Elizabeth II, elder daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, was born in London on 21st April 1926. After the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 her father, who was Duke of York, became King. Her sister Princess Margaret, her children Prince Andrew and Princess Anne, and her grandson Prince William were all married in Westminster Abbey.
She was the first sovereign to reach the Sapphire Jubilee of her coronation and in 2015 she became the longest-reigning British monarch. Later she became the world's longest-reigning sovereign and the first to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
The reigning monarch is Sovereign of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (the Order has its chapel in the Abbey). In 2018 she opened The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, a display of treasures and historical items in the Abbey triforium. In September 2018 a new stained-glass window, designed by David Hockney, was unveiled in the north transept. In vivid colours this represents the Yorkshire countryside and celebrates the reign of Elizabeth II.
At services in the church the Sovereign and consort nearly always sit in specially made chairs presented by the Canada Club. As the Abbey, or Collegiate Church of St Peter Westminster, is a Royal Peculiar it has ecclesiastical independence and is under the direct governance of the Sovereign, who is called the Visitor. (Services to mark the various Jubilees during her reign were held at St Paul's Cathedral).
Princess Elizabeth was married on 20th November 1947 to Prince Philip of Greece, (who received the title of H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh). She was the tenth royal bride to be married in Westminster Abbey.
The bells of St Margaret's church hailed the arrival of the carriage procession. The ceremony started at 11.30am, the bride having arrived in the Irish State Coach from Buckingham Palace with her father. For austerity reasons, after years of war, very little extra seating was provided and about 2,000 guests attended.
The wedding dress was designed by Norman Hartnell and made of ivory silk decorated with 10,000 pearls (obtained from America). The star patterned train, woven in Braintree, Essex, was 15 feet (4.6m) long. The bouquet consisted of white orchids with a sprig of myrtle from a bush grown by Prince Albert at Osborne House. The veil was held in place by a diamond fringe tiara, lent by the Queen.
The bride's procession, with eight bridesmaids (Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra, Lady Mary Cambridge, Lady Elizabeth Lambart, Hon.Margaret Elphinstone, Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Lady Pamela Mountbatten and Diana Bowes-Lyon) and two pages (Prince William of Gloucester and Prince Michael of Kent), entered the Abbey to a fanfare specially composed by Sir Arnold Bax and the hymn "Praise my soul, the King of Heaven". The bridegroom, Lt. Philip Mountbatten, son of Prince Andrew of Greece, had already entered the Abbey quietly by the Poets' Corner door with his groomsman Lord Milford Haven. He was dressed in naval uniform.
In contrast to later royal weddings the only flowers in the Abbey were in large vases either side of the High Altar (white lilies and chrysanthemums, pink carnations, roses, variegated ivy and camellia foliage). The Altar was hung with the white dorsal given in 1911 by King George V and Queen Mary for their coronation and the 1937 coronation frontal given by the Princess' parents. The Abbey plate was displayed on the altar. The King and Queen took their seats on the south side of the Sanctuary with royalty from overseas on both sides. The Prime Minister (Mr Clement Attlee), politicians (including Winston Churchill) and other officials were seated in the choir stalls, with distinguished guests and overseas representatives in the nave. Other special guests occupied the transepts and the BBC and Palace staff were high up in the triforium.
The Dean of Westminster, Dr Alan Don, read the opening sentences of the service according to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, by permission of the Dean, conducted the remainder of the ceremony. Psalm 67 (God be merciful unto us and bless us) was sung to a setting by E.C.Bairstow and later the motet "We wait for thy loving kindness, O God" by Dr William McKie, Organist and Master of the Choristers of the Abbey, was sung before the address given by the Archbishop of York, Dr Garbett. The choir was seated in the organ loft and conducted by Dr McKie. The Abbey's Sub Organist Osborne Peasgood played the organ before and after the service and Dr William Harris played for the two anthems. The hymn "The Lord's my shepherd" (to the then relatively unknown Scottish tune Crimond, with a descant composed by Dr Baird Ross) followed and after a fanfare (again by Bax) and the National Anthem the royal couple passed into St Edward's Chapel, behind the Altar, to sign the register, with immediate members of the family. The bride's wedding ring was fashioned from a nugget of Welsh gold that had been given to her mother for her ring.
