Nip of brandy from my hip flask, Ma'am What the Archbishop of Canterbury offered the Queen behind the altar, as revealed in this riveting account of her CoronationThat's what the Archbishop of Canterbury offered the Queen behind the altar, as Mary Watson reveals in this riveting account of her Coronation
21:50 GMT, 25 May 2012
The gasps were loud. As the 27-year-old Queen, in a sumptuous bejewelled gown, entered Westminster Abbey for her Coronation on June 2, 1953, the splendour of her appearance caused an almighty collective intake of breath.
The huge, glittering spectacle of pomp, pageantry and ancient rituals gripped the world – it was the greatest televised spectacle ever seen, and a nation exhausted by war, and all the dreariness of those years, suddenly saw colour again.
‘Scenes of almost /05/24/article-2149363-13439FF4000005DC-354_634x790.jpg” width=”634″ height=”790″ alt=”Breathtaking: Crowds gasped when they saw the Queen arrive at the Abbey for her coronation” class=”blkBorder” />
Breathtaking: Crowds gasped when they saw the Queen arrive at the Abbey for her Coronation
She had said of the ceremony: ‘Did my father do it Then I will too.’ Elizabeth, whom Winston Churchill described as ‘this young, gleaming champion’, began training, much like an athlete, months in advance, commenting, ’The extraordinary thing is that I no longer feel anxious or worried and I have lost all my timidity.’
Indeed, Beaton found at a pre-Coronation ball at the American Embassy that she ‘spoke like a high-spirited young girl’. ‘/05/24/article-2149363-005499F600000258-571_634x443.jpg” width=”634″ height=”443″ alt=”Heavy duty: The Queen has accustomed herself to the weight of the 5Ib St Edward's crown in the build-up to the ceremony ” class=”blkBorder” />
Heavy duty: The Queen has accustomed herself to the weight of the 5Ib St Edward's crown in the build-up to the service
In anticipation of the hot TV lighting in the Abbey and hot weather that was expected, rather than the downpours that ensued, her robes were lined with oyster silk instead of ermine. A ventilation system that changed the air inside the Abbey every hour was also installed. But she refused the offer of a rest break during the service, retorting, ‘I’ll be all right. I’m as strong as a horse.’
She had accustomed herself to the weight of the St Edward’s crown – nearly 5lb – with which she would be crowned by wearing it, and her pink mules, while working at her desk and even while feeding the corgis. Touchingly, she also wore it for her ailing grandmother Queen Mary, 85, who had insisted on the Coronation going ahead in the event of her death, which happened a few weeks earlier on 24 March.
To minimise kidney functions for the duration of the three-hour ceremony, Elizabeth was said to have followed a secret diet based on hard-boiled eggs and salt. She played recordings and watched films of her father’s coronation, learnt much of the ritual by heart and participated in several Abbey rehearsals, although the Duchess of Norfolk, whose husband was key organiser, sometimes stood in for her.
Occasionally the Duke of Norfolk, who had gout, became impatient with bishops who had difficulty walking in step during rehearsals. ‘If you can’t get it right we’ll be here all night!’ he snapped. To one peer who enquired whether being divorced would preclude his attendance, Norfolk snorted, ‘Good God man! This is a Coronation – not Royal Ascot!’ (divorcees were precluded from Ascot’s Royal Enclosure).
Crowned in glory: The chosen design for the magnificent coronation dress created by couturier, Norman Hartnell
The sudden death of her father in 1952 meant
the 25-year-old princess, now a wife and
mother, ascended to the throne and took on all
the awesome responsibilities that the highest
position in the land carried.
She and her family – the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne – moved from Clarence House to take up residence in Buckingham Palace.
For her Coronation in June of the following year, she chose her favourite couturier, Norman Hartnell, to design her dress, which incorporated emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
Her purple velvet Coronation Robe – the Robe of Estate – was embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework.
Some cost-conscious peers had their robes made of cotton velveteen instead of silk velvet and lined with rabbit fur instead of ermine, while cheap dye in some footmen’s crimson pantaloons turned their white stockings pink in the rain.
The peeresses’ arms in long white gloves were said to resemble the graceful necks of swans when they raised them in unison to put on their coronets as the Queen was crowned. Said Lady Longford: ‘I would have liked to have bayed like a hound when we shouted “God Save the Queen”, but we were a bit timid and didn’t know how loud you were supposed to shout.’ But at least that was not the problem experienced by the Marchioness of Londonderry, who accidentally dropped her tiara into a toilet at Edward VII’s Coronation. It was removed with forceps by a doctor.
On good form: The Duke of Edinburgh dressed in his uniform of Admiral of the Fleet and was said to make wry jokes throughout the day
Later, during the palace photoshoot, Beaton saw Philip, who looked like a ‘medieval knight’ in his uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, ‘standing by making wry jokes, his lips pursed in a smile that put the fear of God into me’. Beaton believed Philip had wanted his friend Baron Nahum to take the pictures.
The Gloucester princes were tugging at their mother’s train, he said, while Anne and Charles were ‘buzzing about in the wildest excitement’ and trying to dive under their grandmother the Queen Mother’s train.
‘She anchored them in her arms and put her head down to kiss Charles’s hair which made a terrific picture.’
WE SAW OUR FRIEND ELIZABETH CROWNED
/05/24/article-2149363-1343A9D6000005DC-415_196x151.jpg” width=”196″ height=”151″ alt=”Queen Elizabeth II with her ladies-in-waiting Lady Anne Coke (far left) and Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart” class=”blkBorder” />
Queen Elizabeth II with her ladies-in-waiting Lady Anne Coke (far left) and Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart
Lady Anne Coke (right, far left), now Lady Glenconner, was one of the maids of honour at 20.
