Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
The King and Queen in their coronation robes
|Date||12 May 1937|
|Location||Westminster Abbey, London, England|
The coronation of King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, as King and Queen of the British Empire and Commonwealth took place at Westminster Abbey, London, on 12 May 1937. George ascended the throne upon the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, on 11 December 1936, three days before his 41st birthday. Edward's coronation had been planned for 12 May 1937 and it was decided to continue with his brother and sister-in-law's coronation on the same date.
George and Elizabeth's coronation was an important event in the history of television, being the world's first major outside broadcast. It was also the first coronation to be filmed, as well as the first to be broadcast on radio.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, was the driving force behind the preparations for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and most of the decisions in respect of the order of service were made by him. He was a leading member of both the Executive Committee, which was concerned with the general directions of the event, and the Coronation Committee which dealt with the detail. He attended all of the rehearsals, at which he tended to take charge. Lang saw the coronation as an opportunity for the spiritual renewal of the nation and he organised a campaign of evangelism called "Recall to Religion" which he launched on 27 December 1936 with an address on BBC radio. He was also keen to ensure that the King and Queen understood the religious nuances of the service, and held two meetings with the couple beforehand. 12 May was the date of the planned coronation of King Edward VIII; after he abdicated, it was decided that the coronation of his brother and sister-in-law would be held on the same day.
According to tradition dating back to the reign of King Charles II, the regalia was brought to the Deanery of Westminster the night before the coronation. Staff started working at 4 am, while guests began arriving two hours later. The ceremony was attended by the King and Queen's daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, as well as by the King's mother, the dowager Queen Mary, making it the first British coronation attended by an already crowned queen. The Imperial State Crown had been remade for the occasion by the Crown Jewellers, Garrard & Co. Queen Elizabeth's crown was new and made from platinum; it featured the Koh-i-Noor diamond from the crown of Queen Mary. Queen Elizabeth wore a gown made of silk satin, with pure gold thread embroidery in a rose and thistle pattern. It also featured designs patriotic of the British Empire. The ermine-lined velvet robe had a floral pattern with a gold outline.
There were few departures from the services conducted at previous coronations, an exception being the Coronation Oath, which had to be amended to reflect the revised constitutional arrangements of the British Dominions, following the declaration of equality at the 1926 Imperial Conference and the passing of the Statute of Westminster 1931. This was the first amendment to the Oath since the coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II in 1689. Efforts were made to shorten the lengthy proceedings; the litany was sung during the regalia procession before the start of the service and the sermon was omitted entirely. Even with these changes, the service itself lasted for two and a half hours, excluding the preliminary processions. Many peers attending the ceremony carried sandwiches in their coronets.
A few mishaps took place during the ceremony: the Archbishop of Canterbury almost placed the crown on the King's head the wrong way, one bishop stepped on the King's train, and another concealed the words of the Oath by his thumb while the King was reading it.
The direction of the music for the service was by Ernest Bullock, who was organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey, in consultation with the Master of the King's Musick, Henry Walford Davies. The Abbey choir was supplemented by choirs from the Chapel Royal, St Paul's Cathedral, St George's Chapel, Windsor and the Temple Church. An orchestra composed of musicians from London's main orchestras was conducted by Adrian Boult.
Many of the ancient texts of the service have been set to music over the centuries. Tradition demanded the inclusion of George Frederick Handel's Zadok the Priest (1727) and Hubert Parry's I was glad (1902). New work written for the occasion included Confortare (Be strong and play the Man) by Walford Davies and the Festival Te Deum in F Major by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Perhaps the best known work from the 1937 coronation is Crown Imperial, an orchestral march by William Walton.
In addition to the King and Queen in the Gold State Coach and coaches carrying the colonial rulers, British and Dominion prime ministers and members of the Royal Family, the return procession from the Abbey included a large number of military personnel. There were representative detachments from all the elements of the British armed forces and the reserve forces, the British Indian Army and Royal Indian Navy, contingents from the British Dominions and a contingent representing the defence forces of the Colonial Empire. In total there were 32,500 officers and men either marching or lining the route. Overall, the procession was 3,500 yards (3,200 metres) in length and took 40 minutes to pass any given point. The route of the procession was the longest on record at six and a quarter miles (10 kilometres) and included the Victoria Embankment, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Marble Arch. Before and after the event, the British and Dominion troops were accommodated in temporary camps at Kensington Gardens, Regents Park, Primrose Hill, Olympia and Hampton Court; the Colonial troops were housed in various London barracks.
Amongst the colonial rulers was Yeta III, the King of Barotseland, who attended despite the opposition of the colonial government of Northern Rhodesia, within which Yeta's realm lay. Yeta's secretary wrote that "The Coronation was the greatest event we ever saw or will ever see in our lives again. Nobody could think that he is really on earth when seeing the Coronation Procession, but that he is either dreaming or is in Paradise."
The coronation service of George VI was the first to be filmed (previously only the procession had been recorded); the 40 camera crew inside the Abbey were required to wear evening dress. It was later shown in edited form as a newsreel in cinemas across the British Empire.
This was also the first coronation service to be broadcast on radio; 28 microphones were placed around the Abbey to capture the music and speech. There was no commentary, but the Reverend Frederic Iremonger, Director of Religion at the BBC and Honorary Chaplain to the King, read out the rubrics or written directions from the service book from a seat high in the triforium over Saint Edward's Chapel. During the most sacred parts of the service, the consecration and the Holy Communion, the microphones were turned off and listeners heard hymns being sung by the choir in the Church of St Margaret, Westminster.
The procession was broadcast on the BBC television service, which had only been operating since the previous November. Several tons of television cables, measuring 8 miles (13 km), were laid across central London, so that the images from three Emitron television cameras could be sent to the transmission centre at Alexandra Palace. Commentary was by Frederick Grisewood, who was with the cameras at Hyde Park Corner. Despite a technical breakdown just before the start of the transmission, it was broadcast successfully and received by viewers as far away as Brighton and Ipswich. It is regarded as being the world's first outside broadcast, with the exception of some slightly earlier work in the grounds of Alexandra Palace.
The Daily Telegraph commented: "Horse and foot, the Coronation procession marched into English homes yesterday." The Daily Mail said: "When the King and Queen appeared the picture was so vivid that one felt that this magical television is going to be one of the greatest of all modern inventions."
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