The anthem "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" by S.S.Wesley was sung by the Abbey choir augmented with members of the choirs of the Chapel Royal and St George's Chapel Windsor plus additional tenors and basses (ninety one singers altogether). After signing the register the royal couple's procession made its way out of the Abbey to Mendelssohn's Wedding March (they were led by the Abbey's sub-sacrist Evelyn Foote).
The King allowed only the procession to be filmed and only still photography was permitted during the actual service.
The Grave of the Unknown Warrior was the only stone that was not covered by the special carpet. The day after the wedding Princess Elizabeth followed a royal tradition started by her mother of sending her wedding bouquet back to the Abbey to be laid on this grave. The royal couple attended thanksgiving services at the Abbey to commemorate their Silver, Golden and Diamond wedding anniversaries. Their Platinum anniversary in 2017 was celebrated privately at Windsor Castle.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
He was the son of Prince Andrew of Greece (who was born a Prince of Denmark and was descended from the Kings of Greece, Denmark and Prussia as well as Emperors of Russia) and Princess Alice of Battenberg [later Mountbatten], and was born in Corfu on 10th June 1921. His grandmother was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. He was educated in France, England and Scotland and served with distinction in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. After the marriage, the couple lived for a while in Malta where he was posted. In 1956 he set up the Duke of Edinburgh Award. He was President and Chairman of the Westminster Abbey Trust, set up in 1973, to raise funds for the restoration of the exterior of the Abbey. To mark the restoration of the west towers a small stone head of the Duke was carved, with others, high on the north west tower in 1991. This amusing piece shows him wearing his coronet and holding a model of a yacht and a hobby horse, reflecting two of his many interests. The Duke was involved with a great many charities and organisations until his retirement from royal duties and was created GCVO by the Queen. He died on 9 April 2021 aged 99. The Abbey bell tolled 99 times in his memory and a requiem Eucharist was held on the eve of the funeral. The funeral was on 17 April 2021 at St George's Chapel Windsor Castle where the Duke is buried. A memorial service was held in the Abbey on 29 March 2022.
Further reading for the wedding
The Order of Service (PDF, 922 KB)
Golden wedding anniversary - The Order of Service (PDF, 955KB)
Website of the Prayer Book Society for text of 1662 prayer book
Elizabeth and Philip 20 November 1947 by Val Horsler, National Archives 2007
Five Gold Rings. A royal wedding souvenir album from Q. Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II Royal Collection publication 2007
The Queen's wedding - chorister recollections in Westminster Abbey Chorister, Winter 2007
Seventieth wedding anniversary - problems in the planning stages for the 1947 wedding in Westminster Abbey Review, Winter 2016
On 6th February 1952, Princess Elizabeth was watching wildlife in Kenya when she heard that her father, George VI, had died. She immediately returned home, now as Queen Elizabeth II. Planning for her coronation was soon underway and Tuesday 2nd June 1953 was the date set for the ceremony. All arrangements for coronations are made by the Earl Marshal and his Coronation Committee on behalf of the Crown.
On 1st January 1953, the Abbey was closed to the public and preparations to transform the church began. A 200-strong labour force, under the supervision of the government department known as the Ministry of Works, began building the 'theatre' (where the throne for the Homage is placed) under the lantern, tiered seating for 8,251 guests in the transepts and nave, the Royal Gallery, staircases, and the annexe outside the west entrance (a space in which to marshal the long processions before the service).
The annexe, designed by Eric Bedford, was a glass fronted construction with models of the ten Queen's Beasts on the outside (the Lion of England, the Griffin of Edward III, the Falcon of the Plantagenets, the black Bull of Clarence, the white Lion of Mortimer, the Beaufort Yale, the white greyhound of Richmond, the red Dragon of Wales, the Unicorn of Scotland and the white Horse of Hanover). These were designed by James Woodford and made only of clay and plaster. The Abbey floor was covered with felt and a thick wooden floor and monuments were wrapped up in felt and boarded over. A railway line was laid down the nave and into the transepts in order that all the scaffolding and wood for construction could be transported around the church. The floor level in the lantern was raised to be the same height as the altar pavement to make the Theatre area.
Furnishings and vestments
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, at the firm of James Templeton & Co, thirty-one carpets of chenille Axminster, totalling an area of 2,964 square yards, were being made (they also made carpets for the 1937 and 1911 coronations). Blue carpet was laid in the nave (88 feet 6 inches long and 17 feet wide) and quire (except over the grave of the Unknown Warrior) and gold carpet was laid in the 'theatre' and High Altar area.
