Even rain didn’t dampen a joyous new reign! Author reveals the nationwide celebrations that took place after Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation
THORNS IN THE CROWN
by Barry Turner (History Press £20, 224 pp)
‘How I hate being King,’ George VI once remarked. He had never expected to be, only stepping into the breach after his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated.
His 16-year reign — or ordeal as he perhaps saw it — came to an end on February 6, 1952, when he died in his sleep, aged only 56. Famously, the news of his passing was conveyed to his eldest daughter and heir at Treetops Hotel in Kenya. She was now Queen Elizabeth II.
In the minds of many, as Barry Turner demonstrates in this detailed, entertaining book, the country, battered by post-war austerity, was ready for a new Elizabethan era. And what better way to herald its arrival than with the rich pageantry and ancient ritual of a coronation?
Barry Turner has penned a detailed account of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation, which took place in Westminster Abbey (pictured)
Coronations in the past hadn’t always run smoothly. Charles I’s ceremony was interrupted by an earthquake. Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong when George III was crowned. ‘I have taken care that the next coronation shall be regulated in the exactest manner possible,’ the nobleman in charge tactlessly told the king.
Sixty years later, at George IV’s coronation, his estranged queen was denied access at the doors of Westminster Abbey and George spent much of his time winking suggestively at his current mistress.
Even Queen Victoria’s coronation was a ‘hazardous affair’, in which clergymen lost track of the service and the choir sang out of tune.
Churchill’s government was determined that the new queen’s ceremony would be a triumph. A Coronation Committee was created. All of its members were male, many of them aristocratic. A handful of Labour politicians were thrown in, presumably intended to represent the views of the man in the street. The committee was given a full year and more to prepare, the coronation set for June 2, 1953.
A Souvenirs Committee sifted through applications to produce officially recognised memorabilia. A Sharp’s toffee tin with the queen’s face on it was given the thumbs up. A plan to sell crown-embroidered knickers was unanimously rejected.
Weather forecasters had confidently predicted the day would be warm and dry. It turned out to be cold and wet — but nothing could dampen the spirits of those determined to attend.
By the evening of June 1, 30,000 people were bedding down for the night on the route of the procession. On the actual day, a privileged 8,000 were crammed into Westminster Abbey, many of them seated so high on temporarily erected galleries that they had a better view of the ceiling mouldings than they did of the ceremony. An estimated audience of 20 million watched on TV.
THORNS IN THE CROWN by Barry Turner (History Press £20, 224 pp)
At the heart of it all was the diminutive figure of the 27-year-old queen. She seems to have taken it in her stride. ‘Ready, girls?’ she is reported to have cheerfully asked her six maids of honour as they paused at the Abbey door before entering.
Spectators both inside and outside the Abbey were unable to witness the anointing of the Queen with holy oil which took place behind a canopy. However, the vast audience saw the moment when the Archbishop placed St Edward’s Crown on her head and the congregation all cried out, ‘God Save the Queen!’
As the Queen embarked on the procession back to Buckingham Palace, nationwide celebrations began. Pageants were staged, bonfires were lit and, despite the weather, street parties enjoyed.
According to Archbishop Fisher, the coronation was a moment when ‘this country and Commonwealth were not far from the kingdom of Heaven’. His remark was wildly extravagant, of course.
Barry Turner proves a more down-to-earth and insightful guide to the day and its meaning for the country. ‘Presented as the opening of a door to a new age,’ he writes, ‘the coronation could equally be seen as confirmation of the staying power of the old order.’