These Amazing Photos Will Take You Inside Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation
Queen Elizabeth II was formally crowned the monarch of the United Kingdom on June 2, 1953. As History explains, the coronation ceremony drew on “traditions that date back a millennium” even as it became the first major international event to be broadcast on television.
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II? These photos will take you back in time and show you exactly how the historic day played out.
1. Preparations began 14 months ahead of the coronation
As Getty Images reports, preparations for the coronation began a full 14 months before the event. Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II upon the 1952 death of her father, King George VI. But it would have been considered poor taste to throw a lavish celebration in the months following the monarch’s death. So everyone had more time to make preparations. For pub owners, that included renovating their signs. (Especially any with “Queen” in their name, like “The Queen’s Head and Artichoke” on Albany Street, photographed in February 1953.)
Next: A sculptor prepared this for the coronation.
2. A sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II stood outside Selfridges for the coronation
It wasn’t just pub owners who made preparations to ensure their storefronts were in excellent shape for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In the photo above, sculptor Peter Mancini worked on a statue of the young queen. The statue would stand outside the Selfridges department store on Oxford Street on the day of the coronation. It depicted Queen Elizabeth II riding her horse Winston and wearing her uniform as a Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.
Next: Everyone involved had to do this.
3. Everyone had to rehearse ahead of the ceremony
You can’t pull off a coronation ceremony with many dignitaries in attendance — and hundreds of millions of people tuning in via radio and television — without rehearsing. Rehearsals took place in the days leading up to the ceremony. Even Queen Elizabeth II herself took part in two dress rehearsals. But other participants began rehearsing their role in the celebrations much earlier. That included trumpeters from the Royal Military School of Music, seen above practicing in March 1953.
Next: People started doing this the day before the coronation.
4. People waited along the procession route, some overnight
People today line up outside Apple stores for the release of a new iPhone. Or they camp in the parking lot of Best Buy for a shot at Black Friday deals. But back in 1953, subjects of Queen Elizabeth II had the same enthusiasm for the monarch’s coronation celebrations. In the photo above, taken the day before the coronation, people had already begun waiting along the route that the coronation procession would take. The BBC reports that an estimated 3 million people gathered in the streets of London to try to catch a glimpse of the new queen. Some even camped out overnight.
Next: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip traveled to the ceremony in style.
5. Elizabeth and Philip rode to the coronation in the Gold State Coach
Getty Images reports that on the morning of the ceremony, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, rode from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Gold State Coach. The carriage was pulled by eight grey geldings, named Cunningham, Tovey, Noah, Tedder, Eisenhower, Snow White, Tipperary, and McCreery. The coach dates back to 1762. And as Vanity Fair notes, Queen Elizabeth II later said in a rare interview that its age didn’t make for a comfortable ride. The coach was “horrible. It’s just not meant for traveling in,” she said. And because of the carriage’s weight, the horses could only pull it at a walking pace.
Next: This is the route that Queen Elizabeth II traveled.
6. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip began their procession at Buckingham Palace
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, got into the Gold State Coach at Buckingham Palace. (You can see the palace in the photo above.) And they weren’t the only ones to travel to the ceremony by carriage. In fact, the BBC reports that there was a shortage of professional coachmen to take dignitaries to Westminster Abbey in horse-drawn carriages. So “millionaire businessmen and country squires offered their services.” The publication adds that “on the day, they dressed up as Buckingham Palace servants and helped take people to the ceremony.”
Next: This was their destination.
7. The procession took the queen through London to Westminster Abbey
The procession escorted Queen Elizabeth II along the short route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, where the coronation ceremony would occur. Journalists traveled from around the world for the event. They reported on the preparations preceding the coronation, the ceremony itself, and even the festivities afterward. The coronation itself was also televised. Queen Elizabeth II insisted on the broadcast despite the doubts of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Next: You could see this London landmark from the procession route.
8. The royal carriage made its way through London
In photos of the coronation procession, you can see several London landmarks, including Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster in London. The Palace of Westminster serves as the meeting place for the two houses of the British Parliament: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It got its name from Westminster Abbey, which lies just west of the palace. Before Queen Elizabeth II entered the Abbey, guests saw the procession of the royal regalia: the royal maces; three ceremonial swords representing mercy, spiritual and temporal justice; the Sword of State; St. Edward’s Staff; and St. Edward’s Crown.
Next: Queen Elizabeth II (finally) got to Westminster Abbey.
