Here’s the tricky thing about when an heir ascends to the throne: The most important duty of your life, the job you’ve likely waited your entire life for, is solely dependent upon the death of your parent.
That’s why, even though Queen Elizabeth II became Queen immediately upon the death of her father, King George VI, on February 6, 1952, her coronation wasn’t until June 2, 1953 – nearly 16 months after she ascended. Her coronation was a celebration; her father’s death was not. Elizabeth was extraordinarily close to her father; their little family-within-a-family of her father, mother, her younger sister Margaret, and herself were as close and as loving as a family could be. His death was completely unexpected, and Elizabeth and Philip were on tour in Kenya at the time; she, never expecting that the last time she saw her beloved Papa would be her last, didn’t even have mourning clothes to wear back to London. (From that day on, the rule was instituted that every traveling Royal must travel everywhere they go with an all-black outfit, in case of an unexpected death like this.)
Nearly a year and a half had passed, and Elizabeth, who took the throne at 25, was now 27. The mourning period over, it was time for the young Queen to be venerated properly. And oh, how she was.
Here are some facts about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which happened 66 years ago yesterday:
· Held at Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (which is now Sri Lanka). It was the first coronation of the British Royal Family to be televised, and, in a groundbreaking move at the time, was shown in color.
· The ceremony cost approximately 1.57 million pounds – 43.5 million pounds, or $55 million, in 2019 money. During the service, she took an oath, was anointed with holy oil, and invested with robes and regalia.
· Her husband, Philip, chaired the coronation committee, and her oldest child, Charles, was present; Charles, at age four, looked bored to tears. (He's pictured above standing next to his mother.) Anne, the only other of Elizabeth’s four children to have yet been born, was, at two and a half, considered too young and restless to attend. (Andrew, her next eldest child, wasn’t born until 1960, and Edward, her youngest, was born in 1964; this gave the Queen ample time to adjust to her new role before adding to her brood.)
· Elizabeth’s coronation gown, designed by Norman Hartnell, was a white silk dress embroidered with floral emblems of the countries of the Commonwealth at the time:
o The Tudor rose of England
o The Scottish thistle
o The Welsh leek
o The shamrock of Northern Ireland
o The wattle of Australia
o The maple leaf of Canada
o The silver fern of New Zealand
o The protea of South Africa
o Two lotus flowers for India and Ceylon
o Wheat, cotton, and jute of Pakistan
· There was also a four-leaf clover – presumably for good luck – embroidered on the dress’ left-hand side, which her hand would touch throughout the day; this was a surprise to Elizabeth.
· Attached to the shoulders of her dress, the Queen wore the Robe of State, which took seven women to carry it was so heavy. Her outfit in totality was so heavy that the Queen needed a slight push to get moving.
· Prior to the coronation, she wore the Imperial State Crown as she worked day to day so that she could become accustomed to its feel and weight so she wouldn’t look as though she were struggling during the ceremony – it, too, was extremely heavy.
· Over 3 million spectators were on the procession route to the Abbey (where Elizabeth rode in a Gold State Coach); 27 million more Britons (out of the 36 million population at the time) watched it on television. There were 8,000 in the Abbey to watch it firsthand. The ceremony lasted a little under three hours in length.
· The moment of the ceremony where the Queen was anointed with holy oil was so sacred to Elizabeth that she asked that it not be televised. To Elizabeth, this ceremony was greater than even her own wedding ceremony; this was Elizabeth pledging her life, her everything, to her role as Queen until death.
· At the end of the ceremony, the 8,000 assembled shouted “God save Queen Elizabeth. Long live Queen Elizabeth. May the Queen live forever!” (Well, we seem to be working on that. Ha.)
· One of those guests was a then totally unknown Jacqueline Bouvier, who was a reporter for the Washington Times-Herald at the time and sent across the pond to cover the event. Later that year, on September 12, she married some good-looking guy named John F. Kennedy.
· The Queen removed all of her royal regalia to take communion (symbolically showing that, though she was Queen, she compared naught to the Lord) – including confession and absolution – and, along with the 8,000-strong congregation, recited the Lord’s Prayer.
· She exited the Abbey wearing the Imperial State Crown and holding the Scepter with the Cross and the Orb as the crowd sang “God Save the Queen.”
You think the Royal weddings you’ve seen were a big deal? They’ve got nothing on a coronation. Of course, most people don’t remember ever seeing a coronation, as one has not occurred in 66 years; I don’t look forward to Charles’ coronation because that will mean our Queen has left us, but I do look forward to seeing the pomp and circumstance of the coronation of a man who, thus far, has waited 70 years to fulfill the role he was born to do. (Speaking of Charles, tomorrow's blog post is about him and how, after 32 years, I've finally decided to get over the animosity I've long held against him.)
Want to know more about this historic day? Read 50 facts about the coronation from the Royal Family’s official site.