Some things never change – location, badges, rain….
The same goes for much of the music, including Handel’s incomparable Zadok the Priest.
As for the core elements of the Coronation Service, they date back thousands of years long before anyone has heard of Britain, let alone the House of Windsor.
Yet each coronation is also very different. Less than a month ago, we were glued to the spectacle of the coronation of Charles III, a remarkable moment in many respects.
King Charles III and Queen Camilla wave to the crowd from the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their coronation on May 6
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in 1953
In 1953 Britain was tired, broke and deflated, but confident of finding a new role and a new sense of self-worth in a post-war world. And she had an incredibly glamorous young queen. Charles was never going to compete with this
Here was the longest-serving new monarch in British history – aged 74 – beaming around the world with a degree of intimacy unimaginable in previous reigns.
How different that moment was from the event that took place exactly seventy years ago today – the coronation of Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953.
This is not a reflection on King Charles. Rather, it is a reminder that Britain was a very different country seven decades ago.
The public still needed a ration book to buy certain necessities like meat. Almost everyone knew – or knew – someone who had lost their life in the Second World War (if not the First, or even the Boer War).
It had been less than eight years since hostilities had ceased. Many British cities still had craters and bomb sites between their cracked and soot-stained buildings. Most people went to church every week, dressed in what was called “Sunday best.”
An indication of how long this has been going on can be gleaned from the choice of makeup queen for the big day. Thelma Holland was not only known for her cosmetic art. She was Oscar Wilde’s stepdaughter.
And here is an incredibly glamorous young queen, just 27 years old, taking on what many still called “the Empire” (even though the British Empire had officially ended five years earlier, with the independence of India and from Pakistan).
Britain was tired, broke and deflated, but confident of finding a new role and a new sense of self-esteem in a post-war world. All those hopes, all those expectations rested on the shoulders of the dazzling new monarch.
King Charles walking in the coronation procession after his coronation on May 6
Here’s a glamorous 27-year-old queen taking on what many still called ‘The Empire’
Charles III was never going to compete with any of this and that’s precisely why he didn’t try. We have a different king for a different age
A dazzling new monarchy: the official portrait of Queen Elizabeth and the royal party after her coronation in 1953
For millions of people, she represented hope and rejuvenation. The fact that she had the greatest statesman of the day – Winston Churchill – in Downing Street only reinforced the idea of a “dream team” leading the country to new sunny highlands.
Britain and the rest of the world watched with emotion as the unprecedented spectacle of a crowned monarch on live television followed by a procession winding its way through the capital for miles and hours.
For the millions around the world who hadn’t even seen a TV yet – notably in Australia and New Zealand – a movie version would be playing in packed cinemas for many months to come.
To top it all off, the very morning that this incredibly exciting celebration of national pride began to unfold, the nation woke up to the most amazing news: a British expedition had just conquered Mount Everest.
It’s been less than a month since we were glued to the spectacle of the coronation of Charles III, a remarkable moment in many respects
in 1953, Britain and the rest of the world watched with emotion as the unprecedented spectacle of a crowned monarch on live television, followed by a procession winding through the capital
Reflecting on the coronation of King Charles and his late mother Queen Elizabeth, Robert Hardman (pictured) says: ‘How different that moment was from the event that took place exactly 70 years ago today’
Britain had achieved the last great feat left to man at a time when ‘explorers’ were still considered national heroes. The Union Flag now flew on top of the world.
This is why identical comparisons between the coronations of 2023 and 1953 are useless. Charles III was never going to compete with any of this and that’s precisely why he didn’t try.
We have a different king for a different age.
But before you get too nostalgic, think about this. In 1953, life expectancy in Britain was just under 69. Today is 81.
- Robert Hardman is the author of Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II published by Pan Macmillan. Now in paperback