A look back at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation
As King Charles’s coronation approaches, it’s the perfect time for a trip down memory lane. The last time a monarch was crowned in the UK, it was 1953, and the world was a very different place. It was also really the first time most Americans got a glimpse of the monarchy’s grandeur, since Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was the first royal ceremony ever to be televised. And it was quite the event, with England’s crown jewels and lavish wealth on full display, more than 8000 invited guests and thousands of British citizens flooding the streets in celebration.
Of course, more than 70 years have passed since then, and King Charles also has a more reined-in view of the monarchy. As a result, there will definitely be some changes to the coronation proceedings, says royal expert Marlene Koenig. On the other hand, British coronations follow a format designed nine centuries ago, so a lot will be surprisingly similar.
We rounded up some stunning pictures of young queen Elizabeth at her coronation that will highlight both those similarities and probable differences. But most of all, you’ll love seeing Queen Elizabeth’s stunning and highly symbolic outfits, figuring out what’s really going on from her body language and spying other members of the British royal family tree, including a preschool-aged Charles!
The queen’s coronation dress
In this photo, which was taken as 25-year-old Queen Elizabeth was leaving Buckingham Palace for the pre-coronation ceremonies, we get a good view of the incredibly intricate coronation dress. The work of British designer Norman Hartnell, it was made of white satin and embroidered with the emblems of the UK and all the Commonwealth nations. Her bouquet featured English orchids, Scottish stephanotis, Welsh orchids and carnations from Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Fashion aside, however, this photo reflects something on a deeper level, according to royal expert Nicoletta Gullace, associate professor of British History at the University of New Hampshire. It demonstrates the use of “antique court costume” as a way of symbolising the profound nature of the coronation rite. King Charles’s coronation on May 6, 2023, is expected to honour tradition while also making a statement about the role he feels the British monarch should be playing in the modern age.
The journey to Westminster Abbey
For her pre-coronation journey from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, Queen Elizabeth II took the ornate horse-drawn Gold State Coach, which truly looks like something out of a fairy tale. Built in 1762 during the reign of George III, it has transported every monarch to their coronation since George IV in 1821. Nevertheless, King Charles is expected to break with tradition by travelling to his coronation in a different, and likely more modern, vehicle.
Although Elizabeth wears the George IV State Diadem in this photo, her actual “coronation crown” was a replica of St. Edward’s Crown. (The original was lost to history when Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy in 1649, according to Koenig.) Solid gold and weighing nearly 2.2kg, St Edward’s Crown is the centrepiece of the British crown jewels. Although it’s considered the traditional coronation crown, Koenig tells us only six monarchs have actually worn it as such. Charles is expected to be the next.
Westminster Abbey, by the way, has been the site of many royal events, from Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.