Hartnell’s Famous White Wardrobe

Robert HarnellNorman Hartnell (born June 12, 1901 died June 8, 1979) was a British fashion designer and is best known as the dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and later, her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.  In this post, I will briefly discuss the fashion career of Hartnell and his work with the Royal family, including the famous White Wardrobe that he designed for Queen Elizabeth.

In the mid-1930s, Hartnell had firmly established himself as a successful designer specializing in elegant afternoon and evening dresses for the London society.  He also designed wedding and bridesmaid dresses for several British Royal Weddings.  The Duchess of York (later known as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) met Hartnell for the first time in 1935 when her young daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess, were bridesmaids in the wedding of Prince Henry (the Duke of Gloucester, the third son of King George V) to Lady Alice.  Unfortunately, due to the death of Lady Alice’s father the large state wedding scheduled for Westminster Abbey was cancelled and the royal couple was married in a smaller private ceremony at the Chapel Royal in St. James Palace so the public only saw Princess Alice’s going-away outfit that Hartnell had designed.

In 1937, when her husband, Albert, unexpectedly became King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (formerly known as the Duchess of York) felt obligated to use her current dress designer, Madame Handley-Seymour, to create her coronation gown.  Several years earlier, in 1923, on the recommendation of her future mother-in-law Queen Mary, the Duchess of York had commissioned Handley-Seymour to design her wedding dress and had since used her to create her royal wardrobe.  But, Queen Elizabeth had been so impressed with the dresses Hartnell had created previously for her daughters that she commissioned him to design the gowns for her Maids of Honor at the coronation.

Once again, Queen Elizabeth was so pleased with the maids coronation dresses that afterwards Hartnell began to exclusively create her entire royal wardrobe.  Then in 1938, prior to a scheduled Royal Tour planned to France, the Queen’s mother the Countess of Strathmore died and the trip was postponed for three weeks. Hartnell had been commissioned to design 30 outfits for the upcoming visit but since the Royal Court Mourning period required a somber wardrobe and the colorful outfits were deemed inappropriate.  This Royal Tour was extremely important to build a solid political alliance between Britain and France especially at that time due to the growing hostilities in Europe and appearances were very important in establishing a good impression.    The tradition dedicated for Court Mourning allowed black clothing and after an extended period of time eventually purple and mauve colored dresses.  These colors would set the wrong tone for the visit and would also be highly unsuitable choice during the hot summer months in France.  Hartnell came up with a solution to the problems when he discovered that in the past white was previously used as an acceptable color during the Court Mourning period.  So, in less than three weeks new dresses were created and the Queen left London wearing somber black but arrived in Paris with an entire wardrobe of white dresses.

Queen Elizabeth white wardrobe for Paris 1938 - day dress    Queen Elizabeth white wardrobe for Paris 1938 - day dress with matching jacket    Queen Elizabeth white wardrobe for Paris 1938 - day dress with jacket

Queen Elizabeth white wardrobe for Paris 1938 - crinoline evening gown    Queen Elizabeth white wardrobe for Paris 1938 - crinoline evening gown with sash

Normally not known as a fashion icon, especially in her later years, the famous “White Wardrobe” worn by the Queen in Paris during the Royal Tour of France in 1938 caused an international fashion sensation.  Hartnell had designed romantic day and evening dresses made of beautiful white fabrics such as the finest silks, chiffons, lace and tulle which were embellished with sequin and pearls.  Inspired by a Winterhalter portrait of Queen Victoria, Hartnell incorporated crinoline into the dress designs and the Queen also revived a past fashion trend by accessorizing her outfits with lovely parasols to match each dress.  With the great press coverage and wonderful reviews of her clothing, the Queen wanted to commemorate the success of the Paris visit by commissioning her favorite royal photographer, Cecil Beaton, to document the beautiful Hartnell dresses in a series of portraits taken in the State Rooms and gardens of Buckingham Palace.  (If you are interested in finding out more information about the life of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, please clink on the link)

Cecil Beaton portrait of Queen Mother 2    Cecil Beaton portrait of Queen Mother 1

