A minute-by-minute remembrance of the Queen’s coronation
King George VI died in his sleep at Sandringham in the early hours of February 6, 1952. At that moment, 3,000 miles away in Kenya, his daughter Princess Elizabeth became Queen.
Preparations began immediately for a ceremony essentially unchanged since the coronation in AD 973 of the Anglo-Saxon King Edgar. Elizabeth’s Coronation had to go smoothly as it would be a global occasion; never before had so many people witnessed the same event at the same time.
In her Christmas broadcast in 1952 the Queen said: ‘Pray for me on that day. Pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making.’
King George VI died in his sleep at Sandringham in the early hours of February 6, 1952. At that moment, 3,000 miles away in Kenya, his daughter Princess Elizabeth became Queen. Preparations began immediately for a ceremony essentially unchanged since the coronation in AD 973 of the Anglo-Saxon King Edgar. Elizabeth’s Coronation had to go smoothly as it would be a global occasion; never before had so many people witnessed the same event at the same time
June 2, 1953: 4am
The date of June 2 had been chosen because meteorologists had calculated that it would be the sunniest day of the year. It is raining. Along the six-mile processional route, half a million people have been camping out all night.
Journalist Philip Hope-Wallace notes: ‘Crowds schooled to sit out the Luftwaffe’s visits on hard cold stone were not going to be put off by a drop of rain.’ Among the crowds are a family who have come from Australia in a sailing boat.
Hundreds of souvenirs are for sale, from tea caddies, mugs, bicycle pennants to Dinky Toys of the State Coach.
In Westminster Abbey a steward finds Matins, a cat owned by one of the clergy, fast asleep on the Coronation Chair. The Coronation regalia, laid out in a nearby annex, is being watched by eight Yeoman Warders or ‘Beefeaters’ armed with revolvers and 12 rounds of ammunition.
The Abbey has been closed for six months to build the tiers of seats for MPs and the aristocracy. The capacity has been raised from 2,000 to 8,000. A small railway line to transport all the materials needed has been built from the West Door to the altar, with branch lines heading north and south.
The extra seats have been tested by members of the armed services who spent two hours sitting up and down on them to check they were safe. The chairs’ padding is made to precise specifications — 12 per cent cow tail hair, 12 per cent horse mane hair and 76 per cent North American grey winter hog.
For the past few days, BBC commentator Richard Dimbleby has been sleeping on his Dutch sailing barge Vabel, moored on the Thames opposite Westminster. A police launch arrives to take him across the river. Dimbleby has with him pages of notes that he has been working on for six months. On the radio, the BBC Light Programme begins a selection of ‘Music While You Wait.’
The doors of Westminster Abbey are opened for guests. Today, the full choirs of Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and St George’s Chapel, Windsor, will be taking part, but such is the scale of the occasion that singers from around the country have been invited to swell their numbers.
In Bromley, Kent, 32-year-old Scott Joynt, one of 67 basses who will be singing, leaves his home in full morning suit and jumps on a milk float for a lift to the station.
The front page of early editions of this morning’s Daily Mail has a full page drawing of the Queen’s Coronation dress, which the paper describes as ‘lovely beyond belief’. Its designer, Norman Hartnell, arrives at the Palace.
The dress is embroidered with flowers and plants representing the British Isles and each country of the Commonwealth, including jute and wheat for Pakistan, Australia’s wattle and the maple leaf for Canada. Only the Queen and Hartnell know that there is a four-leaf clover on the left-hand side of the skirt which she can discreetly touch during the long day ahead.
In their homes across London, the Queen’s six Maids of Honour, all daughters of earls, marquesses or dukes, are being given make-up by staff from Elizabeth Arden that will be able to cope with the bright television lights in the Abbey.
The Maids of Honour have been given shoes with different sized heels, so that they will be the same height when they carry the Queen’s 21 ft purple velvet, ermine-trimmed train.
The front page of early editions of this morning’s Daily Mail has a full page drawing of the Queen’s Coronation dress, which the paper describes as ‘lovely beyond belief’. Its designer, Norman Hartnell, arrives at the Palace
More than 6,500 extra trains and 6,000 extra coaches have brought people to London. There are now 2 million well-wishers on the procession route. Loudspeakers along the route announce the dramatic news that Mount Everest has been conquered for the first time.
New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese sherpa Tenzing Norgay, part of a British-led expedition, have reached the summit. In the Palace, the 27-year-old Queen hears the crowd cheer. The Daily Mail changes its front page headline to: ‘The Crowning Glory — Everest Conquered.’
At Buckingham Palace, the Queen is being dressed under Norman Hartnell’s supervision. In the previous weeks she has rehearsed the complicated service in one of the State Rooms at the Palace, with the shape of the Abbey nave marked out in tape on the floor. Elizabeth had two white bed sheets pinned to her shoulders instead of the 21 ft train.
