On the 6th February 1952, King George VI of Britain died, and his daughter Elizabeth succeeded him to the throne. Her coronation, which marked the official start of her rule, was held on 2nd June 1953.
It took 16 months to organise the coronation at Westminster Abbey, London. Such was its importance to the nation that, when Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, died on 24 March 1953, it was discovered that she had stated in her will that her death should not interrupt the planning of the coronation.
Not only did Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation mark the start of a new reign over the United Kingdom, but also over all the countries of the Commonwealth. It was the first to be televised by the BBC and over 20 million people watched the event from all around the world; it was broadcast in 39 different languages.
The service at Westminster Abbey was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher. Throughout the lengthy service, Elizabeth had to wear a heavy silk dress, covered with a heavy velvet robe, which got stuck against the carpet at the beginning of the service. She had to be discreetly rescued by the archbishop before the ceremony could begin properly. Not only this, but as well as her dress and robe, Elizabeth had to bear the weight of the ceremonial bracelets (known as the Armills), the Stole Royal, Robe Royal, and the Sovereign’s Orb, followed by the Queen’s Ring, the Sceptre with the Cross, and the Sceptre with the Dove. Once Elizabeth held all of these items, the Archbishop of Canterbury, crowned her with St. Edward’s Crown. As he laid it in place, the crowd shouted “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!” three times.
The coronation was completed with the firing of a 21-gun salute form the Tower of London. Elizabeth was only 25 years old when she was proclaimed Queen, and swore an oath to uphold the laws of her nations and to govern the Church of England.
After the service, hundreds of thousands of people lined the route between Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace for a glimpse of the new Queen as she slowly travelled back through the streets in a golden carriage.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.