In 1940, Hartnell received the highest honor of a Royal Warrant as the principal dress designer for the Queen and he continued to make her royal wardrobe over the years for her daily Royal engagements and other events, such as the 1947 South Africa Royal Tour.  Hartnell also increased his work with the Royal Family by designing dresses for the Queen’s two daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, as they grew into beautiful young women.  In 1947, he was commissioned to create Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress when she married Prince Phillip and later when her father, King George VI, died Hartnell designed her coronation dress in 1953 when she became Queen Elizabeth II.  (For more information and photos on these two important historical dresses, please click on the following links: British Royal Weddings – Part Three and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother of England.

Queen Mother portrait

One of England’s most beloved members of the royal family was Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.  Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was born on August 4, 1900; her father was Claude Bowes-Lyons, known as Lord Glamis and later the 14th Earl of Strathmore, and her mother was Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck.  There has been some confusion as to her actual birthplace but officially her birth is registered in Herfordshire near the Strathmore’s country house in St. Paul’s Walden Bury.  Her family also had a house in London but their ancestral home was Glamis Castle in Scotland and this was where Elizabeth spent most of her childhood.  Later during World War I Glamis Castle was used as a military convalescent home for wounded soldiers and, even though she was only 14 years old  at the time, Elizabeth was able to help with the war effort by assisting the patients in writing letters home and keeping them company during their hospitalization.

Elizabeth as a young girl

After the war, Elizabeth spent some time in London attending various social events, such as the wedding of Princess Mary in 1922 when she was a bridesmaid, and eventually she became acquainted with Prince Albert, the second son of King George V and Queen Mary.  Prince Albert, known as “Bertie” to his family, was enchanted by the charismatic Elizabeth and he proposed several times over the next couple of years but Elizabeth was hesitant about marrying into the royal family because of the restrictive life that she would have to lead.  Eventually she accepted Prince Albert’s proposal and the couple were married on April 26, 1923 at Westminster Abbey in London.  (For more information about their wedding, please click on the Celebration post link British Royal Weddings – Part Three)

York Wedding

After their wedding the royal couple, now known as the Duke and Duchess of York, undertook a full schedule of public engagements.  Elizabeth performed her duties with grace and proved to be very popular with the crowds charming them with a constant smile and pleasant conversation.  Unfortunately, Prince Albert had a severe stammer and he had great difficult speaking in public but eventually he improved with the aid of a speech therapist named Lionel Logue.  (This situation was beautifully documented in the 2010 film, “The King’s Speech” starring Colin Firth as Prince Albert who later became King George VI, and Geoffrey Rush playing Lionel Logue)

George and Elizabeth 1923

In 1926, the Duke and Duchess had their first child; a girl was born on April 21, 1926 at her parents’ home at 17 Burton Street in the Mayfair section of London.  She was named Elizabeth Alexander after her mother and her maternal great-grandmother who had died six months earlier.  She was christened in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace and her family called her “Lilibet”.  Four years later a second daughter was born named Margaret Rose on August 21, 1930 at Glamis Castle in Scotland.  The two Princesses were raised by their governess Marion Crawford and they also received private lessons in history, language, literature and music.  (Special note: Marion Crawford wrote a book, “The Little Princesses”, about her life as the governess in the royal household.  After it was published in 1950, even though the book did not reveal any scandal or family secrets, the Queen Mother severed all ties with the former governess and she never spoke to her again.  The book is hard to find as it has been out of print for years, but if you can find a copy it is a very interesting read about the royal family)

The Royal family 1

In 1936, King George V died in January and his son, the Prince of Wales, was the heir to the throne.  But before his coronation as King Edward VIII, he confirmed his love for a commoner named Wallis Simpson, and shockingly abdicated the throne.  His brother, Albert, was now the King and he was a very shy and reserved man. He would rise to the challenge with his wife, Elizabeth, by his side he would be able to succeed in his new role as monarch.  The coronation of King George VI with Queen Elizabeth as his consort took place on May 12, 1937 in Westminster Abbey in London.  (Historical note: As a result of this situation, 1936 became known as the year of the three Kings – King George V, King Edward VIII and King George VI)

