2 June 1953
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as monarch of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Union of South Africa, Pakistan & Ceylon took place on 2 June 1953. Elizabeth ascended the thrones of these countries at age 25, upon the death of her father, King George VI, on 6 February 1952, was proclaimed queen by her various privy & executive councils shortly afterwards. The coronation was delayed for more than a year because of the tradition that such a festival was inappropriate during the period of mourning that followed the death of the preceding sovereign. In the ceremony itself, Elizabeth swore an oath to uphold the laws of her nations and to govern the Church of England. Celebrations took place and a commemorative medal was issued throughout the Commonwealth realms. Preparation
The queen, rehearsed for the upcoming day with her maids of honour, a sheet used in place of the velvet train & an arrangement of chairs standing in for the carriage. So that she could become accustomed to its feel & weight, the Queen also wore the Imperial State Crown while she went about her daily business, sporting it at her desk, at tea, while reading the newspaper. Elizabeth took part in two full rehearsals at Westminster Abbey, on 22 & 29 May, though other sources assert that the Queen attended either “several” rehearsals or one. Typically, the Duchess of Norfolk stood in for the Queen at rehearsals.
Photograph of the Gold State Coach carrying the Queen & the Duke of Edinburgh as it comes into Trafalgar Square, having passed beneath Admiralty Arch.
Along a route lined with sailors, soldiers, & airmen & women from across the Commonwealth, guests and officials passed in a procession before approximately three million spectators gathered in the streets of London, some having camped overnight in their spot to ensure a view of the monarch and others having access to specially built stands & scaffolding along the route. The procession included foreign royalty and heads of state riding to Westminster Abbey in various carriages, so many that volunteers ranging from wealthy businessmen to rural landowners were required to fill the insufficient ranks of regular footmen. The first royal coach left Buckingham Palace and moved down The Mall, which was filled with flag-waving and cheering crowds. It was followed by the Irish State Coach carrying Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who wore the circlet of her crown bearing the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Queen Elizabeth II proceeded through London from Buckingham Palace, through Trafalgar Square, and towards the abbey in the Gold State Coach. Attached to the shoulders of her dress, the Queen wore the Robe of State, a 5.5 metre (6 yard) long, hand woven silk velvet cloak lined with Canadian ermine that required the assistance of the Queen’s maids of honour, Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Lady Anne Coke, Lady Moyra Hamilton, Lady Mary Baillie-Hamilton, Lady Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill, & the Duchess of Devonshire, to carry.
Preceding the Queen into Westminster Abbey was St. Edward’s Crown, carried into the abbey by the Lord High Steward of England, then the Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope.
When the queen arrived at approximately 11:00 am, she found that the friction between her robes & the carpet caused her difficulty moving forward, & she said to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, “get me started!”
Once going, the procession, which included the various High Commissioners of the Commonwealth carrying banners bearing the shields of the coats of arms of their respective nations, moved inside the abbey, up the central aisle and through the choir to the stage, as the choirs sang “I was glad”, an imperial setting of Psalm 122, vv. 1–3, 6, & 7 by Sir Hubert Parry.
As Elizabeth prayed at & then sat herself on the Chair of Estate to the south of the altar, the Bishops carried in the religious paraphernalia, the bible, paten, & chalice, & the peers holding the coronation regalia handed it over to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in turn, passed them to the Dean of Westminster, Alan Campbell Don, to be placed on the altar.
Photograph showing HM Queen Elizabeth seated in the Coronation chair, under a canopy which was placed over her and held by the four Knights of the Garter, for the Anointing by the Archbishops.
After the Queen moved to stand before King Edward’s Chair (Coronation Chair), she turned, following as Fisher, along with the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain (the Viscount Simonds), Lord Great Chamberlain of England (the Marquess of Cholmondeley), Lord High Constable of England (the Viscount Alan Brooke), & Earl Marshal of the United Kingdom (the Duke of Norfolk), all led by the Garter Principal King of Arms (George Bellew), asked the audience in each direction of the compass separately:
“Sirs, I here present unto you Queen Elizabeth, your undoubted Queen: wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage & service, are you willing to do the same?” The crowd would reply “God save Queen Elizabeth,” every time, to each of which the Queen would curtsey in return.
Seated again on the Chair of Estate, Elizabeth then took the Coronation Oath as administered by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In the lengthy oath, the Queen swore to govern each of her countries according to their respective laws and customs, to mete out law & justice with mercy, to uphold Protestantism in the United Kingdom & protect the Church of England & preserve its bishops and clergy.
She proceeded to the altar where she stated “The things which I have here promised, I will perform, & keep. So help me God,” before kissing the Bible & putting the royal sign-manual to the oath as the Bible was returned to the Dean of Westminster.
From him the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, James Pitt-Watson, took the Bible and presented it to the Queen again, saying “Our gracious Queen: to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.”; Elizabeth returned the book to Pitt-Watson, who placed it back with the Dean of Westminster.
