The Queen’s Coronation 1953 – Summer Show Buckingham Palace

Queen Elizabeth II in Coronation Robes, 1954, Sir Herbert James Gunn Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

2nd June 2013 was the sixtieth anniversary of HRH Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.

At that time television had just arrived in Australia and my family like many others, gathered with friends, neighbours and family to watch the great event. The fact that it was in black and white and the reception on the square box quite ‘snowy’, did not diminish our pure pleasure, or lessen our excitement and anticipation as it unfolded.

The memory is still vivid and even now in my mind’s eye I can still see that beautiful young princess pledging so clearly, honestly and openly to devote her whole life to all the people of her nation – a vow and promise she has always kept.

The Archbishop and Primate of England crowned her in Westminster Abbey, in a traditional ritual of great richness, complete with choirs, pomp and pageantry!

It took place a year following her accession to the English throne on 6th February 1952, after what was considered an appropriate mourning period for royalty and indeed, for any family at the time – one year.

The spectacular event was some sixteen months in preparation, and one of those defining moments in history following World War II, which built upon the considerable expertise and reputation the Brits had already gained for planning and successfully implementing massive public events, one they have continued to build on.

Today such planning involves enormous resources and huge security services so that millions of people can participate. And, all those involved still always manage to bring such grand events off with great style.

Visitors to Buckingham Palace from July 27th to September 29th will see The Queen’s Coronation 1953 Exhibition as a special and integral part of their experience.

Invitation to Prince Charles to attend the Coronation, 1953, Joan Hassall Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved

A year following the coronation The Queen came to Australia and my family all camped out on the footpath overnight so that we could be there in the morning in a poll position to wave to her as she passed by. It was both a thrill and a privilege and it is also a powerful memory, one that has also stayed with me all my life.

Today when I think of it I always remember the poem the Australian Prime Minister Bob Menzies quoted from at the time to describe her

”There is a lady sweet and kind,
Was never face so pleased my mind;
I did but see her passing by,
And yet I love her till I die.”*

HRH Queen Elizabeth II was a brilliant role model for the women of my generation.

On her 21st birthday in 1947 she said

Coronation portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, 1953, Cecil Beaton (C) Victoria and Albert Museum,London

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong”

When her father left her in charge she was only 26.

There was much to do following the war inspiring and motivating people to rebuild the nation. It was an enormous responsibility but she took up the task ahead willingly and without a moment’s hesitation and took everything in her stride.

Her whole life since has been a fine example of what having the courage of our convictions really means and what loyalty, integrity and honour is all about.

Courage does not mean an absence of fear, but rather a willingness to face it head on and go forward surmounting all the challenges of life in the best way you can.

HM Queen Elizabeth II has courage in abundance.

This amazing show at Buckingham Palace will bring together for the first time since HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Day, a spectacular array of dress, uniform and robes worn by the principal royal party including the Coronation pen. Works of art, paintings and objects used on the day will also be on display to recreate the atmosphere of that extraordinary landmark occasion.

Glorious detail on HM Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation Dress by William Hartnell and embroidered by the Royal College of Needlework

The display will include HM The Queen’s Coronation Dress and Robe; the uniform, robe and Coronet of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh; the dress and robe of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother; the dress and robe of HRH The Princess Margaret; and the outfits worn on the day by two-year-old Princess Anne and four-year-old Prince Charles.

The Prince’s personal invitation to attend Westminster Abbey will also be on display. What a delightful confection it is, with a touch of whimsy.

The Queen’s white satin Coronation gown was created by the British couturier Norman Hartnell (1901-79) for the occasion.

It will be on show alongside Hartnell’s original designs for the Dress and his embroidery samples.

Her Majesty The Queen in her Coronation Dress, 1953, Norman Hartnell. Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved

The design of the dress incorporated an iconographic scheme of embroidered national and Commonwealth floral emblems, including the Australian wattle, of which we were all so proud we thought we would burst.

The symbols were rendered in gold, silver and pastel-coloured silks and then suitably encrusted with pearls, crystals and sequins.

The Queen’s Robe of Estate, which was worn when Her Majesty as she departed from Westminster Abbey for the Palace after the event, is of English purple silk-velvet. It is more than 6.5 metres long from the shoulder to the tip of the train.

The whole robe was exquisitely embroidered with wheatears and olive branches, which represent peace and prosperity, and terminated in The Queen’s crowned cypher.

The finely worked embroidery was designed and executed brilliantly by the Royal School of Needlework, and the whole task took some 3,500 hours to complete between March and June 1953.

The Gold State Coach, 1762, Samuel Butler Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

The future Queen was carried to Westminster Abbey in the simply splendid Gold State Coach, which was drawn by eight Windsor greys with the coachmen all wearing full State Livery.

It was like watching a fairy princess, a dream that become a reality; there she was alongside the man she loved who stood and sat so quietly and confidently by her side.

For every child at the time it was like something straight out of a storybook.

Designed by the late eighteenth century neo-classical architect William Chambers (1723-1796) and made by the royal coach maker Samuel Butler the gold coach features absolutely superb painted panels on the side by Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727-1785) who was an Italian painter and engraver living and working in England after 1755.

He had already painted part of a ceiling in Buckingham House (later Palace) and was a founder member of The Royal Academy (1768). Enormously gifted, a prolific draughtsman of classical and allegorical subjects as well as highly renowned, Cipiriani’s work was always considered significant.

He also worked for William Chamber’s rival Scottish born London based architect Robert Adam (1728-1792), providing illusionistic murals at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire and Landsowne House, London and played an important part in the formation of 18th century English artistic ‘taste’.