King George and Queen Elizabeth coronation

In the first years of his reign, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth traveled on various diplomatic tours throughout Europe and North America.  Prior to the Paris trip in 1938, Queen Elizabeth’s mother the Countess of Strathmore died and the trip was postponed for three weeks.  The Queen’s dress designer, Norman Hartnell, had been commissioned to design 30 outfits for the upcoming Royal visit to France.  Since the court was in mourning after the death of the Queen’s mother, the clothes were deemed inappropriate and Hartnell came up with an ingenious idea.  As a result, the famous White Wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth was created for the Paris trip and it turned out to be a great fashion success.  (If you are looking for more information about the Hartnell designs, please click on the link above)

In 1939, King George and Queen Elizabeth traveled to Canada and toured the country from coast to coast.  Then they went to Washington, D.C. and this marked the first time in history that a British monarch had ever visited the United States.  The royal couple went to the White House and later spent time with President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, at their private Hudson Valley home in New York.  One of the major reasons for the visit with President Roosevelt was to establish a firm political alliance with the United States due to the increasing hostilities in Europe which ultimately lead to World War II.

King George and Queen Elizabeth with President Roosevelt

During World War II, King George and Queen Elizabeth traveled to the bombed areas of London caused by the Blitz to assess the damage and provide moral support to the victims.  As she visited the East End to view the devastation Queen Elizabeth always dressed in her most elegant and expensive outfits that would normally cause anger in the poor people of that part of the city but she eventually charmed everyone with her gentle manner and constant smiles.  During the most intense period of the Blitz bombings, King George wanted Queen Elizabeth and their children to leave London for a safer place but she refused to leave his side.  A compromise was reached and instead of sending the children to Canada as recommended Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret would go to Windsor Castle just outside of London for the duration of the war and the King and Queen would see them in the evenings and stay with them on the weekends.  The King and Queen continued to work at Buckingham Palace during the week with a minimum staff and very narrowly missed several direct hits during the Blitz that caused extensive damage to the Palace.  At the time, Queen Elizabeth famously stated that now that since she had personally lived through the bombing of her home she could now proudly face the people of the East End knowing that she experienced the same terrors of the war and in making this statement she gained the admiration of the public.

King George and Queen Elizabeth view east End bombing sites

After the end of the war, England started the slow process of recovery, rebuilding the damaged areas of London and adjusting to the economic hardships.  Then in 1947, King George and Queen Elizabeth with their two daughters embarked on an extensive three month royal tour of South Africa.  The royal family traveled from England on a round trip voyage across the Atlantic on the H.M.S. Vanguard which arrived and departed from Cape Town.  To begin their journey the royal family traveled aboard eight custom designed air-conditioned railroad cars that were painted an elegant ivory color, this is the reason it became known as the legendary White Train.  The train transported the royal family across South Africa to destinations such as Victoria Falls.

South Africa royal tour 1947    

King George had been a very heavy smoker and combined with the stress of his royal position in solving the post-war problems of England this caused his health to rapidly decline.  In 1948, a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand was postponed due to the King’s medical conditions.  In early 1949 the King underwent a successful operation to improve the circulation caused by an arterial blockage in his right leg.  Later in the year, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent another operation to remove part of his left lung.  Sadly in 1951, a malignant tumor was discovered in his left lung and his health condition continued to decline.  As a result of his health issues and an extended recovery period both Queen Elizabeth and their eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, the heir presumptive, fulfilled the King’s public commitments.

The delayed Australia and New Zealand had been rescheduled but Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, would be going in the place of the King and Queen. In January 1952, the young royal couple left England on route by airplane to Kenya in Africa for brief stop before beginning their royal tour.  There is a rather touching film of the King George and Queen Elizabeth waving goodbye to the couple as they board the plane for their trip and the King looks notably pale and extremely thin.  Sadly, King George died on February 6 1952 and Princess Elizabeth immediately returned to England as the new Queen.

