Sixty-five years ago, a young Queen was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953, over a year after her accession to the British throne, following the death of her father King George VI.
After a year of mourning, a Coronation Committee, chaired by Prince Philip, began 14 months of preparation for the ceremony. They worked with the Earl Marshal, Bernard, the 16th Duke of Norfolk, who had organised the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937.
People had hoped the new Queen’s reign would herald in a new ‘Elizabethan Age’ in modern times.
The Coronation ceremony was based on traditions of pomp and pageantry held in Westminster Abbey, dating back over one thousand years, including Handel’s Zadok the Priest as one of the anthems during the service.
To Film Or Not To Film …
However, Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation was the first ever to be televised by the BBC as more than 27 million viewers in Britain, with millions more around the world watching the coverage on television.
The television cameras were not allowed to film the Act of Consecration, the actual anointing ceremony, as it was considered sacred, even though Queen Elizabeth was covered with a gold canopy held by four Knights of the Garter during this part of the ceremony.
Initially, the television broadcast nearly didn’t happen as some of the ‘old guard’ among the courtiers, including the Earl Marshall and Sir Winston Churchill, had initially opposed the idea as they wanted to maintain the tradition and continuity associated with coronations. The Coronation was also a religious ceremony.
The new Queen was reluctant to appear on television. No cameras filmed her wedding in 1947 and had refused to allow her Christmas broadcasts to be filmed at the time.
However, after a public poll was conducted, the Establishment changed its mind and allowed cameras into the Abbey.
The Coronation Dress
Queen Elizabeth turned to couturier Norman Hartnell to design her sumptuous Coronation gown which was made of white satin and embroidered with the emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in gold and silver thread.
The Coronation dress was later worn again during the Opening of Parliament in Australia and New Zealand in 1954.
The Queen wore the George IV State Diadem on her way to Westminster Abbey, which was made in 1820, featuring roses, shamrocks and thistles with 1,333 diamonds and 169 pearls. It is the same crown featured in numerous postage stamps in Great Britain and Australia.
The procession route was lined with defence force personnel from across the British Empire and the Commonwealth, including Australia.
About 250 people, including Church leaders, Commonwealth Prime Ministers (including Robert Menzies), members of the Royal Household, civil and military leaders and the Yeoman of the Guard, participated in the procession.
The Standard of the Commonwealth of Australia was carried by Sir Thomas Walter White during the Coronation procession.
Guests and officials passed about three million spectators in London. some had camped out overnight to ensure they had a good spot to see the Queen. Others had access to specially built stands and scaffolding.
A Queen Is Crowned
The Queen travelled through London in the Gold State Coach, wearing the Robe of State, which was 5.5 metres (6 yards) in length and made of hand-woven velvet cloak lined with Canadian ermine.
She was accompanied by her six maids of honour who helped carry the Robe of State.
The six maids, Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Lady Anne Coke,Lady Moyra Hamilton, Lady Mary Baillie-Hamilton, Lady Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill and Mary Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire also wore gowns designed by Norman Hartnell.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher conducted the service which started at 11.15 am and lasted nearly three hours.
Queen Elizabeth was crowned in St Edward’s Chair, which was made in 1300 for Edward I’s Coronation. It is kept permanently in Westminster Abbey and has been used for every Coronation ever since.
The oil was poured from an Ampulla, a flask in the shape of an eagle wrought in solid gold, onto the Coronation Spoon, which had survived the English Civil War and the Commonwealth between 1649 to 1660.
The Anointing Oil is a combination of orange, roses, cinnamon, musk and ambergris oils, based on an old recipe dating from the 17th Century.
Most of the original regalia, including the St Edward’s Crown, was sold off following Charles I’s execution in 1649, or the gold was melted down as the new Republic desperately needed funds.
A new set was created for Charles II for his coronation on 23 April 1661.
However, the Coronation ring, known as ‘The Wedding Ring of England’ was made for King William IV in 1831 and has been worn at every coronation since, except for Queen Victoria. Her fingers were so small that another ring was created.
Afterwards, the Peers of the Realm, led by Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, paid homage to the newly-crowned Queen.
Foreign Royal Guests included:
- The Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Norway (later King Olav V and Princess Märtha of Sweden)
- Prince George of Denmark and Greece and his wife Princess Marie Bonaparte
- Princess Andrew of Greece (the former Princess Alice of Battenberg) – Prince Philip’s mother
- Prince Axel of Denmark and Princess Margaretha of Sweden
- Prince Bertil, Duke of Halland (representing King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden)
- Prince Albert of Liège (later Albert II) representing King Baudouin of the Belgians.
- Prince Bernhard, consort of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands
- The Crown Prince of Japan (later Emperor Akihito)
- Prince Chula Chakrobongse and Princess Chula (representing King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand)
- The Hereditary Grand Duke and the Hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg (later Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Josephine).
- Prince Pierre of Monaco (representing his son Prince Rainier III).
- Queen Sālote Tupou III of Tonga
- King Michael I and Queen Anne of Romania
- Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona and Infanta Maria Mercedes, Countess of Barcelona (King Juan Carlos of Spain’s parents).
Queen Elizabeth was reunited with the St Edward’s Crown when filming the documentary, The Coronation, which aired earlier this year on the ABC.
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