“I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”
Elizabeth was 27 when she made this brief but heartfelt declaration on June 2, 1953, that she would serve as Queen for as long as she should live. It followed the pomp and ceremony of her coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
Her father, King George VI, had been thrust onto the throne in 1936, after his brother King Edward VIII shocked the monarchy and the people of Britain alike when he abdicated to marry a two-time divorcee, choosing love over duty.
Elizabeth was keenly aware of her duty to protect the stability of the royal family.
She was on a royal tour of Africa when she learned of her father’s death on February 6, 1952. She headed straight back to London, although her coronation was over a year in the making with her new husband Prince Philip taking chairmanship of the oversight committee. Some 16 months later, the woman who would become the UK’s longest reigning monarch was crowned.
Queen Elizabeth’s coronation marked the first time such an event was fully televised, allowing the public to see inside the abbey and marvel at the full pomp and circumstance surrounding the occasion. As a result, it lives on vividly for many who witnessed it.
More than 8000 guests began arriving at the abbey as early as 6am. Elizabeth arrived at about 11am, proceeding along a route lined with soldiers, sailors and airmen and women from across the British Empire and Commonwealth.
Her elaborate gown and ermine-trimmed robe was so heavy, she found it difficult to walk, whispering to Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, “Get me started!”
Once going, the procession, which included the various high commissioners of the Commonwealth carrying banners bearing the shields of the coats of arms of their respective nations, moved inside the abbey, up the central aisle and through the choir to the stage for the ceremony.
The date of the coronation – June 2 – was chosen by meteorologists because according to statistical records, it was likely to be fine weather.
It rained, but that didn’t stop the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth appearing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace six times throughout the day to greet the crowds of people, many of whom had camped out at The Mall.
Elizabeth was the sixth Queen to be crowned at Westminster Abbey, but the first to have the heir to the throne – four-year-old Prince Charles – there watching on.
Princess Anne, who was three at the time, was thought to be too young to attend, and watched the procession from Buckingham Palace.
In another first, Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, was the first Queen to see a grandchild ascend the throne. Sadly, she passed away before the coronation.
On what was the biggest day of her young life, Queen Elizabeth was joined by six maids of honour.
They were (from left to right): Lady Moyra Hamilton, Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill, Lady Anne Coke, Lady Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart, and Lady Mary Bailie Hamilton.
Also alongside the newest monarch was Mistress of the Robes, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.
Lady Rosemary said the Queen was “very confident really… she made us feel confident too. The minute she arrived, everyone just felt everything was going to be all right.”