Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation in 19532 June 1953: The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. [Photo: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy stock]

[In this article from September 1953 – the third in a series exploring the meaning of the coronation for the empire and Commonwealth – Dermot Morrah, an Arundel Herald, waxed lyrical about the coronation of Elizabeth II, which he found ‘perfect beyond all expectation and all praise’. He nevertheless returned to his previous theme, the need for the ceremony to reflect the reality that Elizabeth was now Queen of many Commonwealth realms, suggesting a ‘crown of the Commonwealth’. The full version of this article is free to access from the Round Table Journal archives until 23 May.]

By  common  consent the great  solemnity  of June  2 was unique in British history, arousing a depth of emotion not stirred in England at least since the coronation of Charles  II, and not felt in the Commonwealth and the outer world atany time. This  universal, intense and  often  devout interest  is not  to  be  wholly  explained  by  the  new  devices  which  for  the  first  time allowed  the  multitudes  to  watch  the  ceremony  with  their  own eyes as it proceeded. The rite in which they were thus  enabled  almost  to  participate was in fact  more worthy  of the august tradition in which it was rooted  than any  rendering  for  centuries.  Hanoverian  coronations  reflected  the  cynical disregard  of the ruling grandees for the mystical values of the monarchy, and for a century the gross ostentation of the banquet overshadowed the sanctities of  the  royal  dedication  before  the  altar.  Extreme  secularism,  still  in  the ascendant  when  Queen  Victoria  was crowned,  was  reinforced  by the parsimony of the reaction against the extravagance of the coronation of George IV, the last at which the ancient inaugural  ceremonies in Westminster Hall were included.  The  coronation  of Edward VII,  already handicapped  by the  difficulties  of  recovering  an  almost  lost  tradition  after  the  long  reign  of  his mother,  was  marred  at  the  last  moment  by  the  sudden  illness  of  the King, and the consequent necessity both to postpone  and to curtail the  ceremony. That  of  George  V  was  celebrated  by  a nation  bitterly  divided  by  the  party quarrel over  the House of Lords, with a further  dispute over Ireland  on the horizon;  and  when  George  VI  came  to  Westminster  the  heart-searchings over the abdication  of his predecessor  had  scarcely been  allayed.

The Commonwealth and the Coronation – 1951
The Coronation and the Commonwealth II – A plea resumed, 1952
The Coronation and the Commonwealth IV – Some oversea opinions, 1953

By the time of the accession of Elizabeth II, however, all such disturbing factors had  ceased to  operate. A  nation  and  Commonwealth  that  had  lately confronted  and  survived  great  dangers  under  the leadership  of  the  historic Crown were profoundly  conscious of their unity at a deep level on which the necessary  divisions  of party, much  milder  now  than in  former  reigns, were not relevant. A princess long known and loved, whom  the entire  Common-wealth had confidently  accepted  as the symbol of its future  hopes, had all the world on her side when she came to take seisin of her dominion. Her  known dedication,  her  youth,  her  grace  and  charm,  which  in  the  supreme  sacra-mental  moment  were  visibly  transfigured  to  spiritual  beauty,  uplifted  the hearts of all. In the dark and stormy aftermath  of world war, through which the  Commonwealth  still  painfully  struggles,  there  was  a  renewed  vision  of light  ahead.

Moreover,  the  actual  performance   of  the  great  solemnity,  considered even  technically  as if it  were  a  dramatic  production,  was  perfect  beyond all  expectation   and  all  praise.  “The beauty of holiness” could not  have been more exquisitely typified  and  displayed. The scholars who  worked  on the  revision  of  the liturgy itself had  matched  learning  with  aesthetic  sense. The  Archbishop  of  Canterbury,  the  Dean  of  Westminster,  and  the  Earl Marshal,  chiefs  of  the  great  company  of  men  who  had  prepared  the  ceremonies  over  many  months  and  executed  them  faultlessly  on  the  day,  are entitled to  feel that through  their labours a sublime spiritual  experience was communicated  to  many nations.

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The 1952 Accession vows and naming a ‘Head of Commonwealth’

Having  said all this, it may seem ungenerous to resume a suspended debate and  say that there is very much about the conduct  of the  ceremonies  which needs  to  be  seriously  considered,  with  a view  to  substantial  change  before the  time — far  distant,  as  all pray — when  another  coronation  has  to  be pre-pared. Yet none of the arguments which were advanced in previous issues of The Round Table for  associating  the  oversea  members  of  the  Common-wealth more  closely and  visibly with the  Sovereign’s  consecration  have  lost their  force.  Specific  proposals,  intended  to  relate  the  symbolic  rites  more closely  to  the  contemporary  world  without  doing  violence  to  the  ancient tradition,  were  then  put  forward.  They  were  favourably  regarded  by  the press  of many parts  of the  Commonwealth,  and  many private expressions  of approval reached the Editor  of the Round Table. It was, however,  represented  to  him — such  are  the  administrative  complexity  of  modern  life  and the multitude  of authorities  who  have to  be  consulted  in  a matter  affecting the  whole  Commonwealth — that  even  nine  months  before  the  coronation, when the proposals  were first published, it was already too late to make any significant  change in the arrangements. The time to propose  amendments  of the ceremonies, as one of the most responsible functionaries  observed to the Editor,  is not  just  before but just after a coronation.

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