The King’s Master of the Horse, Francis Hastings, and 10th Earl of Huntingdon commissioned the gold coach in 1760 and it has been used at every coronation since that of George IV on 19th July 1821.

Superb sculptural detail on The Gold Coach

The fabulous carved sculptures of the Greek mythological figures of tritons, messengers of the Gods, who are blowing trumpets to clear the way, are by Joseph Wilton (1722-1803) and the gilding and metal work of George Coyte Henry Pujolas.

They are unique.

The coach was delivered in 1762 for the coronation of George III and his wedding to Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and is in the exuberant manner of the extravagant Baroque style.

The three cherubs on the roof represent England, Ireland and Scotland and they are supported by the Imperial Crown.

Braces covered with Morocco leather with gilt buckles are slung over the body of the coach and the interior is lined and upholstered with velvet and satin.

The coach weighs some four tons and requires eight very strong horses to pull it, postilion ridden in pairs.

It was last used by HM The Queen during the Golden Jubilee of 2002. It is on display in the Royal Mews.

Exhibited alongside the Coronation Dress and Robe will be a number of jewels worn by The Queen on her Coronation Day.  These include the glorious Diamond and Pearl Diadem, which Her Majesty wore for the journey from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey.

The Diamond Diadem, 1820, Rundell, Bridge & Rundell Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

Designed and actually made for her ancestor King George IV to wear at his coronation in 1821 by royal jewellers and goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, this incredible diadem is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable of The Queen’s jewels today.

When George IV wore the diadem it was topped with a large black velvet ‘Spanish hat’ with sprays of ostrich feathers and a heron’s plume, which most people remembered vividly.

In the detail of an image After C Wild, entitled George IV receiving the Regalia in Westminster Hall, a hand coloured engraving dating from 1824 we can understand why.

The diadem is only just visible below the showy plumes.

The new King, who loved history, selected the costumes for all the participants in his coronation, inspired by the Tudor style.

Queen Victoria also wore the diadem in 1838 after some small alterations, while Queen Alexandra wore it in 1902 with Queen Elizabeth, our current Queen’s mother wearing it in 1937 at her husband’s coronation as George VI.

HM Queen Elizabeth II first wore it on her journey to and from the Palace of Westminster for the first State Opening of Parliament during her reign (4th November 1952). She has worn it since at all subsequent state openings and is also depicted wearing it on English postage stamps and some issues of their banknotes.

A diadem differs from a Tiara, another style of ornamental headband, and Eastern monarchs originally wore it. The word derives from the Greek diád?ma, “band” or “fillet”, from diadé, “I bind round”, or “I fasten”.

It started out as a simple ribbon that surrounded the head of a king to denote authority and can also be used more generally as an emblem of regal power or dignity.

Roman Emperors from the time of Diocletian onward wore the diadem.

Such hair ornaments symbolized the financial power that made such luxury possible in the first place and they convey social distinction on their wearer while reflecting the continuing evolution of both society and culture.

The Coronation Necklace and matching Earrings with Lahore diamond pendant attached R.& S. Garrad & Co 1858 Diamonds silver gold and platinum Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

Also on display will be the incredible diamond Coronation Necklace and Earrings, which were made for Queen Victoria in 1858 by R & S Garrard & Co. and worn by Her Majesty The Queen for her Coronation. Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) had worn them previously at their respective coronations.

Limited-edition tea caddy Royal Collection Trust © 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

If you are unable to make it to exhibition there is an official china range that has been designed and produced to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.

Embellished in rich red with glorious gold scrollwork design on the borders, which has been taken from the silk damask banners of the State trumpets that heralded the moment when The Queen was crowned, they are sure to be sold out quickly.

Exclusive to The Royal Collection Trust, the pieces on offer, which include a sensational tea caddy, pillbox, loving cup and plates were produced in Stoke-on-Trent by the same potteries that made the official ranges of commemorative china for Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and for the wedding of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.

Handmade using methods that have remained unchanged for 250 years, each item is individually crafted, decorated and embellished with several layers of raised burnished gold, before a final layer of 22-carat gold is applied.

All profits are dedicated to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity.

The aims of The Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection and the promotion of public access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.

In honour of the Queen, her diamond jubilee and anniversary of her coronation, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy completed the following poem.

The crown translates a woman to a Queen - endless gold, circling itself, an O like a well, fathomless, for the years to drown in – history’s bride, anointed, blessed, for a crowning.

One head alone can know its weight, on throne, in pageantry, and feel it still, in private space, when it’s lifted: not a hollow thing, but a measuring; no halo, treasure, but a valuing; decades and duty.

Time-gifted, the crown is old light, journeying from skulls of kings to living Queen. Its jewels glow, virtues; loyalty’s ruby, blood-deep; sapphire’s ice resilience; emerald evergreen; the shy pearl, humility.

I did but see her passing by...

My whole life, whether it be long or short, devoted to your service.

Not lightly worn.

The Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, 2 June, 1953 Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved

The Queen’s Coronation 1953 Exhibition

Part of a Visit to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms
at Buckingham Palace, London

27 July – 29 September 2013

The Coronation Pen, 1953, Francis J Cooper Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

Advance Tickets and Visitor Information

An official souvenir guide recalls the celebrations of 1953, and recreates all the preparations and pageantry of the event for its 60th anniversary.

Lavishly illustrated throughout with newly commissioned photography, it brings together the dresses, uniforms and robes, the jewels and crowns worn at the Coronation for the first time since 1953, and tells the story in pictures of the people, the places, the ceremony and the events of this most extraordinary occasion.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013










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