After a protracted illness, King George VI passed away on February 6, 1952, and Princess Elizabeth instantly succeeded to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II and assumed all of the duties that went along with her new title. The Coronation at Westminster Abbey was scheduled for later that year, and preparations for the grand ceremonial got underway.
King George VI’s bad health in 1952 prevented him from going on a planned tour of the Commonwealth. On January 31, 1952, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip took their place at London Airport.
As the first stop of her Commonwealth tour, Elizabeth was in Kenya on 6 February 1952 when she learned of her father’s death and her ascension to the throne. As quickly as she had been Princess Elizabeth, she was now Queen Elizabeth II.
After hearing the news, the young princess immediately returned to Britain to assume her new role as monarch. Upon her return to Clarence House, the Royal Standard flag was flown for the first time in her reign when she was received by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and other authorities at the airport.
The Coronation Ceremony
The Queen made a radio address to the Commonwealth pledging her loyalty to its people on the eve of her Coronation, the day before she was to swear her ceremonial oath in Westminster Abbey, saying,
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) February 6, 2017
Westminster Abbey was the site of the 1953 coronation, which was led by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Geoffrey Fisher.
The Archbishop of Canterbury consecrated Her Majesty as queen, and she swore to “keep and protect inviolably the establishment of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as the law established in England.”
There were Prime Ministers and prominent individuals from other Commonwealth countries, as well as representatives from other powers, in attendance, as well as members of the British peerage, the House of Commons, and all the major public interests in Britain.
The Duke of Edinburgh was the first peer to ‘give homage’ or pay his respects to The Queen, following the Archbishops and Bishops, even though the spouse of a reigning Queen, unlike a Queen Consort, is not crowned or anointed at the Coronation ceremony.
The First Televised Coronation
At the Queen’s request, the ceremony was also shown on television for the first time.
Many people throughout the world were able to witness the Coronation in all its glory and significance thanks to television. Over twenty-seven million British citizens watched the ceremony on television, and another eleven million listened to it on the radio (the population of Britain at the time was just over 36 million.)
More than 2,000 reporters and 500 photographers representing 92 countries lined the road to the Coronation.
Regalia and Dress
The Queen wore the State Diadem, a circlet of diamonds, on the trip to Westminster Abbey, and she continued to wear it every year for the State Opening of Parliament for the rest of her reign.
The Imperial State Crown was worn by Her Majesty when she left Westminster Abbey after the Coronation, but St. Edward’s Crown was used to crown her during the ceremony.
To make sure that Sir Norman Hartnell’s Coronation Dress was seen all over the Commonwealth, Her Majesty wore it to banquets at Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Openings of Parliament in New Zealand, Australia, and Ceylon in 1954.
The Worshipful Company of Gardeners gave the Queen a bouquet to carry in honour of her coronation, and she used it on her way to Westminster Abbey. White orchids, lilies of the valley, stephanotis, carnations, and more orchids from Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Wales made up the bouquet.
Following the service, London was the site of a Coronation parade meant to allow as many people as possible to witness the new monarch and her attendants. It took the 16,000 racers two hours to complete the 7.2-kilometre course. The length of the parade alone was three kilometres. There were ten rows of marching foot soldiers for every row of mounted cavalry.
Around 29,200 officers and men, including 3,600 from the Royal Navy, 16,100 from the Army, 7,000 from the Royal Air Force, 2,000 from the Commonwealth, and 500 from the then-Empire, marched in the parade or lined the road. To aid the Metropolitan Police Department, the government brought in 1,000 officers and men from the Royal Military Police, adding to the 6,700 reserve and administrative troops.
Seven thousand more officers came from seventy-five separate provincial police departments. Even though it was raining heavily, crowds of people still showed up to watch the procession.
The celebrations lasted for weeks after the Coronation, with the Queen visiting Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales and reviewing the Royal Navy Fleet at Spithead, Portsmouth.
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