On 2 June 1953, a new Queen was crowned at Westminster Abbey. For weeks, Elizabeth had studied every part of the three-hour service. She met the Archbishop of Canterbury several times who also gave her prayer to say. Every day, she practised her lines with sheets stitched to her shoulders to simulate the weight of the robes.
On the day itself, an estimated one million people poured into the streets of London to witness the pageantry go by. The parade began at 9 a.m and had 29 bands, 27 carriages and 13,000 soldiers. Elizabeth travelled to Westminster Abbey in the Gold State Coach pulled by eight grey horses. She wore a coronation gown of white satin with short sleeves and a heart-shaped neckline. It was adorned with symbols of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. The maids of honour were dressed in identical white satin dresses with pearl embroidery. When one of the Queen’s attendants asked if she was nervous, Elizabeth answered, “Of course I am, but I really do think Aureole will win.” She was referring to her horse running in the Derby four days later.
As the young Queen approached the high altar, the Boys Choir of Westminster School sang out, “Vivat Regine Elizabetha! Vivat! Vivat! Vivat!” Elizabeth sat in three different places during the ceremony. She stood by King Edward’s Chair as the Archbishop began the “recognition” and presented her to the 7,500 guests seated in the four sides of the Abbey. Each quadrant cried, “God save the Queen!” after which Elizabeth gave a slight neck bow and a slow hard curtsey. After swearing the coronation oath, the spiritual part of the ceremony took place. In front of the Chair of Estate, her maids of honour removed the crimson robe, her gloves, jewellery and diadem. She was helped into her Colobium Sindonis, a simple white linen dress that fitted over her gown. Four Knights of the Garter held a canopy of woven silk and gold over King Edward’s Chair as Elizabeth awaited her anointing – the only part that was not televised.
The Archbishop poured holy oil from a 22-karat gold ampulla in the form of an eagle into a silver-gilt anointing spoon. He made the sign of the cross on the palms of each of her hands, her forehead and upper chest. She was then invested with the coronation robes of stiff woven gold cloth. She was presented with her regalia, and a ruby and sapphire coronation ring was placed on the fourth finger of her right hand. Still seated in King Edward’s Chair, the Archbishop placed St. Edward’s Crown firmly on her head. Simultaneously, the robes peers and peeresses also placed their coronets onto their heads. The entire congregation shouted, “God save the Queen!”
She was still holding the sceptres as she ascended the platform to sit on her throne and to receive homage from her “princes and peers.” The first was the Archbishop, following by the Duke of Edinburgh who said, “I, Philip, do become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks. So help me God.” After the homage, the congregation celebrated Holy Communion and Elizabeth was finally fitted with a new robe and a lighter crown. Meanwhile, the Archbishop offered the Queen and her maids a sip from a flask of brandy as a pick-me-up before the processional. Elizabeth then walked – still holding the orb and sceptre – through the Nave of the Abbey to the Annex where she and her attendants had a luncheon of Coronation Chicken. Afterwards, she and Philip settled back into the Gold State Coach for a two-hour long progress through London – by then it had begun to rain. When she returned to Buckingham Palace, she was chilled from the drafty carriage. She was elated and said, “Oh that was marvellous. Nothing went wrong!” She was finally able to take off the crown, which Prince Charles attempted to put on his head before toppling over.
Canon John Andrew later said, “the real significance of the coronation for her was the anointing, not the crowning. She was consecrated, and that makes her Queen. It is the most solemn thing that has ever happened in her life. She cannot abdicate. She is there until death.”1