Queen Elizabeth at the time of King George's death

With the death of King George VI and the ascension of their daughter to the throne, the widow Elizabeth was given the rather grand title of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother so as not to be confused with her daughter the new crowned Queen Elizabeth II.  The Queen Mother was completely devastated by the death of husband and she briefly retired from public life to spend time in Scotland.  Scotland held a very special place in her heart because of her childhood spent at Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland.  While staying with friends during her mourning period shortly after the death of her husband, the Queen Mother found the charming but dilapidated Castle Mey located on the coast of northern Scotland with amazing views of the North Sea.  Castle Mey was originally built between 1566 and 1572 as the home of George Sinclair, the 4th Earl of Caithness.  Over the centuries the castle remained within the Sinclair family until 1889 when George, the 15th Earl of Caithness, died unmarried and with no heirs to inherit the estate.  According to the will, Castle Mey was given to his friend, F.G. Heathcote, and eventually his widow sold it to Captain F.B. Imbert-Terry who in turn sold it to the Queen Mother in 1952.  At that time, Castle Mey was in a severe state of disrepair and the Queen Mother had extensive renovations made to the building’s interior and exterior while a beautiful garden was planted on the grounds.  Over the years, the Queen Mother enjoyed spending her annual summer holiday from the months of August to October.

Castle Mey

With the encouragement of the former Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, the Queen Mother came out of her secluded life and brief retirement and returned to public life eager to resume her royal duties.  Over the years, as the family matriarch, she charmed the public with her seemingly mild persona and frequent smiles to become one of the most popular members in the British Royal Family, she was affectionately known now as the “Queen Mum”.  She continued an active life while taking on a full schedule of public engagements and she was also a patron of 300 organizations.

The Queen Mother enjoyed a long life, spending time with her numerous grandchild and even great-grandchildren.  In 1995, she had some health problems requiring two different operations, one was eye surgery to remove a cataract in her left eye and the other was hip replacement surgery on her right side.  In 1998, she fell and broke her left hip requiring another replacement surgery.  In 2000, there was a special reason for celebration as the Queen Mother turned 100 years old.  To mark the occasion, numerous tributes appeared in print, both in the national and international newspapers and also several commemorative books were published, as well as numerous television specials and several public events.  In 2001, the Queen Mother was recovering from a recent blood transfusion but she had recovered in time for her traditional public appearance to commemorate her birthday outside of her London home Clarence House.  At the end of 2001, more health problems occurred when she fell and fractured her pelvis, she was also suffering from a severe cold.  Sadly, Princess Margaret, the Queen Mother’s youngest daughter died on February 9, 2002 and because of her recent medical conditions it was a possibility that she would be able to attend the funeral.  Arrangements were made and she was flown by helicopter from Sandringham House in Norfolk to Windsor Castle to attend the services at St. George’s Chapel but to be respectful of her privacy she was shielded from the press.  After the funeral, the Queen Mother went to her home, Royal Lodge, located nearby where she continued to recuperate from a persistent cold she had since the Christmas holiday.

The Queen Mother died on March 30, 2002 at the age of 101 with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth, by her bedside.  Her coffin was draped with the Queen Mother’s personal standard (flag) with a spray of camellias grown in her personal garden on top.  The Queen Mother’s platinum crown set with 2800 diamond and the massive 105 carat Koh-I-Nor diamond which was made for the 1937 coronation of her husband, King George VI, and that she worn many times over the years was also placed on the top of the coffin.   The crown is now on display along with the other British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. (For more information about Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother’s crown please click on the link Crown Jewels of England – Part Two)

The coffin was taken to Westminster Hall to lay in state and over the following three days more than 200,000 people filed past while members of the household cavalry and other branches of the British armed forces stood guard.  On the final day, the Queen Mother’s four grandsons; Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and Viscount Linley, stood at the four corners of the catafalque to show their respect.  This was done once before in 1936 by the four sons of King George V prior to his state funeral and it was called the Vigil of the Princes.

