The nation waits in anticipation for the crowning of their new King!
For those of us living during what some might describe as quite turbulent times, it is more important than ever to come together as a nation to celebrate such joyful occasions as the impending Coronation of King Charles III on 6th May this year. It’s hard to judge what proportion of today’s population would classify themselves as ‘royalists’, but if the nationwide celebrations witnessed for the Platinum Jubilee of the late HRH Queen Elizabeth II in February last year are to go by, there is most certainly still an evidenced sense of pride in our monarchy and royal heritage. It’s probably a surprise to most people one would imagine, that just over 12 months after the Platinum Jubilee celebrations we find ourselves still to a degree mourning the death of our late HRH Queen Elizabeth II last September and giving thanks for her record breaking reign of 70 years and 214 days, the longest of any British monarch and the longest verified reign of any female head of state in history. Her shoes are by no means going to be easy to fill, but on Saturday 6th May 2023, her son and heir King Charles III will indeed, be officially crowned as our new monarch. At 74 years old, King Charles III will be the oldest British monarch ever to have been crowned, having been the heir for more than seven decades. Like many sovereigns before him, the Coronation ceremony will be held at Westminster Abbey before returning to Buckingham palace in the Gold State coach with his wife Queen Camilla. As we excitedly anticipate this event, here is a taste of what we have in our museum and archive collections recording the Coronations of yesteryear.
70 years ago-HRH Queen Elizabeth II (2nd June 1953)
A Royal Coronation does not come around too often (or one would hope not!). When looking at historical records that we have of past Coronations, we have the added advantage that the last Coronation in June 1953 can not only be remembered by a lot of people still alive today but that it occurred at a time when there was new technology available both to record and watch the occasion. This Coronation was not only celebrated in Westminster Abbey but for the first time on television sets and in cinefilm allowing it to be seen by people throughout the country and globe. Many people bought or rented their first television set for the special occasion and on the day a total of 27 million people watched the Coronation ceremony as a Live TV broadcast. Warrington was ready to party after the hardships endured in the Second World War of 1939 to 1945 and the post war austerity years and we see from photographs taken at the time how residents celebrated with street parties like were’d never seen before! Unlike many of Elizabeth’s predecessors, she was crowned alone because Prince Philip could not be crowned King as a male consort. The day also saw other news of Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay having reached the summit of Mount Everest and as we all know, a new recipe was created to mark the Coronation which was named Coronation Chicken and the dish has formed part of the British menu ever since.
Coronation street party in Garibaldi Street (1953)
Souvenir pamphlet of Coronation celebrations in Grappenhall (June 1953)
Residents of Padgate held a few days of celebrations as this Official Exhibition Programme shows
First major outside television broadcast-HRH King George VI (12th May 1937)
Many of the big ceremonial events that had been used for the Coronation of Edward VIII, were brought back in for George VI’s big day. Apparently Queen Mary had insisted on the event being quite traditional and as a result much of the ceremony resembled that of her husband’s in 1911. There was one main difference however in that most of the people following the Coronation at home were able to listen on their radios. This was the first Coronation to be recorded on radio and cinema reels and the six mile procession after the ceremony would be the first major outside television broadcast. Inside the Abbey were the King’s daughters Elizabeth aged 11 and Margaret aged 7, little did Elizabeth know that one day she too would be taking part in this ceremony just 16 years later after her father sadly succumbed to his illness.
Abdication-HRH King Edward VIII (12th May 1937)
Coronation souvenirs were already on sale when Edward VIII announced that he was to abdicate as King so that he was free to marry Wallis Simpson. As a King, the rules state that he would be unable to marry a divorcee, so the Coronation still took place but with a different monarch. By George V’s death in January 1936, Edward had already been seeing the American socialite for some time, although it had not been reported in the press. In December, Edward chose love over duty, which came as a great surprise to the country and meant that large numbers of souvenirs that had already been printed must be melted down or destroyed. His younger brother ‘Bertie’ thus ascended the throne and the Coronation was able to take place on the originally chosen date.
Festival of Empire-HRH King George V and Queen Mary (2nd June 1911)
After Edward the VII’s death in 1910, his second son ascended the throne (his oldest son Albert had died in 1892). So big were preparations for the event, that Westminster Abbey where the Coronation had taken place for 900 years, had to be closed for alterations to be made inside. Outside, more than 50 grandstands had to be built to accommodate crowds. A Festival of Empire was also held to celebrate the occasion and it took place at the Crystal Palace which opened in May. On Coronation day, George then aged 46 years traveled with his wife Mary of Teck from Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, along the streets which were lined with 45,000 soldiers and sailors. An appearance on the balcony at Buckingham Palace later in the day was a nice surprise for the patiently waiting crowd. A second procession took place the following day with the King and Queen travelling in an open landau.
Don’t drop the crown- HRH King Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark (9th August 1902)
Just eighteen months after the death of Queen Victoria, her son Edward known as ‘Bertie’ was due to be crowned on 26th June at Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately three days before the event was due to take place, the 60 year old king fell ill with an abdominal abscess requiring lifesaving surgery. As a result, many of the world leaders who had traveled to London for the celebrations traveled home and the event was changed from a glittering international affair to something on a much smaller scale. On 9th August Edward and his wife Alexandra of Denmark ere eventually crowned, but the event was still not without drama in that an ageing Archbishop of Canterbury accidentally placed the crown the wrong way around on the King’s head almost dropping it completely. There were some 8,000 guests inside the Abbey and tens of thousands lined the streets to watch the regal procession.
Coronations past that still haunt us!
Early Coronation events have not always gone smoothly. The estranged wife of King George IV returned from exile determined to attend her husband’s coronation on 19th July 1821. However, he insistent that she was to be kept away. Hired guards were ordered to prevent Caroline from entering the Coronation ceremony, but she apparently arrived at 6 am demanding to enter. Sadly she returned again seeking entry, but the door was slammed closed in her face. She died less than three weeks later.
Back in 1216, Henry III was only nine years of age when he attended his Coronation ceremony at Glastonbury Abbey. His father King John had lost the Crown Jewels in a bog when his baggage train that he was travelling on overturned on The Wash. So the new King was required to improvise and instead wore one of his mother’s gold circlets for the Coronation ceremony.
Crowned in 1838, Queen Victoria’s five hour marathon ceremony included Lords climbing up the steps to the throne and paying homage to their new monarch. The aptly named Lord Rolle tumbled backwards. The Archbishop of Canterbury then tried to force the ring onto the Queen’s wrong finger and told her that the ceremony was over when in fact it wasn’t!
Written by Hannah White (Collections Assistant-Warrington Museum and Art Gallery)