The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as monarch of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon took place on June 2, 1953, at Westminster Abbey in London, England. Elizabeth ascended the throne at the age of 25, upon the death of her father, King George VI, on February 6, 1952, and was proclaimed queen by her various privy and executive councils shortly afterwards. The coronation took place more than a year later because of the tradition that holding such an event is inappropriate during the period of mourning that follows the death of a monarch. During the service, she took and subscribed an oath to, among other things, govern the peoples according to their respective laws and customs, was anointed with holy oil, presented and invested with regalia, and crowned. Celebrations took place across the Commonwealth realm. It was the first British coronation to be televised.
As monarch, Elizabeth II is Head of the Commonwealth and Queen of 12 countries that have become independent since her accession: Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on April 21, 1926, delivered by Caesarean section at her maternal grandfather’s London house — 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair — the elder child of the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, She was baptized by the Anglican Archbishop of York, Cosmo Gordon Lang, in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on May 29, and named Elizabeth after her mother, Alexandra after George V’s mother, who had died six months earlier, and Mary after her paternal grandmother. Called “Lilibet” by her close family, based on what she called herself at first, she was cherished by her grandfather George V, and during his serious illness in 1929 her regular visits were credited in the popular press and by later biographers with raising his spirits and aiding his recovery.
Elizabeth was educated privately at home. Her father acceded to the throne on the abdication of his brother Edward VIII in 1936, from which time she was the heir presumptive. She began to undertake public duties during the Second World War, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. In 1947, Princess Elizabeth went on her first overseas tour, accompanying her parents through southern Africa. During the tour, in a broadcast to the British Commonwealth on her 21st birthday, she made the following pledge: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” Also in 1947, she married Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a former prince of Greece and Denmark, with whom she has four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
During 1951, George VI’s health declined and Elizabeth frequently stood in for him at public events. When she toured Canada and visited President Harry S. Truman in Washington, D.C., in October 1951, her private secretary, Martin Charteris, carried a draft accession declaration in case the King died while she was on tour. In early 1952, Elizabeth and Philip set out for a tour of Australia and New Zealand by way of Kenya. On February 6, 1952, they had just returned to their Kenyan home, Sagana Lodge, after a night spent at Treetops Hotel, when word arrived of the death of the King and consequently Elizabeth’s immediate accession to the throne. Philip broke the news to the new Queen. Martin Charteris asked her to choose a regnal name; she chose to remain Elizabeth, “of course”. She was proclaimed queen throughout her realms and the royal party hastily returned to the United Kingdom. She and the Duke of Edinburgh moved into Buckingham Palace.
With Elizabeth’s accession, it seemed probable that the royal house would bear her husband’s name, becoming the House of Mountbatten, in line with the custom of a wife taking her husband’s surname on marriage. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, favored the retention of the House of Windsor, and so on April 9, 1952, Elizabeth issued a declaration that Windsor would continue to be the name of the royal house. The Duke complained, “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.” In 1960, after the death of Queen Mary in 1953 and the resignation of Churchill in 1955, the surname Mountbatten-Windsor was adopted for Philip and Elizabeth’s male-line descendants who do not carry royal titles.
Elizabeth has reigned through various wars and conflicts involving many of her realms. She is the world’s oldest reigning monarch as well as Britain’s longest-lived. In 2015, she surpassed the reign of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant and female head of state in world history. On October 13, 2016, she became the longest currently reigning monarch and head of state following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.
For the one-day coronation ceremony, there were 14 months of preparation: the first meeting of the Coronation Commission was in April 1952, under the chairmanship of the Queen’s husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Other committees were also formed, such as the Coronation Joint Committee and the Coronation Executive Committee, both chaired by the Duke of Norfolk who, by convention as Earl Marshal, had overall responsibility for the ceremony. Much of the physical preparations and decorations along the route were under the responsibility of David Eccles, Minister of Works. Eccles described his role and that of the Earl Marshal thus: “The Earl Marshal is the producer – I am the stage manager…”
These committees were established and were more international in nature; High Commissioners from other Commonwealth realms were members of these groups, reflecting the dual domestic and international nature of the coronation. Still, though British organizers wanted it to be otherwise, no officials from any Commonwealth realm other than the United Kingdom participated in the event itself; the governments of those countries considered the ceremony to be a religious rite unique to Britain: as Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent said at the time: “in my view the Coronation is the official enthronement of the Sovereign as Sovereign of the U.K… We are happy to attend and witness the Coronation of the Sovereign of the U.K. but we are not direct participants in that function.”
The Coronation Commission announced in June 1952 that the coronation would take place one year later, on June 2. Elizabeth’s grandmother Queen Mary died on March 24, 1953, having stated in her will that her death should not affect the planning of the coronation and the event went ahead as scheduled.