Queen Elizabeth death grandsons vigil    Queen Mother funeral

The Queen Mother’s funeral took place on April 9, 2002 at Westminster Abbey, years prior to her death the Queen Mother had planned every detail of her funeral including the symbolic request that after the funeral the floral arrangement from her coffin be removed and laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior which was the same simple gesture that started a royal wedding tradition over 79 years before when Lady Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), then the new bride of Prince Albert (King George VI) placed her bouquet at the same place as a tribute to the brave men lost in World War I.  The Queen Mother’s final resting place is in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle where she is buried with her beloved husband King George VI.

Queen Mother in later life

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II coronation

2022 marks the 70th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.  To put this into perspective, her great great grandmother Queen Victoria reigned for 64 years from 1837 to 1901.  In this post, to honor this historic milestone, I will describe the various parts of the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II that took place in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.

The Accession and Preparations for the Coronation

Upon the death of King George VI on February 6, 1952, his daughter, Elizabeth ascended to the throne and be proclaimed queen by the Privy Council.  The formal coronation ceremony was not held until one year later since the festivities would be deemed inappropriate during the period of mourning that follows the death of the monarch.  The coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II was held more than a year after her accession.

In April 1952 the coronation committee, under the chairmanship of Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh was formed to plan the coronation ceremony. The coronation was scheduled to take place on June 2, 1953 which would allow for 16 months of preparation time.  Westminster Abbey was closed for several months while construction crews prepared the exterior and interior.  Viewing stands were also built along the route from Buckingham Palace to the Abbey.

Sadly just a few weeks before the coronation day Queen Mary, the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth, died on March 24, 1953.  Normally, there would be a long mourning period and the coronation would have been postponed for several months but according to the wishes expressed in the dowager Queen’s will she stated that her death should not affect the planned coronation and the event should precede as scheduled.

Rehearsals involving all participants were held in the days prior to the coronation date.  Key members that would participate in the coronation rehearsed the different parts of the ceremony and the Queen took part in two full dress rehearsals just days before the coronation date.  She had practiced the procession back at the palace with her maids of honor carrying a long sheet instead of the coronation robe that was being specially made for the occasion.  The Queen also wore the Imperial State Crown during the days leading up to the event so that she could get used to the heavy weight of the crown.

The Coronation Ceremony

On coronation day in 1953 approximately three million people gathered on the streets of London.  Journalists came from around the world to report on the festivities leading up to the coronation and for the first time in history the BBC was going to broadcast the coronation ceremony to more than twenty million viewers around the world.  There had been considerable debate within the British Cabinet and Prime Minister Winston Churchill was opposed to the idea but Queen Elizabeth insisted that the event should be filmed for television.

The coronation ceremony for the monarch of England has taken place in Westminster Abbey since William I was crowned in 1066.  At the time of his coronation centuries ago there was an older smaller church on the present site in the City of Westminster (London) prior to the building of the current large gothic cathedral.  Most people will recognize Westminster Abbey as the place where Prince William married Catherine Middleton in April 2011.

Prior to the arrival of the Queen, various foreign royalty and heads of state arrived in a procession of carriages and one of the last to arrive to the Abbey was the Irish State Coach carrying the Queen Mother.  Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip traveled in grand style from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Gold State Coach pulled by eight matching horses.Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953.

The Gold State Coach was built in 1762 and has been used in every coronation since King George IV; it is also used for other grand occasions such as most recently the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton and the Diamond Jubilee.  The coach weighs four tons and is 24 feet long and 12 feet high.  The gold gilded enclosed coach features panels painted by Giovanni Cipriani and at the four corners are tritons that represent Britain’s imperial power and on the roof are three gilded cherubs that represent England, Ireland and Scotland.  The interior of the coach is lined with velvet and satin.State Coach

The coronation ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the most senior cleric in the Church of England.  Other clergy and peer members had additional roles and most of the participants are required to wear ceremonial robes or uniforms.  Government officials and representatives from foreign countries along with members of the royal family and invited guests throughout England and the Commonwealth nations, approximately 8,000 guests were invited.