To get used to the weight of the crown, the Queen has been wearing it while drinking tea and reading a newspaper, and she also listened to recordings of her father’s Coronation.
At the last Abbey rehearsal, the Queen asked the Bishop of Durham, Michael Ramsey, if he could keep his bushy eyebrows still ‘because they make me smile and I don’t wish to smile in the wrong place’.
Processions by the most important guests begin, led by the coach of the Lord Mayor of London, followed by senior members of the Royal Family, Commonwealth leaders and heads of state. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, wearing an Admiral’s uniform, waves to the cheering crowds. He is a fan of the new Queen: ‘All the film people in the world, if they had scoured the globe, could not have found anyone so suited to the part.’
The Coronation is being covered by more than 2,000 journalists and 500 photographers from around the world. Among the many foreign reporters is Jacqueline Bouvier, who is working for the Washington Times-Herald. In three weeks’ time she will announce her engagement to a young politician named John F Kennedy.
As the son of the Duke of Devonshire gets out of the carriage, his sword rips a hole in his father’s robes, but there are tailors on hand in the Abbey for such an emergency.
Field Marshal Viscount ‘Monty’ Montgomery is in his seat reading a newspaper, others are eating snacks and shivering because of the cold. One peeress later complains that she watched her arms turn blue. Thirty-six large fans have been installed to keep the congregation cool in the expected hot weather, but are not needed.
Prince Philip’s three surviving sisters, Sophie, Theodora and Margarita, walk up the aisle to take their seats. They were not invited to his wedding in 1947 as they had married Germans, some of whom had Nazi links, but they are here today with their husbands as it was felt public animosity to Germans had softened.
Walking with them is Philip’s mother Alice, wearing a grey nun’s habit of the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary that she had made for today.
Street parties are beginning around the country. Rationing is still in force, but Churchill has decreed that every household should get an extra pound of sugar on their ration, despite the reservations of the Ministry of Food. Caterers have been allowed additional fat and sugar to make crisps, cakes and toffee apples
Street parties are beginning around the country. Rationing is still in force, but Churchill has decreed that every household should get an extra pound of sugar on their ration, despite the reservations of the Ministry of Food. Caterers have been allowed additional fat and sugar to make crisps, cakes and toffee apples.
The Queen has declared an amnesty for wartime deserters, some of whom have been on the run since 1945.
The BBC television coverage begins. Continuity announcer Sylvia Peters says that it is ‘the greatest moment in television history.’ The BBC is staging its biggest outside broadcast ever with 21 cameras, including five in the Abbey. Churchill and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, had been adamant that the ceremony was too sacred to be on television. The Queen had initially agreed until public indignation changed her mind.
Thousands have bought or rented television sets for the first time. Some households have a large magnifying glass attached to the screen to enhance the picture.
More than a million people are also watching the coverage in cinemas, theatres and pubs. Butlin’s holiday camps at Filey, Yorkshire, and Skegness, Lincolnshire, are showing the Coronation in their dance halls.
The Queen and Prince Philip leave Buckingham Palace in the four-tonne State Coach, pulled by eight greys. Four-year old Prince Charles and two-year-old Princess Anne watch from the windows.
The Queen is wearing Queen Victoria’s diadem on her head and Philip is wearing the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet.
The crowd see the Queen’s bouquet for the first time, it’s made up of orchids and lilies-of-the-valley from England, stephanotis from Scotland, orchids from Wales, and carnations from Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Princess Margaret takes her seat in the Abbey next to her mother. For the past few months, Margaret has been in a relationship with the recently divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend, a former equerry to her father and 16 years her senior.
The Queen and Prince Philip know about their plans to marry, but their relationship isn’t public.
The congregation stand up suddenly as they think the Queen has arrived, but the only figures that appear are cleaners armed with carpet sweepers.
The Archbishop of Canterbury was not amused. He wrote later: ‘After the many solemn processions finishing with that of the Queen Mother, the cleaners created an undesirable and disturbing anti-climax.’
Watching over proceedings is Bernard Fitzalan-Howard the Duke of Norfolk, the hereditary Earl Marshal, who organised the Coronation of George VI. His ancestors have organised coronations since 1386.
There have been 12 Abbey rehearsals in total, with the Duchess of Norfolk standing in for the Queen at most of them. Conscious of his balding head under the television lights, the Duke has arranged for it to be powdered a few times during the morning.
