Navy Midshipman, who wore a uniform of Edinburgh green.
Since the Coronation, The Queen has worn the Coronation dress six times: Reception at Buckingham Palace, Reception at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Opening of Parliament in New Zealand (1954), Opening of Parliament in Australia (1954), Opening of Parliament in Ceylon (1954) , Opening of Parliament in Canada (1957)
Buckingham Palace housemaids, chefs and gardeners gathered inside the Grand Hall at Buckingham Palace to see The Queen leave for Westminster Abbey.
The Queen’s Coronation service began at 11.15 am and lasted almost three hours, concluding at 2.00 pm.
On her way to the Coronation, Her Majesty wore the George IV State Diadem – the one she is depicted wearing on stamps. It was made in 1820 for George IV’s Coronation. The Diadem incorporates national symbols: roses, shamrocks and thistles and features 1,333 diamonds and 169 pearls. It is on display at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.
The Sovereign’s procession, as it entered the Abbey, was some 250 strong with traditional representatives from Crown, Church and State. It included Church leaders, Commonwealth Prime Ministers, members of the Royal Household, civil and military leaders and the Yeoman of the Guard.
The Queen’s Coronation service was taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose duty this has usually been since the Conquest in 1066. For the first time at the 1953 Coronation, a representative of another Church, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, also took part in the service.
The Coronation service fell into six basic parts: the recognition, the oath, the anointing, the investiture, which includes the crowning, the enthronement and the homage.
The anointing has the deepest significance during the ceremony. The recipe for the Anointing Oil contains oils of orange, roses, cinnamon, musk and ambergris. Usually a batch is made to last a few Coronations. In May 1941, a bomb hit the Deanery destroying the phial containing the anointing oil so a new batch had to be made up. The pharmacy that had mixed the last anointing oil had gone out of business but the recipe was found and the oil made.
One of the more notable installations for the Coronation was the annexe at the west end of Westminster Abbey. This provided the necessary space in which the processions could form and disperse unseen by the crowds.
During the investiture, The Queen first put on the newly-made Colobium Sindonis – a loose linen-lawn garment, and then a robe of cloth of gold – the Dalmatic or Supertunica, which was used by King George VI. The Lord Great Chamberlain presented the golden spurs, the symbol of chivalry, after which the Archbishop of Canterbury presented a jewelled sword, and then the armills, the golden bracelets of sincerity and wisdom. Finally, The Queen put on stole and cloth of gold Robe Royal (Imperial Mantle) and received the orb, the coronation ring, the glove, which was newly made and presented by the Worshipful Company of Glovers, and the sceptre.
Prince Charles received a special hand-painted children’s invitation to his mother’s Coronation. The invitation is on display at Windsor Castle until September, 2003.
One hundred and twenty-nine nations and territories were officially represented at the Coronation service.
There were some people in the Abbey who were witnessing their fourth Coronation, for example, Her Highness Princess Marie Louise (granddaughter of Queen Victoria). The four coronations were: King Edward VII (1902), King George V (1911), King George VI (1937) and Queen Elizabeth II (1953).
The Chairs of Estate in which The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were seated during the first part of the Coronation ceremony, are now on the dais in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace. The Chair of Homage used during the service was newly designed for The Queen’s coronation and is now kept in the Garter Throne Room at Windsor Castle. The Queen was crowned in St Edward’s Chair, made in 1300 for Edward I and used at every Coronation since that time. It is permanently kept in Westminster Abbey.
After the crown, the orb, also made in 1661, was the most important piece of regalia. It is a globe of gold surrounded by a cross girdled by a band of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphire and pearls with a large amethyst at the summit.
The Coronation ring, often referred to as ‘The Wedding Ring of England’ was worn by The Queen on the fourth finger of her right hand in accordance with tradition. The ring was made for the Coronation of King William IV in 1831 and takes the form of a sapphire surmounted by a cross in rubies surrounded by diamonds. It was made at a cost of £157 and has been worn at every coronation since then with the exception of Queen Victoria. Her fingers were so small that the ring could not be reduced far enough in size, so a special Coronation ring had to be worn. Unfortunately during the service, the ring was forced onto the wrong finger, causing Queen Victoria to be in ‘great pain.’