Norman Hartnell was commissioned by the Queen to design the outfits for all the members of the Royal Family and especially the gown Elizabeth would wear at the coronation; Hartnell’s design for the latter evolved through nine proposals. The final version was the result of his own research as well as numerous personal meetings with the Queen: it was a white silk dress embroidered with the floral emblems of the countries of the Commonwealth at the time: the Tudor rose of England, the Scots thistle, the Welsh leek, Irish shamrock for Northern Ireland, the wattle of Australia, the maple leaf of Canada, the New Zealand fern, South Africa’s protea, two lotus flowers for India and Ceylon and Pakistan’s wheat, cotton and jute; unknown to the Queen at the time of the gown’s delivery, though, was the unique four-leaf clover embroidered on the dress’ left side, where Elizabeth’s hand would touch throughout the day.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, rehearsed for the upcoming day with her maids of honor, a sheet used in place of the velvet train and an arrangement of chairs standing in for the carriage. So that she could become accustomed to its feel and weight, the Queen also wore the Imperial State Crown while she went about her daily business, sporting it at her desk, at tea and while reading the newspaper. Elizabeth took part in two full rehearsals at Westminster Abbey, on May 22 and 29, though other sources assert that the Queen attended either “several” rehearsals or one. The Duchess of Norfolk usually stood in for the Queen at rehearsals.
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 color, separately from the BBC’s black and 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 and the Canadian mainland. At 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.
Along a route lined with sailors, soldiers, and airmen and women from across the British Empire and Commonwealth, guests and officials passed in a procession before about 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 and scaffolding along the route. For those not present to witness the event, more than 200 microphones were stationed along the path and in Westminster Abbey, with 750 commentators broadcasting descriptions in 39 languages; more than twenty million viewers around the world watched the coverage.
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 supplement 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 6 yard (5.5 meter) long, hand woven silk velvet cloak lined with Canadian ermine that required the assistance of the Queen’s maids of honor — Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Lady Anne Coke, Lady Moyra Hamilton, Lady Mary Baillie-Hamilton, Lady Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill and the Duchess of Devonshire — to carry.
The return procession followed a route that was 5 miles (8 kilometers) in length, passing through Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall, Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch, Oxford Circus and finally down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. 10,000 service personnel from across the Commonwealth and Empire marched in a procession that was two miles (3.2 km) long and took 45 minutes to pass any given point. A further 15,800 lined the route. The parade was led by Colonel Burrows of the War Office staff and four regimental bands. Then came the colonial contingents, then troops from the Commonwealth realms, followed by the Royal Air Force, the British Army, the Royal Navy and finally the Household Brigade. Behind the marching troops was a carriage procession led by the rulers of the British protectorates, including the Queen of Tonga, the Commonwealth prime ministers, the princes and princesses of the blood royal and the Queen Mother. Preceded by the heads of the British Armed Forces on horseback, the Gold State Coach was escorted by the Yeomen of the Guard and the Household Cavalry and was followed by the Queen’s Aides-de-Camp.
After being closed since the Queen’s accession for coronation preparations, Westminster Abbey was opened at 6 a.m. on Coronation Day to the approximately 8,000 guests invited from across the Commonwealth of Nations; more prominent individuals, such as members of the Queen’s family and foreign royalty, the peers of the United Kingdom, heads of state, Members of Parliament from the Queen’s various legislatures, and the like, arrived after 8:30 a.m. Tonga’s Queen Sālote was a guest, and was noted for her cheery demeanor while riding in an open carriage through London in the rain. General George Marshall, United States Secretary of State who implemented the Marshall Plan, was appointed chairman of the U.S. delegation to the coronation and attended the ceremony along with his wife, Katherine.
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, who was flanked by two other peers, while the Archbishops and Bishops Assistant of the Church of England, in their copes and mitres, waited outside the Great West Door for the arrival of the Queen. When the Queen arrived at about 11:00 a.m., she found that the friction between her robes and the carpet caused her difficulty moving forward, and 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, and 7 by Sir Hubert Parry. As Elizabeth prayed at and then seated herself on the Chair of Estate to the south of the altar, the Bishops carried in the religious paraphernalia — the bible, paten and chalice — and the peers holding the coronation regalia handed them 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.
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 Alanbrooke) and 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 and 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 curtsy 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 and justice with mercy, to uphold Protestantism in the United Kingdom and protect the Church of England and preserve its bishops and clergy. She proceeded to the altar where she stated, “The things which I have here promised, I will perform, and keep. So help me God”, before kissing the Bible and 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, and the Gospel of Matthew. Elizabeth was then anointed as the assembly sang “Zadok the Priest”; the Queen’s jewelry and crimson cape were removed by the Earl of Ancaster and the Mistress of the Robes, the Duchess of Devonshire and, 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 the Dean of Westminster, made a cross on the Queen’s forehead with holy oil made from the same base as 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, and the canopy removed, the Dean of Westminster and the Duchess of Devonshire placed on the monarch the Colobium Sindonis and Supertunica.
