With the sixtieth anniversary of The Queen’s coronation on Sunday 2nd June, let’s find out more about the event itself.
June was chosen as it was the month thought most likely to be warm and sunny. It rained all day. When the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk (the man in charge of organising the coronation) was asked what would happen it rained, he answered “Well, we’ll all get bloody wet”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury had opposed the coronation’s being shown on the relatively new medium of television. He thought that the event was too solemn. Initially, the Queen felt uncertain, but when it was seen that the public wanted it shown on television rather than just on radio, she agreed, with the proviso that the most private moment, the anointing, would not be shown.
The dish ‘Coronation Chicken’ was invented for this occasion, and was designed to be eaten off trays on the laps of people watching television at home.
Addington Palace, near Croydon, headquarters of the Royal School of Church Music, was temporarily home to the 350 choirboys rehearsing their singing for the coronation.
8,250 spectators had seats inside Westminster Abbey. Those less fortunate had seats in covered grandstands on the processional route. These could be bought if one had enough money. Margaret Thatcher, at the time training to be a lawyer, sat in a grandstand in Parliament Square alongside husband Denis. Those without an Abbey or grandstand seat, lined the route and many slept overnight for days before to guarantee their spaces.
A bridge from the Houses of Parliament to the Abbey was specially built for peers to get to their seats as easily as possible.
The Queen practised wearing the Imperial State Crown around Buckingham Palace in the weeks before the coronation. She also practised moving in her state robes by tying bed sheets together into a makeshift train.
The night before, the Coronation Regalia (Crown Jewels) arrived from the Tower of London to spend the night at the Abbey. They were guarded by Yeomen warders each armed with a revolver as well as their usual pikestaffs.
On the morning of the coronation, a cat was found asleep on the 650 year old Coronation Chair.
The Abbey doors opened at 6am, with a crowd of guests already waiting. Many sneaked in sandwiches and drink under their robes or coronets to stave off hunger during what would be a long day.
The Duchess of Devonshire, one of the famous Mitford sisters, wore the robes of her predecessor, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (think of the film “The Duchess” with Keira Knightley).
In the procession to the Abbey, Queen Salote of Tonga was a favourite with the crowds, braving the unrelenting rain in an open carriage, waving and looking extremely cheerful.
The Gold State Coach, rarely used, was pulled by eight Windsor Greys. Inside it, sat the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh. For those watching on television, the commentary was provided by Richard Dimbleby.
The Queen wore a magnificent dress by Norman Hartnell. It was of white satin, featuring embroidery depicting national emblems of countries across the Commonwealth including the English Tudor rose, Scottish thistle, Welsh leek, Irish shamrock, Canadian maple leaf, Australian wattle, New Zealand silver fern and South African protea. The Duke of Edinburgh wore a full dress Royal Navy uniform.
As the Queen entered the Abbey, Sir Hubert Parry’s “I was glad” was sung. This same music (without the cries of “Vivat Regina!”) was used at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011. It was originally written for Edward VII’s coronation in 1902.
For the most important part of the ceremony, the Queen sat on the Coronation Chair. For the anointing, a canopy was raised over her. She put on a simple white dress over her coronation gown, and was anointed with holy oil of orange, roses, cinnamon, musk and ambergris. She then put on a golden gown, and was given the Orb, the Sceptre (symbolising power), the Rod with the Dove (symbolising justice and mercy) and the Coronation Ring.
The Queen was crowned with St Edward’s Crown – the only time that this crown is used. She then changed into the Imperial State Crown, which she was seen wearing in the official photographs. This is the crown she wears each year at the State Opening of Parliament.
At the exact moment of crowning, “God save the Queen” was chanted and the peers and peeresses put on their own coronets.
The Queen then went to her throne, and various peers and notable persons knelt before her to pay homage. The Duke of Edinburgh was the first of the peers to do so, unlike at a King’s coronation, where a Queen Consort would have her own crowing ceremony after her husband’s.
The route back to Buckingham Palace was five miles long and took two hours, so that as many members of the public as possible could see the Queen.
Making up the procession were two miles of members of the armed forces from all Commonwealth nations.
Guests were allowed to buy the chair they sat on at the coronation. Many peers did just that and these chairs can be found in stately homes across the country.
After the official photographs taken by Cecil Beaton, the royal family stepped out onto the Buckingham Palace balcony to wave to the crowds. They were so in demand that they appeared six times in all.
It was estimated that 27 million people in Britain watched the Coronation on television, many people buying their first television set for the occasion, and then inviting their friends and family to join them in watching it. 11 million people listened to the service on the radio.