Vintage Reader's Digest 1953: Preparing to Crown a Queen

As Queen Elizabeth II is Britain's longest reigning monarch, we remember how the country prepared for her coronation with this piece from the Reader's Digest vaults. 

The changing of the coin

The Royal Mint in the 1950s checking coins  
Image via Flashbak

King George VI was barely buried when artists of the Royal Mint began to design new coins and medals. This was not an example of indecent hurry, but the practical application of that timeworn phrase: "The King is dead; long live the King".

The new Queen Elizabeth will not be crowned until June 2, but the river of official and private money–more than one million pounds—that we shall spend on the Coronation has long since started to flow. 


Royal duties

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation mug 
Image via Gracious Hospitality 

Bernard Marmaduke Fitzalan-Howard, 16th Duke of Norfolk, is stage manager of the Coronation. This means he is responsible for social events and fashions as well as the behavior of the coroneted heads, newspapers, radio, television and government. Quite a responsibility!

He is also head of the College of Arms, which has already produced the new Royal cypher, a bold "E-II-R" (for Elizabeth II Regina) in Roman lettering. This was one of the first steps in the preparations as the cypher has to be embroidered on the uniforms of all Royal servants and countless household articles. 


By Royal invitation

Queen Elizabeth II with her Coronation Maids of Honour 1953
Image via Victoria and Albert Museum

The Earl Marshal will invite 7,600 people to the ceremony itself, in Westminster Abbey. As you may expect, this list features blue blood, the princes of the Church, all Members of Parliament and their spouses and a host of attendants. However the Duke will also invite a hand-picked group of scientists and industrialists, trade-union representatives, leaders of the armed forces, representatives of the Commonwealth and foreign guests. 

When the list is complete, the Earl Marshal sends invitations to the commoners, but the Queen herself invites peers, from dukes down to barons. 

The Coronation dress code is a strict one and complicated protocol governs both robes and accessories. A viscountess, for example, is entitled to a train a yard and a quarter long, while a baroness wears only a yard. No outsider will see the Queen's robes before the ceremony, but it is known that her train will be eight yards long, and edged with 500 skins of ermine, dappled with 650 tails. 


The Crown Jewels

Queen Elizabeth II with crown jewels at her Coronation
Usually kept in an armoured glass enclosure in the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels will all be used or shown at the Coronation. Preparing them is a three-month job as every stone must be removed, cleaned, polished and reset. 

There are around 75 pieces of jewellery in all, ranging from a huge emerald to solid-gold saltcellars about three feet high. The Coronation Crown itself, known as St. Edward's, is placed on the Queen's head only momentarily. This is because of its great weight—it's solid gold. 

Queen Elizabeth will actually wear the Imperial State Crown made for Queen Victoria's Coronation. This state crown is studded with 2,783 diamonds, 277 pearls, 18 sapphires, 11 emeralds and five rubies. One of the rubies, the famous Black Prince's Ruby, is two inches long. 

In the modern world, the British ceremony is completely unique. No other monarch is physically crowned. 


Preparing the Abbey

Westminster Abbey during Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation
Image via Alamy

Last time, the call for Coronation souvenirs was so great that the government sold Westminster Abbey's chairs, stools, 600 cushions and miles of brocade. 

A platform must be built to support the throne. Stalls usually reserved for the choir will be used by visiting royalty, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, the Speaker of the House of Commons and other high personages. Then, structures will be raised in both aisles to accommodate peers, peeresses and other guests. A peer is allowed 19 inches of sitting space, a commoner, 18. 

Outside preparations are just as elaborate. Thoroughfares such as Piccadilly and Bond Street will be covered with plaster arches supporting crowns 30 feet high, studded with multi-coloured lights. A flag-maker has doubled his staff to bring out 750,000 flags and over 500 miles of bunting. 


A day for the people

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation street party 1953 
Image via MEN

Two million people will line the procession route, and at least 750,000 will come from the provinces and abroad. Hotels expect to be full, and some 5,000 private house owners will put up visitors, with a huge air-raid shelter in South London taking some of the over flow. 

Thousands of windows, roofs and gardens will seat spectators and some firms have already marketed ready-made scaffolding. Staffordshire firms are turning out many of the 12 million pottery souveniers that will bear the Queen's profile or crown or cipher. 

And so the pageantry of centuries comes into being again. Now, as always, we shall draw strength and faith from our past in order to face our future. 

Featured photo: Victoria and Albert Museum

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