In Bradford, at Listers Mills, 4,000 yards of blue velvet was woven to cover 2,000 chairs and 5,700 stools, made of oak and beech, for the congregation. It took ten weeks to weave by hand twenty yards of purple velvet for the Queen's coronation robe. There were 1,500 yards of silk needed for the hangings that would adorn the Abbey seating stands.
The Queen's velvet robes, robes for the Peers and the hangings were all made by Warner & Sons of Braintree, Essex. The hangings were called Queensway, designed by Robert Goodden. (After the ceremony the blue and gold hangings, used in front of the tiered seating, and the carpets were offered to churches or institutions throughout the UK and Commonwealth or auctioned off).
As a gift from the Queen to mark her coronation five blue and gold silk copes, incorporating images of a lion and a unicorn on each, were made for the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to wear at the ceremony. The four Canons wore their copes at the service, whilst the Dean wore a cope made for Charles II's coronation. The Dean's cope and one of the blue copes can be seen in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries at the Abbey. Dr Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, who would crown the Queen, wore a richly embroidered cope of Japanese silk and brocade, made by the Brotherhood of St Andrew. By 20th May the construction works were finished and daily rehearsals, often attended by the Queen and the Royal Family, began.
The first full music rehearsal with the 60-strong orchestra and 400-strong choir was held just one week beforehand. The sheer size of the orchestra and choir made it impossible for all to see the Director of Music's baton movements so two assistants were employed to relay Dr McKie's instructions. On 29th May the final full rehearsal was held using a set of replica regalia (now on view in the Galleries). Although included in the printed list of music the piece by Orlando Gibbons "O clap your hands" and William Byrd's "I will not leave you comfortless" were not actually performed as there was no time left during the Homage.
On 1st June the priceless Coronation Regalia arrived at the Abbey from the Tower of London, to be placed, by tradition, in the Jerusalem Chamber within the Deanery in preparation for the ceremony the next day. By dusk that night the processional route between Buckingham Palace and the Abbey was already lined with half a million people.
The Abbey doors opened at 6.00am and reporters and cameramen took up their positions in the Church. By 7.00am the guests began taking their seats. The Abbey choristers, who had been woken at 5.00 am, assembled for a final practice after breakfast. Hidden in their cassock pockets were a few small sandwiches and barley sugar sweets to keep them going during the long day. Orchestral music commenced at 8.55am. At 9.30am the Regalia Procession began when the Dean and Canons of Westminster left the Jerusalem Chamber to make their way to the High Altar with the two crowns, orb and other items. The consecration of the special oil was performed by Dr Woodward, Bishop of Gloucester (a former Canon of Westminster) and it was placed in the Ampulla, which is left on the altar with the anointing spoon. The Imperial State Crown was placed on the altar in St Edward the Confessor's chapel. It is here that the Queen would change crowns prior to the final procession. The clergy then made their way to the annexe at the west end to place those items of regalia required for the procession on the table there.
At 10.15am the Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (wearing the full dress uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet) left Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, bound for Westminster, arriving at 11.00am. The Queen wore the Diamond Diadem designed for George IV's coronation and the coronation necklace and earrings made in 1858 (and worn by queens' consort since 1902). Meanwhile, the Queen Mother's procession had made its way to the Royal Gallery on the south side of the High Altar overlooking the place of coronation. The High Altar was vested in the white frontal and dorsal given by George V and Queen Mary in 1911 (as the new blue silk damask Abbey frontal, with a design of many different flowers, was unfortunately not completed in time for the ceremony).
The Queen entered the nave of the Abbey at 11.20am and the choirs sang the anthem "I was glad". At 12.34pm she was crowned in the Coronation Chair with St Edward's Crown. At 1.28pm she entered St Edward's chapel to exchange crowns (the Imperial State Crown is lighter to wear) and change into the Robe of purple velvet for the final procession.
Back in the annexe, a packed lunch was provided for the Queen's party in the retiring rooms (smoked salmon, foie gras, sausage rolls, cheese and biscuits). The Queen and the Duke left Westminster Abbey at 2.53pm and rode in the State Coach through the streets of London before returning to Buckingham Palace at 4.30pm.
Watch: Elizabeth II and the Coronation Chair cat
The anointing of the Sovereign has the deepest significance during a coronation. The full recipe for the oil is secret but for the 1953 coronation it contained oils of orange flowers, roses, jasmine and cinnamon. Under the authority of the Surgeon-Apothecary the oil for the 1953 coronation was made up at Savory and Moore Ltd by J.D. Jamieson, to a formula devised by Peter Squire. The consecration of the oil is arranged by the Dean of Westminster and is normally performed by a bishop.
