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The Making of a Monarch

In 1952, upon the death of her father, the young Elizabeth Alexandra May Windsor became Queen Elizabeth II. Sixteen months of intricate preparations led to her coronation – and event of supreme pomp and ceremony that heralded the beginning of a new Elizabethan Age, as citizens across the world emerged from the shadows of war into an era of confidence and prosperity. Travel with us back to the pages of Reader’s Digest 1952, when we gave readers a glimpse of the ultimate royal party planners in full flight.

The Making of a Monarch
Michael Leonard
Commissioned portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her 60th birthday. The portrait appeared on the cover of the June 1986 issue of RD, before being presented to the National Portrait Gallery in London.

England Prepares to Crown a Queen

By René Recler, Condensed from Cosmopolitan, October 1952

 

King George VI of England was hardly buried last February before artists of the Royal Mint began to design new coins and medals. Royal heralds shook the mothballs out of their rich crimson and gold coats. Sword makers polished up old blades. A London firm of clothiers opened its vaults under Covent Garden and took inventory of dozens of ermine-trimmed crimson velvet robes, last worn in 1937, which noblemen will hire again next summer. Officials of the Lord Chamberlain’s department – which deals with the affairs of the royal household –began to use the word “coronation” in notes and memoranda.

This was not an example of indecent hurry but the practical application of that ancient proclamation, “The King is dead; long live the King.” The new queen Elizabeth will not be crowned until June 2, 1953, but the river of official and private money – $300,000,000 – that England will spend for the coronation has long since started to flow.

What is a coronation? The placing of a crown upon a young woman’s head? A two-and-a-half-hour ceremony in Westminster Abbey? It is all that and much more: it is the greatest spectacle England can put on; a bevy of crowns and scepters, gold spurs and priceless robes; a cavalcade of gallantry – 1200 earls, marquesses and barons, archbishops and bishops, heralds and champions, and great officers of state in the full glory of their centuries-old attire; a caravan of gilded carriages; a blast of trumpets, a glory of song.

In the modern world the ceremony is unique, for no monarch of any other country ever is crowned.

Bernard Marmaduke Fitzalan-Howard, 16th Duke of Norfolk, the hereditary Earl Marshal of England, is stage manager of the coronation. Premier peer of the realm, this unassuming country nobleman is for one year the supreme arbiter of social events and fashions, and the ceremonial behaviour not only of coroneted heads but of newspapers, radio, television and government.

The Duke of Norfolk is head of the College of Arms, the supreme authority and heraldry. The College of Arms has already produced the new royal cipher, a bold “E-II-R” (for Elizabeth II Regina), in Roman lettering. This was one of the first steps in the preparations, for the cipher has to be embroidered on the liveries of all royal servants and countless household articles.

The Earl Marshal will invite 7600 people to the ceremony itself, in Westminster Abby. Besides the blue bloods, the princes of the church, all members of parliament and their wives, and a host of attendants, ladies of the bedchamber, mistresses of the robes, pages and equerries, the Duke invites a hand-picked group of scientists and industrialists, trade-union representatives of the Commonwealth, and foreign guests.

When the list is complete the earl marshal sends invitations to all commoners, but the Queen herself invites peers from dukes down to barons. Her invitation leaves them little choice in the matter:

“Right Trusty and Well-Beloved Cousin. We greet You Well. Whereas We have appointed the Second Day of June 1953 for the Solemnity of our Coronation, these are therefore to will and command You, All Excuses set apart, that You make your personal attendance upon Us, at the time above mentioned, furnished and appointed as your Rank and Quality appertaineth, there to do and perform such Services as shall be required…”
 

A peer must present himself at Westminster Abbey before 8:30 on the morning of the great ceremony, wearing “a mantle of crimson velvet edged with miniver, a cape furred with miniver pure and powdered with bars of ermine, a coronet of silver gilt with a cap of crimson velvet trimmed with ermine and carrying a gold tassel.”