The Maids of Honour are waiting for the Queen on the Abbey steps. They have all been given vials of smelling salts, which they have hidden in their long white gloves. The Archbishop of Canterbury comes up and shakes Rosie Spencer-Churchill by the hand and breaks her vial, making a strong smell. ‘Good heavens!’ the Archbishop exclaims. ‘What on earth have you done?’ The six girls dissolve into fits of giggles.
The Queen arrives at the Abbey and goes to a separate room to prepare for the service. A television camera just 12 ft away gives viewers their closest view yet of the Queen, who is looking nervous
The Queen arrives at the Abbey and goes to a separate room to prepare for the service. A television camera just 12 ft away gives viewers their closest view yet of the Queen, who is looking nervous.
There had been concern after her father’s death that she would not be able to cope with the matters of state. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes passed a resolution stating that the nation ‘should endeavour not to overwork our beloved young Queen, remembering that she has duties also as a wife and mother’.
The Queen appears by the West Door, and a handkerchief is waved at the Abbey organist who starts to play Hubert Parry’s anthem I Was Glad. Elizabeth turns to her Maids of Honour and says: ‘Ready, girls?’ and they start to walk holding her long train. The Queen struggles at first to move her dress against the pile of the carpet.
On either side of the Queen are the Bishop of Durham and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who will be with her throughout the service. At one rehearsal it was realised someone had forgotten to invite them, so an express train made an unscheduled stop at Bath to pick up the Bishop of Bath and Wells, while the Bishop of Durham’s haircut in Cambridge was interrupted by a policeman who brought him by car to the Abbey.
In the part of the service known as the Recognition, to show the monarch is not an imposter, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen face all four sides of the Abbey in turn and each time Dr Fisher presents ‘your undoubted Queen’ to the congregation and they shout back ‘God Save Queen Elizabeth!’
The television and radio audience can hear the Queen’s words, because a small hole for a gilded microphone has been made in the carpet under the Throne. There is another microphone attached to the kneeling stool at the Chair of Estate and another on top of the Coronation Chair, also known as St Edward’s Chair.
Prince Charles has been brought into the Abbey by his nanny and is seated next to the Queen Mother. Charles is dressed in a white silk suit and is making his first ceremonial appearance. As he watches his mother he occasionally sucks his thumb. In later life Charles remembers little of the day, except that the Palace barber cut his hair too short and had flattened it with ‘the most appalling gunge’.
Close to Charles is Andrew Parker Bowles, the page to the Lord Chancellor, and later the first husband of Camilla.
The live television pictures are being seen in Europe. The Duke of Windsor, formerly Edward VIII, is watching his niece’s coronation at an American friend’s house in Paris. He had hoped that he and the Duchess would be invited, but the Queen was adamant they should not be there.
The Duke has a tempestuous relationship with the Royal Family. He wrote to his wife Wallis the previous year: ‘What a smug stinking lot my relations are and you’ve never seen such a seedy worn-out bunch of old hags most of them have become.’
As he watches the Coronation, the Duke explains to Americans what’s going on and occasionally makes rude comments. But the Duke later wrote he thought ‘Lilibet conducted herself superbly.’
After the Oath, during which the Queen promises to govern her peoples ‘according to their laws and customs’, is the first part of the Communion service.
Then follows the anointing, the most sacred part of the ceremony. The Queen’s jewellery (except her earrings), her crimson robe and train are removed and she puts on a plain white robe and sits in the Coronation Chair.
A golden canopy is held over the Queen by four Knights of the Garter to screen her from public gaze and the cameras as she is anointed with holy oil.
The vial containing the oil first made for Edward VII’s Coronation was destroyed when a bomb hit the Deanery in 1941, so a new batch has been made using the traditional ingredients of sesame oil, olive oil and alcohol perfumed with cinnamon, musk and jasmine.
The Ministry of Works arranged a lunch hosted by the Queen for 350 guests in the Abbey Annexe. A dish called Coronation Chicken, invented for the occasion by Rosemary Hume of the London Cookery School, is served for the first time
For a moment, the Queen seems tired and she wipes her hand over her forehead and turns to look for Philip. In 1821, the occasion made George IV sweat so much he used up 19 handkerchiefs.
With the Queen robed once more and holding the Coronation regalia, the Archbishop picks up the Crown of St Edward. It contains 440 precious and semi-precious stones and for today a small gold star has been added to the front so the Archbishop can put it on the Queen’s head the right way.
As he does so, the 8,000-strong congregation shout ‘God save the Queen!’ A new Elizabethan Age has begun.
Prince Philip is the first to pay homage to the new monarch. He kneels and says: ‘I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship’. He holds her hands, then touches the crown and kisses his wife on the cheek.
The Crown shifted when he touched it, so the Queen lifts a hand to steady it. During the rehearsal Philip had mumbled his words, jumped up and kissed the air about a foot from the Queen. She had called out: ‘Come back, Philip, and do it — properly!’
