For weeks, we’ve been reviewing the coronation jewels worn by queens regnant and consort, from Queen Victoria all the way to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Today, we’re wrapping up our series with a look at one of the most memorable coronations of all: the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II when her father died on February 6, 1952. Her coronation was scheduled for a little over a year later: June 2, 1953. Over the next fourteen months, extensive plans were made for the physical transformation of Westminster Abbey, the logistics of allowing television cameras to capture the occasion, the route of the procession, and much more.
There were also extensive preparations required for the Queen’s coronation attire. For her dress, she turned to Norman Hartnell, who had designed her wedding gown five years earlier. She requested a similar silhouette to that 1947 gown. Hartnell produced eight different sketches for her to choose from.
The eighth of these featured embroidered floral symbols of the nations of the United Kingdom (the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, the daffodil of Wales, and the shamrock of Northern Ireland). The Queen selected that design but asked for a few adjustments. The Royal Collection notes that she “suggested the addition of embroideries in various colours rather than all in silver,” and she “requested that in addition to the four national emblems, those of the Dominions of which she was now Queen should also be added.” As part of last year’s Platinum Jubilee exhibition at Windsor Castle, the national floral embroidery samples were put on display along with the final gown.
Here’s a closer look at some of the symbols. Along with the originally included English rose, Scottish thistle, and Northern Irish shamrock, the gown was embroidered with the Welsh leek (changed from the originally submitted daffodil), the Canadian maple leaf, the Australian wattle, the New Zealand silver fern, the South African protea, and the Pakistani cotton and jute. Two lotus flower embroideries were also included: one for Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), in green silk with white sequins, and one for India, in mother-of-pearl, seed pearls, and diamantes. India was a republic, not a dominion or realm, at this point, but its symbol was included to represent the Queen’s role as Head of the Commonwealth. Each emblem had to be thoroughly researched and confirmed by the Earl Marshal.
The silk used to make the gown was produced by Lady Hart Dyke’s silk farm at Lullingstone Castle in Kent and woven by a company in Essex. The gown was made and embroidered at Hartnell’s London workshop. It took five months to make, with hours spent on the embroidery by a team under the direction of Edie Dulie. Gold bugle beads, diamantes, and pearls were also sewn on to the gown during the embroidery process.
The dress remains in the Royal Collection today. Here’s how it looked in the summer of 2022, when it was displayed at Windsor Castle to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Two sets of ermine-lined velvet coronation robes are used by the monarch during the coronation: the Robe of State for the arrival at the Abbey, and the Robe of Estate for the departure. The Queen’s Robe of State was made of crimson velvet, lined with ermine sourced from Canada. Pictured above is the late Queen’s Robe of Estate, made of purple velvet trimmed with ermine. Both robes are richly embroidered with gold, in designs conceived and executed by artists from the Royal School of Needlework. The Queen’s Robe of State will be featured in the upcoming coronation, worn by Queen Camilla after conservation work done by Ede and Ravenscroft, the maker of the 1953 robes (and the new ones needed for the 2023 coronation as well).
On the morning of Tuesday, June 2, 1953, the Queen arrived at Westminster Abbey wearing the lavish coronation gown and her Robe of State. She also wore several other jewels on her arrival for the ceremony: the Diamond Diadem, the Coronation Earrings and Necklace, and the Garter Collar and Badge. Let’s go over them in detail from the top, shall we?
The Diamond Diadem was made for the 1821 coronation of King George IV. Work on the elaborate diadem, which features roses, shamrocks, and thistles in its design, was completed by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell the previous year. George wore the diadem with a velvet cap instead of a plain cap of maintenance for his procession to Westminster Abbey for his coronation, so the Queen’s choice of the diadem for her arrival at the Abbey was an echo of that earlier 1821 coronation. After George, the diadem has been used only by queens regnant and consort (Adelaide, Victoria, Alexandra, Mary, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth II).
The Coronation Earrings and Necklace date to 1858, made for Queen Victoria to replace items lost in the Hanoverian Claim. (More on that over here!) The diamonds in the necklace were taken from other items in Victoria’s collection. The pendant is the Lahore Diamond, taken from the Lahore Treasury in present-day Pakistan by British colonizers in 1849. The pendants of the coronation earrings also have a colonial history: they were originally part of the armlet setting of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother also wore various parts of the necklace and earrings for their coronation ceremonies.
On her gown, Elizabeth also wore the collar and badge of the Order of the Garter, Britain’s most senior order of chivalry. The badge she wore for her coronation was made in 1828 by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell for King George IV.
The badge is known as the “Marlborough George” because it was a copy of a similar badge worn by the Duke of Marlborough. The Royal Collection explains that “the gold figure of St. George on a rearing horse slaying the dragon, the emblem of the Order, is mounted in enamel and diamonds.”
The Queen also carried a bouquet of flowers with her on her arrival at Westminster Abbey. The bouquet was made of white flowers from various parts of the United Kingdom: lilies of the valley from Kent, virgo roses from Hertfordshire, orchids from Sussex, Kent, and Hertfordshire, slipper orchids from North Wales, carnations from Belfast, stephanotis from Scotland, and even carnations from the Isle of Man. Constance Fears, a florist with Martin Longman in Fenchurch Street, made the bouquet. (She also made the Queen’s wedding bouquet in 1947.) The bouquet was then presented by representatives of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners at Buckingham Palace on the morning of the coronation.