From the altar, the Dean 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 Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Sovereign’s Sceptre with 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 and a 21-gun salute was fired from the Tower of London.
With the benediction read, Elizabeth moved to the throne and the Archbishop of Canterbury and 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 knelt and took the communion, including a general confession and absolution, and, along with the congregation, recited the Lord’s Prayer.
Now wearing the Imperial State Crown and 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 and others. Then, transported back to Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, with an escort of thousands of armed forces personnel from around the Commonwealth, the Queen appeared on the balcony of the Centre Room before a crowd as a flypast went overhead.
All across the Queen’s realms, the rest of the Commonwealth, and in other parts of the world, coronation celebrations were held. The Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal was also presented to thousands of recipients throughout the Queen’s realms and in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom, commemorative coins were issued. Three million bronze coronation medallions were ordered by the Canadian government, struck by the Royal Canadian Mint and distributed to schoolchildren across the country; the obverse showed Elizabeth’s effigy and the reverse the royal cipher above the word CANADA, all circumscribed by ELIZABETH II REGINA CORONATA MCMLIII.
As at the coronation of George VI, acorns shed from oaks in Windsor Great Park, near Windsor Castle, were shipped around the Commonwealth and planted in parks, school grounds, cemeteries and private gardens to grow into what are known as Royal Oaks or Coronation Oaks.
In London, the Queen hosted a coronation luncheon, for which the recipe Coronation chicken was devised, and a fireworks show was mounted on Victoria Embankment. Further, street parties were mounted around the United Kingdom. The Coronation Cup football tournament was held at Hampden Park, Glasgow in May, and two weeks before the coronation, the children’s literary magazine Collins Magazine rebranded itself as The Young Elizabethan. News that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had reached the summit of Mount Everest arrived in Britain on Elizabeth’s coronation day; the New Zealand, American and British media dubbed it “a coronation gift for the new Queen”.
Military tattoos, horse races, parades and fireworks displays were mounted in Canada. The country’s governor general, Vincent Massey, proclaimed the day a national holiday and presided over celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, where the Queen’s coronation speech was broadcast and her personal royal standard flown from the Peace Tower. Later, a public concert was held on Parliament Hill and the Governor General hosted a ball at Rideau Hall. In Newfoundland, 90,000 boxes of sweets were given to children, some having theirs delivered by Royal Canadian Air Force drops, and in Quebec, 400,000 people turned out in Montreal, some 100,000 at Jeanne-Mance Park alone. A multicultural show was put on at Exhibition Place in Toronto, square dances and exhibitions took place in the Prairie provinces and in Vancouver the Chinese community performed a public lion dance. On the Korean Peninsula, Canadian soldiers serving in the Korean War acknowledged the day by firing red, white and blue colored smoke shells at the enemy and drank rum rations.
On June 15, 1953, the Queen attended a fleet review at Spithead, off the coast at Portsmouth. There were more Commonwealth naval ships present than at the 1937 coronation review, though a third of them were frigates or smaller vessels. Major Royal Navy units included Britain’s last battleship, HMS Vanguard, and four fleet and three light aircraft carriers. The Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy also each included a light carrier in their contingents. Using the frigate HMS Surprise as a royal yacht, the Queen and Royal Family started to review the lines of anchored ships at 3:30 pm, finally anchoring at 5:10 pm. This was followed by a fly-past of some 300 naval aircraft. After the Queen transferred to Vanguard for dinner, the day concluded with the Illumination of the fleet and a firework display.
The Crown Agents’ Offices in London coordinated an impressive worldwide issue of coronation stamps which saw the release of 106 stamps from 68 different entities. Four stamp issuers — Bahrain, Eastern Arabia, Tangier, and Kuwait — simply overprinted the British stamps, Eleven countries including Canada, Australia and New Zealand commissioned their own design to commemorate the coronation. The remaining 62 countries each released a single stamp utilizing a “key plate” design based on Dorothy Wilding’s portrait of the Queen Elizabeth II as its centrepiece. This was varied for each territory by the so-called ‘duty plate’ which added country name and denomination. More than 175 million stamps were printed and shipped around the world by Bradbury Wilkinson & Co. Ltd. and Thomas De La Rue Ltd.
Dorothy Wilding, who was born in 1893 and died in 1976 was a noted English society photographer from Gloucester. She had wanted to become an actress or artist but this career was disallowed by her uncle, in whose family she lived, so she chose the art of photography which she started to learn from the age of sixteen. By 1929, she had already moved studio a few times and in her Bond Street, London, studio she attracted theatrical stars and shot her first British Royal Family portrait of the 17-year-old Prince George (later Duke of Kent). This sitting was eventually followed by the famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
Fiji’s entry in the Coronation Day omnibus — Scott #145 — was a 2½ pence green and black engraved stamp perforated 13½ x 13 released on June 2, 1953.