Westminster Abbey has played a key role in the life of Queen Elizabeth II – it was here on 20th November, 1947, that she was married to Prince Philip (then Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten) and it was here on 2nd June, 1953, that she was crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
First to the wedding. Princess Elizabeth was only the 10th royal to be married in the Abbey (her predecessors included her parents who married here on 26th April, 1923). The ceremony started at 11.30am and the princess, who wore a white dress designed by Norman Hartnell, entered to a specially composed fanfare accompanied by eight bridesmaids and two pages.
Due to post war austerity measures, only about 2,000 people attended the wedding (we’ve previously mentioned that the princess had to save coupons for her wedding dress like any other bride). On the day, the grave of the Unknown Warrior was the only stone that was not covered by the special carpet and the day after the wedding, the now married Princess Elizabeth followed a royal tradition started by her mother, Queen Elizabeth, which involved sending her wedding bouquet back to the Abbey to be laid on the grave.
It was about five-and-a-half years after her wedding that the princess returned to the Abbey to be crowned a queen.
Then Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya (on her way to Australia) when news reached her on 6th February that year of the death of her father, King George VI. After Prince Philip broke the news to her, the new queen chose Elizabeth as her “regnal name”, and the couple returned to England.
Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Queen Mary, died on 24th March, but it was decided to proceed with the coronation anyway (Queen Mary had apparently asked that the coronation not be delayed by her death).
The coronation, the 38th to be conducted in the Abbey, was the first to be televised (with the exception of the anointing and communion) and was “instrumental” in helping to popularise it in the UK and elsewhere.
The building was closed for five months so preparations could be made for the more than 8,000 wedding guests. The Queen’s coronation dress, meanwhile, was made by Norman Hartnell (as had been her wedding dress) and was made of white satin embroidered with emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
Having arrived from Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, the Queen entered the Abbey at 11.20am and, having been invested with the Regalia while seated in the Coronation Chair, was crowned with St Edward’s Crown at 12.34pm. She left the Abbey at 2.53pm and rode through the streets of London back to the palace.
Of course, the Queen has since attended many other events at the Abbey – including thanksgiving services for their golden and silver wedding anniversaries and last year’s Royal Wedding – since her coronation which we don’t have space to talk about here. But it is worth noting before signing off that the Abbey continues to have a special relationship to her – it is a “Royal Peculiar” meaning it is exempt from any ecclesiastical jurisdiction but that of the Sovereign.
WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Open to tourists everyday except Sunday (times vary so check the website); COST: £16 an adult/£13 concessions/£6 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£38 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org