‘My father, the Earl of Leicester, was a lifelong friend and equerry to the Duke of York, who became George VI, and my mother was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. I often played with the young princesses. Elizabeth, who was six years older than me, seemed very grown-up while Margaret and I raced around having fun.
'When I was asked to be a maid of honour, there was one run-through with the Queen. She produced a couple of sheets for the train and, laughing, said, “Come on. We’ve got to practise with this.”
On the day, the scene inside the Abbey was incredible with all the robes and jewels. The Queen arrived and said, “Ready, girls” and we walked down the aisle. There was one dreadful moment when I thought I was going to faint, and the Archbishop gave me a nip from his brandy flask to revive me!’
Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart (above centre), now Lady Rayne, whose father was the Marquess of Londonderry, was another maid of honour at 20.
‘Myself and Mary Baillie-Hamilton were the only two maids to travel by carriage to Westminster Abbey, along with Baron Tryon, Keeper of the Privy Purse, who handed round toffees from the Purse. We wore heavy satin dresses designed by Norman Hartnell and embellished with large sequins, pearls and embroidery which made it rather prickly.
The TV cameras were switched off at the sacred moment the Queen was anointed. It was moving to see her jewellery removed and a simple shift dress placed over her robes. You hardly dared breathe and you could have heard a pin drop. The Queen looked vulnerable and gentle – a mere slip of a girl.
Afterwards, at the Palace, the Queen took off her crown and suddenly four-year-old Prince Charles went to put it on his head when he was stopped by a lady-in-waiting. I’ve often thought that highly symbolic.’
The Queen and I: Hon Margaret Rhodes, right with the Queen, her cousin
The Hon Margaret Rhodes, 86, (far right with the Queen) is the Queen’s first cousin and was the lady-in-waiting to her aunt, the Queen Mother.
‘Born a year before Elizabeth, I was her regular playmate as a child and she was great fun, always wanting us to pretend to be horses. Margaret was the funny one, making jokes, while Elizabeth was more serious. My whole family [her father was the 16th Lord Elphinstone] attended the Coronation. We had to be in our seats by 8am, so I felt sorry for those who were elderly and might have wanted the loo.
'As the Queen arrived, it was apparent that for her this was a solemn and religious occasion. But there were moments to make us smile, such as when one aristocrat knelt to pay homage and mothballs rolled from his robes. There were dazzling sights, too, like Queen Frederika of Greece’s necklace composed of emeralds the size of pigeon’s eggs.’
The Final Curtsey, by Margaret Rhodes, is published by Birlinn/Umbria Press, priced 8.99.
…and the Archbishop who nearly made Victoria cry
Fortunately for Elizabeth her Coronation ceremony was very different from the chaos of Victoria’s. The tiny girl-queen was just 19 when she was crowned on June 28, 1838, in Westminster Abbey during scenes in which astonishingly little went as planned.
On her arrival at the Abbey Victoria clasped her hands together and caught her breath at the scene.
One guest noted that a rail around his gallery shook from a myriad of trembling hands. Apparently only Lords Wilton and Mulgrave knew how to don their robes correctly, having participated in theatricals.
Another diamond queen: Queen Victoria also celebrated 60 years on the throne but her coronation at the age of 19 did not go smoothly
The almost five-hour ceremony was extraordinarily under-rehearsed. At one point, Victoria implored sub-Dean Lord John Thynne, ‘Pray tell me what I am to do as the bishops do not know’, the Archbishop of Canterbury seemed ‘confused and puzzled’ while the Bishop of Durham, she wrote later, was ‘remarkably maladroit and could not tell me what was to take place’.
St Edward’s Chapel, which she described as a ‘small, dark place behind the altar,’ was used for the donning of different robes but she and Prime Minister Lord Melbourne were shocked to discover it littered with sandwiches and bottles of wine. ‘Whenever the clergy have anything to do with anything there’s sure to be plenty to eat,’ he said.
Against her protestations the Archbishop forced the Coronation Ring on to Victoria’s wrong finger causing her to nearly cry out – afterwards it had to be bathed in iced water and the ring removed.
The Bishop of Durham gave her the orb at the wrong moment, the Bishop of Bath and Wells turned over two pages of the Order of Service simultaneously and sent her back to the robing chapel.
Victoria, not suprisingly, assumed the ceremony was over and had to be brought back. And there was unseemly mirth when infirm, 82-year-old Lord Rolle, in paying homage to the new monarch, tumbled down the four steps from the throne.
Unusual service: Queen Victoria sits in her carriage outside St Paul's Cathedral during her Diamond Jubilee celebrations because she was too lame to climb the steps
Victoria then rose to help him at his second attempt. Bizarrely, during the peers’ homage, the Treasurer of the Household threw gold Coronation medals among the spectators and there was an undignified scramble for them on the floor, the maids of honour being ‘especially active’.
When Victoria reached her Diamond Jubilee the celebrations, in June 1897, were exuberant. Eleven prime ministers from the larger colonies attended plus 40,000 colonial troops, who paraded during a Jubilee Day procession of imperial pomp and grandeur from Buckingham Palace to a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Victoria travelled in an open-topped carriage pulled by eight Hanoverian horses with a Sovereign’s Escort of cavalry. Bizarrely one horse was prone to lie down so the discreet use of a pin to perk it up was used; another would not stand still unless bribed with sugar lumps.
It must have been a strange service. Victoria was too lame to climb the steps into St Paul’s and so remained seated in her open carriage outside, with several thousand people, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, gathered around her for the 20-minute service.
One bizarre suggestion had been to detach the horses and take the carriage up the aisle ‘because people would enjoy the spectacle’. And when 165 ships formed the magnificent Spithead Review off Portsmouth on 26 June, the infirm Queen had to watch through a telescope from her favourite home, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.