The Queen was carrying the bouquet when she left the palace, had it laying in her lap during the procession to the Abbey, and was carrying it as she stepped out of the carriage. But she didn’t carry it during her procession up the aisle of the Abbey itself. I’ve often wondered what happened to it, and for the life of me, I’ve not been able to find out in my research. Did she just hand it off to one of her maids of honor or to Mary, Duchess of Devonshire, who was her Mistress of the Robes? Was it placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior? Would love to know the answer. The official Westminster Abbey website simply notes that the bouquet “was not carried into the Abbey.”
Here’s the Queen as she arrives in the central part of the Abbey (the “coronation theatre”) for the ceremony, flanked by Rev. Michael Ramsay, the Bishop of Durham, and Rev. Harold Bradfield, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. At this point, the King’s Scholars of Westminster School were cheering out the famous “Vivats” section of Sir Hubert Parry’s “I Was Glad.”
Elizabeth then took her place on the Chair of Estate, with members of the royal family looking down from the Royal Box above her. You’ll recognize lots of familiar faces here. (And, as a spoiler, we’ll be talking more about the Tiaras of the Royal Boxes tomorrow!) In the front row, we’ve got Princess Alexandra; Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent; Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood; Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; Princess Margaret; Prince William of Gloucester; Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester; and Prince Richard of Gloucester.
Prince Charles was elsewhere in the Abbey at this point with his nanny, Helen Lightbody. He was brought in part of the way through the ceremony and seated between his grandmother and his aunt. (His paternal grandmother, Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark, was almost directly behind him as well—she’s the one in the second row wearing a nun’s habit.)
After the Coronation Oath and a communion service, Elizabeth was anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. A simple white gown, made by Hartnell, was placed over the coronation dress, and a gold canopy shielded the private moment from view.
The Archbishop used the Ampulla and the Coronation Spoon to anoint the monarch. The eagle-shaped ampulla was made in 1661 for the coronation of King Charles II, but the spoon dates to the 12th century. It’s one of the only pieces of coronation regalia that survived Cromwell and the interregnum period.
After the anointing, the Queen was presented with more pieces of the coronation regalia: the Sword of Offering, the Armills, the Orb, the Ring, the Sceptre with the Cross, and the Sceptre with the Dove.
Two of those pieces of regalia were worn by Elizabeth during the ceremony. First: the armills, which are also called the “bracelets of sincerity and wisdom.” There’s a set of 17th-century armills in the crown jewel collection—they’re the ones that King Charles III will wear on Saturday—but Elizabeth wore a new pair of gold armills that had been made just for her. They were the brainchild of Prime Minister Robert Menzies of Australia, and they were presented to the monarch as a gift from the Commonwealth of Nations (at the time, that was the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, and South Africa).
The other piece of regalia that Elizabeth wore was the Sovereign’s Ring. Made by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell in 1831 for King William IV, the ring is set with diamonds, sapphires, and rubies in a design that echoes the national flag. The coronation ring is sometimes called the “wedding ring of England.” In fact, as historian Anna Keay notes, “When asked about her failure to take a husband, Elizabeth I pointed to her coronation ring and said she was married to the realm of England.” Elizabeth II was married to the Duke of Edinburgh, of course, but the coronation ceremony really is a kind of marriage between monarch and nation.
And then, the Queen, seated on the Coronation Chair, was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Geoffrey Fisher.
The crowned used for this part of the ceremony is St. Edward’s Crown. It was made in 1661 of 22-carat gold and set with hundreds of precious and semi-precious gemstones. Its design was inspired by the much older crown of St. Edward the Confessor (1003-1066), one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. That medieval crown was disposed of after the execution of King Charles I in 1649. The newer St. Edward’s Crown has been used to crown six British monarchs: King Charles II, King James II, King William III, King George V, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II.
Here’s the crowned Queen Elizabeth II, wearing St. Edward’s Crown and holding the scepters, during her coronation ceremony.
And in her left hand, she held the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Dove. Both scepters were made in 1661 for the coronation of King Charles II.
As she left the Abbey after her coronation, the Queen still held the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, but she was wearing a different crown and carrying a different piece of regalia in her left hand.
Before the monarch leaves the Abbey, St. Edward’s Crown is swapped out for the lighter (and more dazzling) Imperial State Crown. The current crown was made in 1937 for King George VI, but it was based on the design of (and reused the gems set in) the Imperial State Crown made for Queen Victoria in 1838.
In her left hand, the Queen held the Sovereign’s Orb as she exited the Abbey. The golden orb, which is set with pearls, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and a single large amethyst, was made in 1661 by Sir Robert Vyner for the coronation of Charles II. The Royal Collection explains, “It symbolizes the Christian world with its cross mounted on a globe, and the bands of jewels dividing it up into three sections represent the three continents known in medieval times.”
Elizabeth wore and carried the regalia as she walked out of the Abbey and stepped into the Gold State Coach for the grand procession back to Buckingham Palace.
Here’s the Queen smiling through the window of the coach as she and Prince Philip ride through the streets of London after the ceremony had ended.
She also wore the Imperial State Crown, the Coronation Earrings and Necklace, the Garter Collar and Badge, the Armills, and the Sovereign’s Ring on the balcony of Buckingham Palace that day.
And those jewels, as well as the scepter and orb, were featured in some of the famous coronation portraits taken by Cecil Beaton at the palace following the service. (The Wesminster Abbey image in the background is a painted backdrop.)
And here’s an image from that portrait session in color. In just a few days we’ll be seeing many of these pieces of jewelry and regalia appearing during a coronation again, for the first time in 70 years!