The Queen steps down from the Coronation Chair and the choir sings William Walton’s Te Deum. The composer is in the congregation with a supply of whisky miniatures hidden in his hat. One BBC cameraman is so close to the conductor of the orchestra that his head is being hit by the baton.
The Queen made just one mistake — she forgot to curtsey to her Maids of Honour, who were disappointed to miss their well-rehearsed curtsey back. Walking in front of the Queen as she walks towards the West Door is Simon Benton Jones, the page to the Duke of Richmond. Simon’s mother was concerned one of his buckled shoes might come off and trip the Queen, so she tied them on with elastic.
The Ministry of Works arranged a lunch hosted by the Queen for 350 guests in the Abbey Annexe. A dish called Coronation Chicken, invented for the occasion by Rosemary Hume of the London Cookery School, is served for the first time.
Film of the ceremony is on its way to a waiting RAF Canberra bomber ready to fly to Canada for their broadcast of the Coronation whilst the U.S. network CBS has hired a jet from the BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) with editing facilities on board.
The Queen leaves the Abbey for Buckingham Palace in a heavy downpour. While waiting for a carriage to take her back to the Palace, Princess Margaret spots Group Captain Peter Townsend and brushes off a piece of fluff attached to his RAF uniform.
This gesture was spotted by the Press and their relationship was soon on every front page. Marrying a divorcee and a commoner proved an impossibility and after two years, Margaret announced the relationship was over.
The processional route to the Palace has been designed so it could be seen by as many people as possible. It goes via Trafalgar Square, Marble Arch, Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus, taking almost two hours. More than 29 military bands and 30,000 servicemen from around the Commonwealth are taking part.
In Korea, where the war has been waging for three years, British troops fire shells containing red, white and blue smoke.
As the Queen arrives at Buckingham Palace the crowd surges towards the gates to get a good spot for when the Royal Family appear on the balcony. The faces of Palace servants can be seen at almost every window. Photographer Cecil Beaton is inside and hears the voice of the Queen excitedly talking to her family ‘Oh hello! Did you watch it?’
Although Beaton doesn’t know about her relationship with Peter Townsend, he sensed that there was something different about Princess Margaret. He wrote in his diary later that day that she walked towards him ‘with pink and white make-up and a sex twinkle of understanding in her regard’. The Queen tells Beaton that her hands and nose are cold after the long carriage ride.
The Queen appears with the Royal Family and her Maids of Honour on the balcony. Prince Charles is fascinated by the Queen’s bracelets, but he is then distracted by an RAF fly-past of 20 Meteor jets forming the letters ER.
A few weeks earlier, Prince Philip had come onto the balcony where he looked up at the sky as if he was wearing an imaginary crown; he was calculating if it was possible for the Queen to raise her head to watch the planes, while making sure the crown would not fall off.
As Cecil Beaton takes the official photographs in the Green Drawing Room, he is being teased by Prince Philip, who had wanted his friend Baron to take the pictures. At one point Beaton glared at the Prince and said, ‘Sir, if you would like to take the photographs, please do.’ The Queen has commissioned her own ‘behind the scenes’ film of the day.
The camera picks up Princess Margaret looking sad. Years later, Margaret’s friend Anne Glenconner, one of the Maids of Honour asked her about it. She replied: ‘Of course I looked sad, Anne. I had just lost my beloved father, and, really, I had just lost my sister, because she was going to be so busy and had already moved to Buckingham Palace, so it was just me and the Queen Mother.’
The new Queen broadcasts a message to the nation and the Commonwealth: ‘I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.’
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duke of Norfolk are at the HQ of Pathé News watching colour film of the day which will be turned into a cinema release. They ask for only two shots to be removed, the Queen receiving Communion and a close up of the Queen Mother which they felt lingered too long.
In Hyde Park, Lord Rowallan the Chief Scout lights a bonfire, which is the cue for hundreds of beacons to be lit across the country, from Cornwall to the top of Ben Nevis.
Noel Coward is performing his one-man show at the Haymarket Theatre. He thinks the audience is ‘comatose’ after the excitement of the Coronation, ‘but we were lucky to have anyone there at all’.
Legend has it that when he was asked who the small gentleman was sitting opposite the statuesque Queen Salote of Tonga, Coward replied: ‘Her lunch’.
BBC commentator Richard Dimbleby is back in the Abbey to broadcast a brief epilogue about the day. He is dismayed to see the amount of rubbish left behind by the peers — sandwich wrappers, fruit peel, sweets and even miniature bottles of spirits.
One of the Abbey cleaners finds a diamond necklace. It won’t be claimed for two months. The crowns and regalia have been returned to the Tower of London to await the next coronation.