Coronation Prince Charles with the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret

The Procession –

Finally with everyone assembled the coronation ceremony starts with the procession of the royal regalia.  Preceding the Queen into the Abbey are the royal maces, three ceremonial swords representing mercy, spiritual and temporal justice, the Sword of State, St. Edward’s Staff and lastly St. Edward’s Crown.  Normally the Sovereign enters wearing a traditional crimson surcoat, this is usually worn for the duration of the ceremony and the other coronation garments and robes are placed over it.  Instead of a surcoat Queen Elizabeth entered the Abbey wearing her custom designed coronation gown made by Norman Hartnell and the Robe of State carried by her eight Maids of Honor.


The different sections of the coronation ceremony have largely remained unchanged over the centuries.  After the procession, Queen Elizabeth arrives at the front of the Abbey, she kneels to pray and then sits in the Chair of Estate as the royal regalia is brought forward and placed on the altar.  Then she moves to stand before King Edward’s Chair which is also known as the Coronation Chair.

The Coronation Chair was commissioned in 1296 for the coronation of King Edward I to hold the coronations stone of Scotland, also known as the Stone of Scone.  The high back Gothic chair was carved in 1297 from oak which features four gilded lions that are the legs of the chair.  Since 1308 all England sovereigns until 1603 and Great Britain thereafter have used the chair at their coronations, with the exception of Queen Mary I who was crowned in a chair given to her by the Pope and Mary II who was crowned in copy of the chair.  In 1996 the Stone of Scone was returned to Scotland with the provision that it would be returned to the chair for the next coronation.

St. Edward's Chair

The Recognition –

During this section of the ceremony, the Archbishop along with the other clergy presents the Queen to the four corners of the coronation theatre, starting at the east, south, west and north.  The congregation signifies their acknowledgement and shouts their joy.  The Queen accepts their acclamations while standing in front of the Coronation Chair.

The Oath –

The Queen returns to the Chair of Estate and the Archbishop stands before her to ask her if she is prepared to take the Oath.  Then, the Queen approaches the altar with the Sword of State being carried before her and with her right hand on the Bible she pledges to uphold the laws of the State and Church of England.  Afterwards she kisses the Bible and signs the Oath.

The service continues with a reading from the Gospel by one of the Bishops followed by several hymns sung by the choir and the Archbishop will recite more prayers.

The Anointing –

The Queen rises and with the assistance of the Mistress of Robes she is dressed in an anointing gown made of plain white cloth that fastens in the back and is specially made to be worn over her coronation gown.  The Queen once again moves to the Coronation Chair and four Knights of the Garter approach with a pall (canopy) made of silk to shield the public from this most sacred part of the coronation ceremony.

Coronation 3

The Dean of Westminster takes the Ampulla and the Coronation Spoon from the Altar and with the Archbishop goes to stand before the Queen.  The Dean pours the Holy Oil into the Spoon and the Archbishop anoints the hands, breast and head of the Queen.  She then kneels and the Archbishop gives her a blessing.  The Knights of the Garter remove the pall and walk away.

The Queen rises at with the aid of the Mistress of Robes she removes the anointing gown and replaces it with afresh clean tunic, known as the Colobium Sindonis.  The Supertunica is put on and fastened with a Girdle and the Stole is draped over her shoulders and finally the Imperial Mantel.  The Queen then returns to sit in the Coronation Chair.

The Investiture –

This is the portion of the coronation ceremony when more items of the royal regalia are presented to the Queen, such as the Spurs, the Sword of State, the Armills and the Orb.  The Coronation Ring is also presented and placed on the fourth finger of the Queen’s right hand.  Next the Sceptre with the Cross and the Rod with the Dove are given to the Queen.Coronation 4

The Crown –

Finally this is the part of the ceremony that is the most solemn.  The Archbishop stands before the Altar and takes St. Edward’s Crown into his hands and says a prayer.  He returns to the Queen sitting in the Coronation Chair and reverently raises the Crown over her head for a few moments and then slowly lowers it onto the Queen’s head.   This act constitutes the actual crowning of the Sovereign who symbolically takes possession of the kingdom.  As the Queen is being crowned, simultaneously the Princes, Princesses and Peers put on their crowns and coronets and a shout goes out among those gathered in the Abbey, “God Save the Queen”.

