Queen Elizabeth II, wearing St. Edward's Crown at her coronation on June 2, 1953
Britain will be ablaze in lavish festivities this weekend, marking the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II ascending to the throne.
Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip were actually not in England, but on a safari in Kenya when she learned her father, George VI died on February 6, 1952.
Under British tradition, the monarch succeeds automatically on the death of his or her predecessor. The coronation is simply a public declaration of their new position. Patrick Allitt, a native of Derbyshire, England and Professor of U.S. History at Emory University, believes since the weather is traditionally so ``beastly’’ in February, the government most likely decided to postpone the ceremony until the summer.
The coronation for Queen Elizabeth took place on June 2, 1953, with some 8,000 invited guests, including prime ministers and heads of state present as she took the oath of office to serve her people as queen.
Though there is usually a gap between the succession and the public coronation, that wasn’t always the case. Early British tradition held that a monarch was not really king until he was crowned. Harold II (1066) for example, was crowned on the same day of Edward the Confessor’s burial, while Henry I was crowned just three days after the death of his brother, William Rufus in 1100.
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 was revolutionary in that it marked the first time television cameras were allowed inside Westminster Abbey. 53 percent of the adult population of Great Britain (over 19 million) reportedly viewed the procession-and 56 percent (over 20 million)-viewed the Coronation Service, leaving only 12 percent of the adult population who showed no interest in listening of viewing the coronation.
Allowing television cameras to capture the coronation was in fact merely an extension of technological innovations surrounding other such pomp and pageantry. The coronation of her father, George VI (1937) was recorded by cinematography for the first time; and the first coronation photographs were taken at the public ceremony of George V, Elizabeth’s grandfather, in 1911.
Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was the 38th in the present Abbey church and the 50th to have taken place in Westminster.
The ceremony at the coronation has hardly changed over the last 1,000 years, though there have been a few modifications. The preliminary walk to the abbey was abandoned by Charles I in 1625; while the banquet in Westminster Hall was dropped by William IV in 1831. Elaborate embellishments, meanwhile, were made beginning in 1660, when swords were added; one of them was lost in subsequent years and was replaced with another one in 1678. A Bible was added to the ceremony in 1689 and ``Zadok the Priest’’ was an anthem composed by George Frideric Handel specifically for the coronation of George II in 1727.
59 years ago, June 2, 1953, Elizabeth walked into the Abbey at the end of a procession of 250, pausing first at Theatre, located between the Choir and Sanctuary. There were three chairs used during the ceremony by the Sovereign-the Chair of State: the Throne, and King Edward's Chair, holding the Stone of Scone, first used for the coronation of Edward II in 1308.
A rite known as the ``Recognition’’ was presided over by the Archbishop who presented the Queen to the congregation and asked if they were willing to do homage and service. All roared in unison: `` God Save Queen Elizabeth’’ with the sound of trumpets smothering the air.
The oath followed and the presentation of the Bible, and then the communion service began. After the Creed, the Queen took her place in King Edward's Chair, dressed in an unadorned white gown, waiting to be anointed. She was invested with the royal robes and ornaments: the Jewelled Sword, the Armills (gold bracelets of sovereignty and wisdom), the Orb and Sceptre and the Coronation Ring.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, raising high the heavy crown of Edward the Confessor, solemnly lowered it on to the Queen's head, while everyone rose to their feet.
All shouted, ``God Save the Queen’’, with trumpets blaring and the guns of the Tower of London firing a Royal Salute.
The Queen and Prince Phillip then made their way to St. Edward's Chapel where the Queen was festooned in her Royal Purple Robe, while the heavy St. Edward's Crown was replaced by the lighter Imperial State Crown.
To end the ceremony, the newly crowned Queen moved with her great procession through the Abbey to the West Door to the sounds of the National Anthem and the pealing of bells.
The coronation parade included the Queen's magnificent carriage surrounded by a phalanx of horse guards, sultans, prime ministers, heads of state and military troops from throughout the Empire and Commonwealth. Later in the evening, Prime Minister Winston Churchill introduced the Queen's coronation day speech on radio and television. ``Let it not be thought the age of Chivalry belongs in the past. Here at the summit of our worldwide community is a lady, the Queen.’’
When the parade ended, Elizabeth, only 27 years old, with her family beside her, stood on the Buckingham Palace balcony, waving to the euphoric crush of people (despite the heavy rain) as jet planes of the Royal Air Force blazed across the Mall in tight formation.
In a pre-recorded Coronation message later that evening, the Queen addressing the 16 independent countries in which she is head of state, counseled her subjects to guard freedom and practice tolerance, ``so we can go forward together in peace.’’ ``Throughout all my life’’ the Queen said in her moving radio broadcast, `` and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.’’
A Footnote: Queen Elizabeth made history a few years later when she delivered her first televised Christmas speech in 1957. The royal Christmas radio broadcast was a long established tradition which was first inaugurated by George V in 1932.
Though Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was carried off splendidly without any embarrassing blunders, there have been a few mishaps and minor calamities at other coronations in British history.
William the Conqueror’s coronation (1066), for example, was spoiled by the massacre of his new Saxon subjects. In 1599, Elizabeth I complained that the holy oil was too greasy and had a foul smell.
In addition, in 1727, Queen Caroline was forced to borrow jewels since George I had given the rest to his mistresses. George IV, meanwhile, had some unsolicited theatrics at his coronation in 1821 when his estranged wife demanded to be let in the church right in the middle of the ceremony. Queen Victoria during her coronation in 1838 was in agonizing pain, or so she claimed, when the archbishop clumsily pushed the ring on her wrong finger; and in 1937, King George VI recalled the archbishop was juggling the crown on his head so much that he never did find out if it was put on his head the wrong way.
Despite plenty of optimism at the time of Elizabeth’s coronation with British journalists speaking of a new ``Elizabethan age to come’’, the early part of her reign was in fact marked by severe economic challenges and financial hardships. Europe was beginning to recover economically, especially Germany which was quickly becoming a dangerous competitor. In addition to the European recovery, the Eastern economies of Japan, Hong Kong and Korea, were producing televisions, radios, refrigerators and computers at mad clips, representing a formidable threat to the UK.
Aside from their economic challenges, Britain’s railways, mines, shipyards and cotton mills desperately needed upgrading and a fresh infusion of investment, while there was a public clamor at home for new hospitals, schools and badly needed housing.
Finally, Elizabeth’s reign witnessed the collapse of the Empire in quick succession. Britain withdrew from Malaya and Ghana in 1957, Nigeria in 1960, Sierra Leone and Tanganyika in 1961, Uganda, Jamaica and Trinidad in 1962, Zambia and Aden in 1964. Britain had already withdrawn from India in 1948 before Elizabeth ascended to the throne.
Elizabeth II or Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born to the Duke and Duchess of York on April 21, 1926. Her sister, Margaret Rose was born in 1930. The unexpected abdication of her uncle, Edward VII, brought her father, Albert Frederick Arthur George to the throne as George VI. She married her distant cousin, a naval officer, Philip Mountbatten (Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a former Prince of Greece and Denmark ), in November, 1947 with the first of their four children, a son, Prince Charles born a year later in 1948.
On April 21, 2006, Queen Elizabeth at age 80 became the third oldest person to hold the British crown.
June 1, 2002