The communion service was then conducted, involving prayers by both the clergy and Elizabeth, Fisher asking “O God… Grant unto this thy servant Elizabeth, our Queen, the spirit of wisdom and government, that being devoted unto thee with her whole heart, she may so wisely govern, that in her time thy Church may be in safety, and Christian devotion may continue in peace,” before reading various excerpts from the First Epistle of Peter, Psalms, & the Gospel of Matthew.
Elizabeth was then anointed as the assembly sang “Zadok the Priest”; the Queen’s jewellery and crimson cape was removed by the Earl of Ancaster and the Mistress of the Robes, the Duchess of Devonshire, & , wearing only a simple, white linen dress also designed by Hartnell to completely cover the coronation gown, she moved to be seated in the Coronation Chair. There, Fisher, assisted by Don, made a cross on the Queen’s forehead with holy oil made from the same base as that which had been used in the coronation of her father. As this segment of the ceremony was considered absolutely sacrosanct, it was concealed from the view of the television cameras by a silk canopy held above the Queen by four Knights of the Garter. When this part of the coronation was complete, & the canopy removed, Don and the Duchess of Devonshire placed on the monarch the Colobium Sindonis and Supertunica.
From the altar, the Dean of Westminster passed to the Lord Great Chamberlain the spurs, which were presented to the Queen and then placed back on the altar.
The Sword of State was then handed to Elizabeth, who, after a prayer was uttered by Fisher, placed it herself on the altar, and the peer who had been previously holding it took it back again after paying a sum of 100 shillings.
The Queen was then invested with the Armills (bracelets), Stole Royal, Robe Royal, and the Sovereign’s Orb, followed by the Queen’s Ring, the Sceptre with the Cross, & the Sceptre with the Dove.
With the first two items on and in her right hand and the latter in her left, Queen Elizabeth was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the crowd shouting “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!” three times at the exact moment St. Edward’s Crown touched the monarch’s head.
The princes and peers gathered then put on their coronets & a 21-gun salute was fired from the Tower of London.
With the benediction read, Elizabeth moved to the throne & the Archbishop of Canterbury & all the Bishops offered to her their fealty, after which, while the choir sang, the peers of the United Kingdom, led by the royal peers: the Queen’s husband; Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester; and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, each proceeded, in order of precedence, to pay their personal homage and allegiance to Elizabeth.
When the last baron had completed this task, the assembly shouted “God save Queen Elizabeth. Long live Queen Elizabeth. May the Queen live for ever!” Having removed all her royal regalia, Elizabeth kneeled & took the communion, including a general confession & absolution, & , along with the audience, recited the Lord’s Prayer.
Now wearing the Imperial State Crown & holding the Sceptre with the Cross and the Orb, and as the gathered guests sang “God Save the Queen”, Elizabeth left Westminster Abbey through the nave and apse, out the Great West Door, followed by members of the Royal Family, the clergy, her prime ministers, etc.
Then, transported back to Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, with an escort of thousands of military personnel from around the Commonwealth, the Queen appeared on the balcony of the Centre Room before a gathered crowd as a flypast went overhead.
The Coronation ceremony of Elizabeth II followed a similar pattern to the coronations of the kings and queens before her, being held in Westminster Abbey, and involving the peerage and clergy.
However, for the new Queen, several parts of the ceremony were markedly different.
The coronation of the Queen was the first ever to be televised (although the BBC Television Service had covered part of the procession from Westminster Abbey after her father’s coronation in 1937), and was also the world’s first major international event to be broadcast on television. There had been considerable debate within the British Cabinet on the subject, with Prime Minister Winston Churchill against the idea; but, Elizabeth refused her British prime minister’s advice on this matter and insisted the event take place before television cameras, as well as those filming with experimental 3D technology.
The event was also filmed in colour, separately from the BBC’s black & white television broadcast. Millions across Britain watched the coronation live, while, to make sure Canadians could see it on the same day, RAF Canberras flew film of the ceremony across the Atlantic Ocean to be broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the first non-stop flights between the United Kingdom & the Canadian mainland. In Goose Bay, Labrador, the film was transferred to a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-100 jet fighter for the further trip to Montreal. In all, three such voyages were made as the coronation proceeded.
Photograph showing HM Queen Elizabeth II seated, wearing the Imperial State Crown, and carrying the Sceptre with the Dove and Sceptre with the Cross, accompanied by the Archbishops. peers, and Knights of the Garter.
Photograph of The Queen, newly crowned, as she steps from the State Coach on her return to Buckingham Palace from Westminster Abbey. She holds the Orb in her left hand, the Sceptre with the Cross in her right hand; she wears Imperial State Crown. A Footman stands in background. .
Photograph showing HM Queen Elizabeth II and members of the royal family standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, after the coronation. The Queen wears the Imperial State Crown, cuffs and chain of the Order of the Garter. Included in the group are HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, two of the Queen’s Maids-of-Honour.