9. Queen Elizabeth II entered Westminster Abbey
Next, Queen Elizabeth II made her way down the aisle of Westminster Abbey with six maids of honour. As Getty Images reports, she followed in the steps of Queen Victoria by selecting six women, all daughters of earls, marquesses, or dukes. They carried her long train down the aisle at Westminster Abbey. Traditionally, the monarch would wear a crimson surcoat, on top of which other coronation garments and robes would go. But instead of a surcoat, the queen entered the Abbey wearing a custom-designed coronation gown — designed by Norman Hartnell, who also created her wedding dress — and the Robe of State carried by her maids of honour.
Next: She did this at the front of the church.
10. The queen prayed at the front of the Abbey
After making her way to the front of Westminster Abbey, Queen Elizabeth II knelt to pray. Then, she sat in the Chair of Estate. She watched officials bring the royal regalia was forward and place it at the altar. Next, the queen moved to stand in front of King Edward’s Chair. (The chair was commisioned in 1296 for the coronation of King Edward I.) Then, the Archbishop and other members of the clergy presented the queen to the four corners of the congregation. Each part of the congregation responded, “God save Queen Elizabeth.”
Next: Queen Elizabeth II took this oath.
11. Then, Queen Elizabeth II took the coronation oath
Getty Images reports that the coronation ceremony took a total of 3.5 hours. But next comes one of the most significant parts. The BBC notes that Queen Elizabeth II took the coronation oath in front of more than 8,000 guests. The congregation included prime ministers and heads of state from across the Commonwealth. In the coronation oath, the queen promised to serve the people of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth. She also vowed to uphold the laws of God. She took the oath with her right hand on the Bible. And afterward, she kissed the Bible and signed the oath. The ceremony then continued with a Gospel reading, hymns, and prayers.
Next: She told journalists not to broadcast this ritual on television.
12. She didn’t want this part of the ceremony broadcast on television
Despite her insistence on broadcasting the coronation, Queen Elizabeth II did instruct the cameras to cut away once, according to Getty Images. She didn’t want them to broadcast the anointing, “which she considered a sacred moment.” For that part of the ceremony, she put on an anointing gown made of plain white cloth over her coronation gown. She moved to the Coronation Chair. Then, four Knights of the Garter approached with a canopy made of silk to shield the public’s view. The Dean of Westminster then anointed the queen’s head with Holy Oil, which Vanity Fair reports consists of sesame and olive oils perfumed with roses, orange flowers, jasmine, musk, civet, and ambergris. And finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave her a blessing.
Next: Then came the crown.
13. Next came the part of the ceremony where Queen Elizabeth II was crowned
After another wardrobe change — she removed the anointing gown and replaced it with a clean tunic, a girdle, a stole, and the imperial mantel — Queen Elizabeth II was ready for a part of the ceremony called the investiture. She moved to the Coronation Chair. And then the BBC reports that Queen Elizabeth II was handed the four symbols of authority: the orb, the sceptre, the rod of mercy, and the royal ring of sapphire and rubies. Finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury placed St. Edward’s Crown — which weighs almost 5 pounds and dates back to 1661 — on her head. Those gathered in the Abbey shouted, “God save the Queen.”
Next: This symbolic part of the ceremony happened next.
14. Her subjects paid homage to their new queen
After the Archbishop placed St. Edwards Crown on Queen Elizabeth II’s head, those gathered in the Abbey shouted, “God save the Queen.” (She may have been happy to hear it, considering that she was wearing a crown so heavy she later quipped that it could have broken her neck.) Next, the Archbishop of Canterbury and his fellow bishops paid homage to the new monarch. They knelt to pledge their support to her. Other dignitaries also paid homage to her. In a radio broadcast, the queen could be heard responding, “Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”
Next: Queen Elizabeth II then took the scenic route back to Buckingham Palace.
15. The queen made her way back to Buckingham Palace
At the end of the ceremony, the new queen entered the private chapel. She returned wearing the Imperial Crown, carrying the sceptre in her right hand and the orb in her left. Then, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip made their way back to Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach. But it wasn’t a short ride. Getty Images reports that her route was designed to pass as many well-wishers as possible. So it stretched to a length of 4.5 miles — when a direct route between Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace is less than a mile — and took about two hours.
Next: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip made this iconic appearance.
16. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip waved to the crowds
History reports that in the procession through the streets of London after the coronation, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were joined by representatives from the member states of the Commonwealth, including heads of state, sultans, and prime ministers. British troops were also joined by Commonwealth troops, including police from the Solomon Islands, Malaysians in white uniforms and green sarongs, Pakistanis in puggaree headdresses, Canadian Mounties, and both New Zealanders and Australians in wide-brimmed hats. Finally, after the parade, Queen Elizabeth II stood with her family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to wave to the crowds.
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