The Coronation of George VI

If the family were hoping for a little time to come to terms with their greatly altered circumstances, they were to be sorely disappointed. No sooner had Elizabeth’s father been proclaimed King than all thoughts turned to the impending coronation.

The previous year it had been decided that Edward VIII’s coronation would take place on 12 May 1937. By the time of his abdication, plans for the ceremony were so far advanced that it was thought wasteful to abandon them, and so the new King agreed to take over the slot originally intended for his brother. However, while this was undoubtedly a thoroughly sensible decision, it left precious little time for George and his family to ready themselves for the big day. Their parents threw themselves into the preparations, which, for George, included lengthy sessions with the maverick Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, in a bid to overcome a debilitating stutter that had plagued him since childhood. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and her sister were subjected to an intensive course of tutoring on the significance of the event by their grandmother, Queen Mary.

Stamp Commemorating the Coronation of George VI

It seems, for Elizabeth at least, these lessons paid off. So impressed was she by the magnitude of the occasion, she took it upon herself to record the day’s events for posterity. In the document – which was dedicated to her parents with the words ‘To Mummy and Papa, In Memory of Their Coronation, From Lilibet. By Herself.’ – she displays a keen eye for detail and a remarkable perceptiveness for a girl of her age. She wrote: ‘At 5 o’clock in the morning, I was woken up by the band of the Royal Marines striking up just outside my window. I leapt out of bed and so did Bobo. We put on dressing-gowns and shoes . . . and we crouched in the window looking on to a cold and misty morning.’

After a hurried breakfast, both Elizabeth and Margaret donned identical dresses of ‘white silk with old cream lace’ and ‘robes of purple velvet with gold on the edge’. Following a jolty’ ride to Westminster Abbey in a horse-drawn carriage, the sisters took their place alongside their grandmother in the Royal Box. ‘I thought it all very, very wonderful . . . the arches and beams at the top were covered with a sort of haze of wonder as Papa was crowned, at least I thought so.’

Badge of the House of Windsor during George VI’s Reign

However, as the two-and-a-half hour ceremony dragged on, Elizabeth’s attention began to wane: ‘At the end the service got rather boring, as it was all prayers. Grannie and I were looking to see how many more pages to the end, and we turned one more and then I pointed to the word at the bottom of the page and it said “Finis”. We both smiled at each other and turned back to the service.’

Although she was most likely unaware of it at the time, her father’s coronation was to prove to be an excellent training ground for the young Princess – in just fifteen short years, she would find herself following reverently in his footsteps, as she made her way into the Abbey to be crowned Queen Elizabeth II.

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