As the country celebrates the coronation of King Charles III on Saturday 6 May 2023, many will be remembering the crowning of his late mother 71 years earlier, a defining event in 20th century British history.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II sat on the throne for seven decades, overseeing huge change in the national life, reigning from the Suez crisis to the coronavirus pandemic and witnessing both the decline of empire and the rise of the internet.
Her death at 96 on 8 September 2022, just months after her platinum jubilee celebrations were observed, was followed by a lavish state funeral and now her eldest son will succeed her as monarch following a ceremony of his own in Westminster.
So what was the late Queen’s coronation like and what did it involve?
Here’s everything you need to know.
What is a coronation?
A coronation is a ceremony marking the formal investiture of a monarch with regal power.
As well as being an occasion for celebration and pageantry, it is also a solemn religious ceremony that has remained essentially the same for over a thousand years.
For the last 900 years, the ceremony has taken place at London’s Westminster Abbey. The service is conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose task this has almost always been since the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Representatives of the Houses of Parliament, church and state attend the event, along with prime ministers and leading citizens from the Commonwealth and representatives of other countries.
When was the Queen’s coronation?
In 1937, 11-year-old Princess Elizabeth watched her father, King George VI, being crowned in the elaborate ceremony.
Sixteen years later on 2 June 1953, her own official coronation took place. She was just 27 years-old.
At this stage, Queen Elizabeth II had already been serving as the head of the British royal family for 16 months, following the death of her father at the age of 56 from coronary thrombosis on 6 February 1952.
The service began at 11.15am and lasted almost three hours.
A total of 8,251 guests attended the ceremony, with 129 nations and territories officially represented at the service.
The first ever coronation to be televised, it was watched by 27 million people in the UK alone (out of a population of 36 million), and millions more around the world.
What does the sovereign promise to do during a coronation?
The incoming sovereign promises to rule according to law, to exercise justice with mercy – promises symbolised by the four swords in the coronation regalia (the Crown Jewels) – and to maintain the Church of England.
The sovereign is then “anointed, blessed and consecrated” by the Archbishop, while the monarch is seated in King Edward's chair (made in 1300, and used by every sovereign since 1626).
After receiving the orb and sceptres, the Archbishop places St Edward's Crown on the sovereign's head. After homage is paid by the Archbishop of Canterbury and senior peers, Holy Communion is celebrated.
What did the Queen wear at her coronation?
The Queen's coronation dress, designed by British fashion designer Norman Hartnell, was made of white satin and embroidered with the emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in gold and silver thread.
Since the coronation, the Queen has worn the coronation dress six times including the Opening of Parliament in New Zealand and Australia in 1954.
The Duke of Edinburgh wore full-dress naval uniform for the journey to and from the Abbey. While in the Abbey, he wore a coronet and his Duke's robe over his uniform.
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