London salons – Baroque, Ltd., for instance – have been showing their first coronation robes. Robes cost four to ten times the pre-war price. A baron will pay between $225 and $1200 for his outfit, a duke between $300 and $1400. A silver gilt coronet, which before the war could be had for $30, now costs $100, and a ceremonial sword with the Queen’s cipher on the blade and hilt costs another $40. Baroque, which sold 45 robes for the 1937 coronation, doesn’t expect to sell more than half as many this time.

The slack will be taken up by Moss Bros., Ltd. For a century Moss bros. has stored the robes, court dresses and uniforms of peers who were forced to sell them. They have hired the clothes out to their former owners for wearing at three coronations. A peer whose ancestry is longer than his purse can be outfitted for $75.

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 rates only a yard. No outsider will see the Queen’s robes before the ceremony, but it is known that the train will be about eight yards long, and the mantle will be edged with 500 skins of ermine dappled with 650 tails.

Coronation Week is a time when private detectives work overtime and insurance men go gray. Diadems and tiaras, necklaces and dazzling solitaires emerge from strongboxes all over England, but no individual can expect to top the fabulous crown jewels.

These jewels, normally kept in an a4rmored-glass enclosure in the Tower of London, will all be used or shown at the coronation. Preparing them is a three-month job. Every stone has to be removed by expert hands, cleaned, polished and reset. There are about 75 pieces of jewelry ranging from a huge emerald to a solid-gold saltcellar about two feet high. The coronation crown, known as St. Edward’s, is placed on the Queen’s head by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but is worn only momentarily. This is because of its great weight – it is solid gold.

Elizabeth will actually wear the Imperial State Crown made for Queen Victoria’s coronation. Official handbooks describe it as “a white gold band surrounding a velvet and ermine cap” – an overly modest description, since the state crown is studded with 2783 diamonds, 373 pearls, 18 sapphires, 11 emeralds an five rubies. One of the rubies, the famous black Prince’s Ruby, two inches long, is worth $340,000.

 

In preparing Westminster Abbey, the Earl Marshal will give orders, and the British Ministry of Works will execute them. The Abbey’s new look will cost a round million dollars. (Last time, the call for coronation souvenirs was so great the government sold the Abbey’s chairs and stools, 6000 cushions and miles of brocade.)

A platform must be built to support the throne and the chairs of bishops and archbishops. 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, in both aisles, structures will be raised to accommodate peers and perresses, members of Parliament and their wives and ordinary spectators. A peer is allowed 19 inches of sitting space, a commoner 18. Outside preparations are just as elaborate. For the last coronation, in 1937, the government spent $2,8000,000 on the erection of 27 miles of stands and barriers along the procession route through the center of London. But government expense is a drop in the bucket compared with the money that business and the public pour out. Thoroughfares such as Piccadilly and Bond Street will be covered with plaster or plastic arches supporting crowns 30 feed high – blazing with multi-coloured lights. One store is spending $20,000 on façade decorations alone. A flag maker has doubled his staff to bring out 750,000 flags and 500 miles of bunting.

Two million people will line the procession route; at least 750,000 will come from the provinces and from abroad. The large hotels in the West End will probably be full, but the sprawling city has immense resources. Some 5000 private-house owners will put up visitors. One huge air-raid shelter in South London will take some of the overflow.

Thousands of windows, roofs and gardens will seat spectators, and some firms have already marketed ready-made scaffolding. Prices will range from $10 for a spot among the chimney pots to $200 for a first-floor upholstered seat.

What these myriads of people will spend on eating and drinking will make restaurant owners gleeful. What they will spend on sourvenirs is expected to be in the region of $60,000,000. Since Victoria’s reign, the fashion is to buy a pottery mug or plate. In the Staffordshire district of England, firms are turning out some of the 12 million pieces that will bear the Queen’s profile or crown or cipher. This requires royal assent, and the Earl Marshal recently announced that the Queen will permit the reproduction of any royal emblem on any souvenirs, except objects of a transient nature. The British Council of Industrial Design will watch over souvenir design.

And so the pageantry of centuries comes into being again. Now as always the British will draw strength and faith from their past in order to face their future.



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