An estimated 27 million people in Britain watched the ceremony on TV and 11 million listened on the radio. (The population of Britain at the time was just over 36 million.)
There were more than 2,000 journalists and 500 photographers from 92 nations on the Coronation route. Thirty cameramen were chosen for the service in the Abbey for their slightness of build, particularly for above the organ loft.
Among the many foreign journalists in London to report on the Coronation was Jacqueline Bouvier (who later became the First Lady of the United States of America, Jackie Kennedy). She was working for the Washington Times-Herald at the time.
The return route taken to Buckingham Palace had been designed so that The Queen and her procession could be seen by as many people in London as possible. The 7.2 kilometre route took the 16,000 participants two hours to complete. The procession itself stretched for three kilometres. Those on foot marched 10 abreast while those on horseback were six abreast.
People camped in The Mall to catch a glimpse of the procession, including an Australian family who had sailed all the way from Australia in a ketch for the occasion. Many people were so keen to see the Coronation procession that they camped for two days along the route. Thousands more celebrated throughout the country and the Commonwealth with street parties.
The Ministry of Food granted 82 applications for people to roast oxen, if they could prove that by tradition, an ox had been roasted at previous Coronations – a welcome concession in a country where the meat ration was two shillings a week.
Over 8,200 guests attended the coronation
The Imperial State Crown, which was worn by The Queen during her return to Buckingham Palace, contained four pearls traditionally believed to have been Queen Elizabeth I’s earrings.
The officers and men taking part in the procession or lining the route totalled 29,200: 3,600 from the Royal Navy, 16,100 from the Army and 7,000 from the RAF, 2,000 from the Commonwealth and 500 from the ‘Colonies’. There were 6,700 reserve and administrative troops, while 1,000 officers and men of the Royal military police were bought in to assist the Metropolitan police. A further 7,000 police were drawn from 75 provincial forces.
The smiling Queen Salote of Tonga won the hearts and acclaim of the waiting crowds as she remained undaunted by the rain throughout the long procession and refused to raise the roof of her carriage for protection.
The principal decorations for the processional route were in The Mall where there were four twin-spanned arches of tubular steel that were illuminated at night. The arches were lifted into place by giant mobile cranes. Linking the arches down the route were the long lines of standards mounted with golden crowns and each hung with four scarlet banners bearing the Royal Monogram.
The Queen appeared with her family on the balcony of the palace still wearing the Imperial State Crown and the Royal Robes to greet the cheering crowds. The Queen appeared again on the balcony at Buckingham Palace at 9.45 pm to turn on the ‘lights of London’. Lights cascaded down the Mall from the Palace, lighting the huge cipher on Admiralty Arch and turning the fountains in Trafalgar Square into liquid silver, until all the floodlights from the National Gallery to the Tower of London had been illuminated.
Coronation Chicken was invented for the foreign guests who were to be entertained after the Coronation. The food had to be prepared in advance, and Constance Spry, who also helped with floral arrangements on the day, proposed a recipe of cold chicken in a curry cream sauce with a well-seasoned dressed salad of rice, green peas and mixed herbs. Constance Spry’s recipe won the approval of the Minister of Works and has since been known as Coronation Chicken.
Numerous official photographs were taken in Buckingham Palace after the Coronation, but the most memorable are those taken by Cecil Beaton. For his defining image he posed The Queen in front of a backdrop depicting Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
On 2nd June, 1953 it was learned that Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay had reached the summit of Mount Everest. The Queen had the idea of presenting the fourteen members of the expedition with special edition Coronation medals, which contained the extra wording ‘Mount Everest Expedition’.
The first overseas tour The Queen undertook after the Coronation was to Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand starting in November 1953. Her Majesty returned in1954 visiting Australia, Ceylon, Aden and Uganda – going home in Britannia from Aden via Malta and Gibraltar.
On 24th June 1953, the Honours of Scotland (the crown, the sceptre and the sword) were carried before The Queen in a procession from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles Cathedral.
12,000 armed personnel lined the procession route.
The Queen appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace a total of four times on June 2nd, 1953.