Coronation 2

The Homage –

The Sceptre with the Cross and the Rod with the Dove are given to a peer to hold for the duration of the Homage.  The first to pay homage to the Queen are the Archbishop and the other bishops who kneel before the Queen and pledge their support.  Then the Duke of Edinburgh pays his homage, pledges his support and kisses the Queen’s left cheek.  Next follow the other royal members and peers who have gathered to witness the coronation ceremony.

Just before Communion, the Queen will have the Crown removed and the Orb will be given to a peer to hold.  After Communion the Queen will kneel before the Coronation Chair with the Duke of Edinburgh at her side, the Duke’s coronet will also be removed. The Archbishop will say several prayers and ends with a blessing for the royal couple.

The Recessional –

The Queen will go into the private chapel for a few minutes and as she returns she is now wearing the Imperial Crown.  The Sceptre with the Cross is placed into her right hand and the Orb into her left hand.  Then, the Queen will leave the Abbey as the congregation sings the National Anthem.  The members of the Royal family, clergy and guests will slowly follow.  Upon exiting the Abbey the Queen and Duke take their seats in the Gold State Coach and escorted by thousands of military personnel from around the Commonwealth they make their way back to Buckingham Palace through the streets of London.

Coronation recessional Coronation - Royal family on balcony

The Coronation Wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II coronation dressIn 1953, for her coronation ceremony, Queen Elizabeth II worn a specially made gown designed by Norman Hartnell instead of the normal surcoat.  The coronation gown was made of white silk with intricate embroidery of the floral symbols of the countries of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Nations, including the English Tudor rose, a Scottish thistle, a Welsh leek, an Irish shamrock, a Canadian maple leaf, an Australian wattle flower, a New Zealand fern and a South African protea.  Unknown to the Queen at the time, Hartnell cleverly had a four-leaf clover embroidered on the left side of the dress where Queen Elizabeth’s hand would touch it throughout the day

Over her gown, the Queen wore the Robe of State when she entered the Abbey for the coronation ceremony.  Attached to the shoulders of the dress, the purple hand woven silk velvet robe was lined in ermine and had a train that was six yards long.  The robe was beautifully embroidered with gold thread that featured a design of wheat and olive branches to represent peace and prosperity and the train ends with the Queen’s crowned cypher.

Britain Royal JewelsThe Queen also wore the diamond Coronation Necklace and Earrings that were originally made in 1858 for the coronation of Queen Victoria.  The Coronation necklace was also worn at the coronations of Queen Alexandra in 1901, Queen Mary in 1911 and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1937.  At the time of the coronation in 1953 the necklace had 25 graduated cushion-cut diamonds set in silver with gold links and a large 22 carat diamond pendant known as the Lahore Diamond.  The matching Coronation Earrings were also made in 1858 and consist of four cushion-cut diamonds and two drop diamond pendants that are approximately 12 and 7 carats each.

Prior to the start of the coronation ceremony on the journey from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, the Queen wore the Diamond Diadem.  The George IV State Diadem was made in 1820 for the coronation of King George IV.   The diadem includes 1333 diamonds, including a four-carat yellow diamond, and 169 pearls with a design that alternates between crosses and a floral design which incorporate roses, thistles and shamrocks which are the symbols of England, Scotland and Ireland.

The diadem was later worn by Queen Adelaide, the consort of King William IV.  Queen Victoria inherited it in 1837 and she wore it at her coronation during the recessional from Westminster Abbey.  Upon her death in 1901 the diadem was passed to a secession of Queen consorts; Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.  The diamen is now part of the Queen’s Personal Jewel Collection and is easily recognizable as it is worn by the current Queen on the postage stamps, coins and currency of England; it is also worn in the annual procession from Buckingham Palace to the State Opening Parliament.

England is the only European country that still uses royal regalia for the consecration ceremony of their king or queens.  Some of these items are hundreds of years old and others more recent items were used in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  (For more detailed information about the coronation regalia in the Crown Jewels collection please see last month’s post, The Crown Jewels of England – Part One)