Long Live the Queen!

Fortunately for both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, plans for the impending Coronation provided a welcome distraction from whatever marital discord they may have been experiencing. The date was set for 2 June 1953 which allowed sixteen months to organize the event. In what may have been an attempt to make some recompense to her husband, Elizabeth installed Philip as Chairman of the Coronation Commission, a committee which oversaw the preparations in their entirety.

Stamp (1952)

Given the complexity of an event like this, it is hardly surprising that problems and arguments abounded from the outset, not least of which was a protracted debate regarding the relative merits, or lack thereof, of allowing cameras to broadcast the ceremony. It had already been agreed that the ceremony would be transmitted to Britain’s eleven million radio sets, and to another several hundred thousand listeners internationally. In addition, various newsreel companies, such as British Pathé, were permitted to record the event, which would subsequently be shown to an estimated 350-million strong audience in cinemas across the globe. A live television broadcast was an altogether different story. Many, including Elizabeth herself, feared that without the benefit of editing, television cameras would shine a rather unforgiving light on the ceremony, picking up any slip or mistake the Queen might make during the long and difficult service. The extent of the opposition was such that, despite heavy lobbying from the BBC, the organizers decided not to permit a televisual broadcast of any kind.

When it was announced, on 20 October 1952, that this new medium would be playing no part in the coronation, the outcry was immediate. Backed by the press, and of course the Chairman of the BBC, the chorus of public disapproval put significant pressure on the authorities, and forced a rethink of the issue. Eventually, a compromise was reached – the BBC would be allowed to film most of the ceremony, with certain exceptions (which included the anointing and the taking of Communion), while close-up shots of the Queen were prohibited entirely. This lifting of the television ban upped the ante for many of the main players, but especially for Elizabeth, who would be the first of the royals to have to endure the immense pressure to ‘get it right’ under the unrelenting gaze of the cameras.

Ticket to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

In response, the ever-diligent Queen certainly rose to the challenge. In the run-up to the event, she spent countless hours practising every aspect of the ceremony. Indeed, Elizabeth could often been seen pacing slowly up and down the ballroom of Buckingham Palace, counting her steps, with heavy sheets pinned to her shoulders to emulate the train of the Coronation Robes. She was even known to wear the Imperial State Crown as she went about her daily business so that she could grow accustomed to its weight.

When the big day finally dawned, the Queen, true to form, executed her role almost flawlessly. Witnessed by approximately 7,500 guests (with David, the erstwhile Edward VIII, again being conspicuous by his absence), she hardly wavered throughout the three-hour ceremony. While Philip swore to be her ‘liege man of life and limb’, Elizabeth pledged her life to the service of God and her country, and did so with such an intense solemnity that nobody could have been in any doubt about the depth of her commitment to the role she had been called upon to perform.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on Coronation Day (1953)

When she finally emerged from the Abbey, resplendent in an ivory-white silk gown and sumptuous purple velvet robes, one thing seemed certain – at just twenty-seven years of age and in perfect health, her reign (unlike those of her father and uncle) was not going to be a short one. Queen Elizabeth II was here to stay.

Sisters and Another Troublesome Love Affair

One of the Queen’s first acts as monarch was to embark on a highly successful six-month tour of the Commonwealth. From November 1953 to May 1954, Elizabeth and Philip travelled the world, covering an astonishing distance of 43,618 miles in just six months. But, upon her return to England in mid-1954, Elizabeth found herself confronted with a problem which she had been resolutely ignoring for some time, namely the awkward question of her younger sister’s relationship with a divorced man.

Although Margaret had been involved with Group Captain Peter Townsend, a former RAF pilot, for quite some time, the relationship was greatly frowned upon within royal circles. It is easy to see why this would be the case. By now, most senior members of the Royal Family harboured an absolute horror of divorce, thanks mainly to the devastating repercussions of Edward VIII’s abdication to marry Mrs Simpson, which were still reverberating through the House of Windsor nearly two decades later. But, more importantly, the Queen, in her capacity as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, was obliged to uphold the Church’s teachings, and so could not condone divorce under any circumstances. Unfortunately for Margaret, under the provisions of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, her sister’s permission was required before she could enter into any marital union.

Obviously, Elizabeth was loathe to deny Margaret her chance at happiness, and was greatly upset when journalists picked up on the story. As Press speculation about the fate of the royal romance intensified, it looked like the Queen would be forced to decide publically on the matter. Still, she hesitated, hoping against hope that the romance would fizzle out of its own accord. To some extent, it did. When faced with the prospect of losing her royal titles and her income from the Civil List and ‘mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble’, Margaret began to have doubts. This, combined with a prolonged separation from the Group Captain (who had been dispatched to take up a job in Brussels), spelt the end of the affair. However, regardless of the fact that Elizabeth had avoided intervening directly, Margaret nonetheless felt let down by her elder sibling. Regrettably, the entire episode only served to damage further the sisters’ already fragile relationship.

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