by Sandi Vasoli
Early in the morning of 6 February, 1952, this urgent report was broadcast from London by BBC News:
“His Majesty, King George VI, has died peacefully in his sleep at Sandringham House. The official announcement from Sandringham, given at 1045 GMT, said the King retired in his usual health, but passed away in his sleep and was found dead in bed at 0730 GMT by a servant. He was 56, and was known to have been suffering from a worsening lung condition.
Princess Elizabeth, who is at the Royal hunting lodge in Kenya, immediately becomes Queen at the age of 25. She has been informed of her father’s death, and is preparing to return to London, but a thunderstorm has delayed the departure of her plane. She is expected back tomorrow afternoon, when she will take the Royal Oath which will seal her accession to the throne.” (1)
Flying back to London from Kenya with her husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Elizabeth was greeted by a committee of officials headed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The city and the country were in mourning, yet, following ancient tradition, Elizabeth was proclaimed queen on 8 February, 1952. She was 25 years of age.
Protocol required that an appropriate period of official mourning take place prior to the coronation ceremonies for the new queen. So, 16 months after the death of her father, having served that time as the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, the elaborately planned and spectacular event took place. Elizabeth Windsor was crowned Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June, 1953 in Westminster Abbey. Prior to her coronation, there had been thirty-eight Sovereigns who had acceded the throne in the ancient, stunning Abbey of Westminster.
There are very few, if any, ceremonies or occasions the world over which holds equal significance and pageantry as does the crowning of a new king or queen of the United Kingdom. The fact that most of the ritual is centuries old, and has remained in place as such for close to a thousand years offers a unique and quite spectacular view into the grandeur and durability of the British monarchy. And of course, an extraordinary element of the day, with its visual grandeur and historical significance, are the jewels worn by the new monarch.
The coronation of Elizabeth II was noteworthy in that it was the first such ceremony ever to have been captured on film, and broadcast to millions of viewers the world over. Those viewers were able to marvel at the solemnity of the proceedings, and they were also offered a glimpse of the breathtaking jewels worn by Elizabeth.
Attired in a silk gown designed specifically for the day by the couturier Norman Hartnell, Elizabeth entered Westminster Abbey wearing the Diamond Diadem, also known as the George IV State Diadem. (2) The Diadem was made in 1820. It consists of over 320 carats, and 1,333 diamonds. Its circular base features 169 pearls. The sculpted design represents roses, thistles and shamrocks which are traditional symbols of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Setting off her elegant gown were the Coronation Necklace and Earrings. These pieces were commissioned in 1858 by Queen Victoria. The necklace is set with 26 enormous, perfect diamonds, graduated in size around the actual circlet, with the largest of those weighing over 11 carats. The pendant diamond is the Lahore Diamond: 22.48 carats, which had been culled from the Timur Ruby necklace of India. The earrings are pendant diamonds suspended from double studs – the pendants also taken from the Timur Ruby necklace and remade by Victoria. (3)
During the ceremony, a symbolic ring was placed on Elizabeth’s fourth finger by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Known as the Coronation Ring, it has, since the thirteenth century, contained a ruby. Elizabeth’s ring was made in 1831 for the coronation of William IV. Its center stone is a mixed-cut octagonal sapphire, set in gold. The sapphire is overlaid with four rectangular-cut and one square-cut ruby which form a cross. The entire ring is bordered with fourteen diamonds, with a diamond on each corner. The band is gold. (4)
At a particular stage in the coronation service, Elizabeth had placed on her arms a pair of armills – cufflike bracelets. They represent sincerity and wisdom. The pair worn by Elizabeth had been specifically commissioned for her investiture. Made of 22 karat gold, they were fashioned by Garrard &Co. and encircle the arm by way of spring clasps, with the hinges designed as Tudor roses. (5)
The moment of crowning is the most significant, most dramatic point in the commencement of the reign of all Sovereigns of England. To signify her accession as an annointed queen, St. Edward’s Crown was placed upon Elizabeth’s head. It is made of solid gold, and was created in 1661. The current St Edward’s Crown was designed after the Restoration of the Monarchy. Legend has it that the lower part may in fact contain part of the original crown of Edward the Confessor. (6)
In the course of the coronation rite, Elizabeth, like other monarchs before her, was presented with the Sovereign’s Orb and the Sceptre with the Cross. The Orb – a gold sphere encircled with diamonds, pearls and other gemstones, and topped with a golden cross, represents the Monarch’s role as Defender of the Faith. The Sceptre, which is intended to indicate that the Monarch has temporal authority under God, is a staff which is set with the second largest diamond in the world: the Great Star of Africa, hewn from the massive Cullinan diamond. (7)
Finally, and most astonishing of all of the magnificent jewels worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day, and on other state occasions since, is the Imperial Crown. It is stunning, and what’s more, it is rich in history. Many of the stones set in the crown have mysterious and captivating histories. If the gems in this tiara could speak, oh, how legends would come to life! There are pearls reportedly having belonged to Elizabeth I (might they be the pearls which adorned her mother, Anne Boleyn’s, famous necklace?), the Second Star of Africa, the Stuart Sapphire, the Black Prince’s ruby, and St Edward’s Sapphire, which may well be over one thousand years old. Such a piece defies imagination. It is, possibly the best representation of the majesty, the mystery, and the ravishing glamour of the coronation of a new king or queen.
To hear about, and see the Imperial State Crown, watch this charming video in which Elizabeth II describes the treasure. It will leave you breathless! (8)
Meet The Author
Sandra Vasoli, author of Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower, earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and biology from Villanova University before embarking on a thirty-five-year career in human resources for a large international company.
Having written essays, stories, and articles all her life, Vasoli was prompted by her overwhelming fascination with the Tudor dynasty to try her hand at writing both historical fiction and non-fiction. While researching what would eventually become her Je Anne Boleyn series, Vasoli was granted unprecedented access to the Papal Library. There she was able to read the original love letters from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn—an event that contributed greatly to her research and writing.
Vasoli currently lives in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two greyhounds.
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