The Queen's coronation dress was made by Norman Hartnell (who had also made her wedding dress). It was of white satin with silk embroidered emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth : rose (for England), thistle (Scotland), leek (Wales), shamrock (Ireland), lotus (Ceylon), protea (South Africa), wattle (Australia), wheat and jute (Pakistan), maple leaf (Canada) and fern (New Zealand). The silk came from a silk farm at Lullingstone in Kent (which also supplied silk for her wedding dress). Thousands of tiny seed pearls set in 'saucers' of silver covered the dress. The Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, the Duchess of Kent, Princess Alexandra and the Queen's six Maids of Honour also had dresses by the same designer. The Maids of Honour were Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Lady Anne Coke, Lady Moyra Hamilton, Lady Mary Baillie-Hamilton, Lady Jane Heathcote Drummond Willoughby and Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill.
Chairs for the peers and peeresses were made by B. North & Sons and W. Hands & Sons. The stools were made by B.North & Sons, Thomas Glenister Ltd., Castle Bros. (all firms in High Wycombe) and Waring & Gillow. The blue velvet coverings were made at Listers Mills in Bradford, Yorkshire.
After the ceremony those who occupied the chairs and stools had the option to purchase them. Otherwise the Ministry of Works, who were responsible for commissioning all new furnishings for the coronation, put them up for auction to regain some of the costs of staging the coronation. Some of the Royal chairs were taken to Buckingham Palace.
The Holy Bible was specially bound by the firm of Sangorski & Sutcliffe in red goatskin with cream inlay, tooled in gold and black, and was designed by Lynton Lamb. There is a pattern of ER cyphers and crowns, around the central lozenge of the Queen's coat of arms. After the Archbishop administered the Oath to the Queen she went to kneel at the altar and laid her right hand on the Holy Gospel in the Bible saying 'The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.' She then kissed the Book and signed the Oath. On returning to her chair the Bible was delivered by the Dean of Westminster, Dr Alan Don, to the Archbishop and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland who jointly presented it to her. First the Archbishop said 'Our gracious Queen: to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the Law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.' The Moderator continued 'Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God'. It was then placed back on the altar.
There were no floral displays within the Abbey itself, only in the annexe area. These were designed by Constance Spry, who flew in exotic blooms from Commonwealth countries, including a rare Malay orchid. On the drive to the Abbey the Queen carried the coronation bouquet, made up by Martin Longman. This white bouquet comprised orchids and lily of the valley from England, stephanotis from Scotland, carnations from Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man with additional orchids from Wales (this was not carried into the Abbey).
While the special stands were still in place a play entitled Out of the Whirlwind by Christopher Hassall, was performed on weekday evenings from 10th June until 3rd July, in aid of the Westminster Abbey Appeal Fund.
Portrait of Elizabeth II
In 2013 the Abbey acquired an oil painting of Elizabeth II in her State dress and robe standing on the Cosmati pavement in the Abbey, by Ralph Heimans. This is on display in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries.
Silver Jubilee flower arrangement
On the occasion of Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977, the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS) placed a dried flower arrangement in a glass container beneath a stone in the east cloister, near the Chapter House. A small stone with a green lozenge and flower design marks the place.
Golden Jubilee fountain in College Garden
The Dean and Chapter commissioned a water jet fountain in College Garden in 2002 to mark the Golden Jubilee and a small rose garden was set up.
Coronation anniversary chamber organ
To mark the 60th anniversary of the Coronation in 2013 a new pipe organ was commissioned from Mander Organs for use in the Lady Chapel, notably for weddings as well as for use at other services held there. Presented by the Lord Mayor of London and the City of London Corporation. It has some surprise features such as nightingales, which pop out of the top of the case and revolve, and thunder pedals.
90th birthday flowers
On the occasion of the Sovereign's official 90th birthday in June 2016 NAFAS flower arrangers set up a display outside St Margaret's church. (The thanksgiving service for this occasion took place at St Paul's Cathedral).
Further reading for the coronation
Music played at the Coronation (PDF, 11KB)
Musicians who took part in the 1953 coronation (PDF, 484 KB)
The Coronation Bible is housed at Lambeth Palace Library, London. An identical copy given to the Queen is in the Royal Collection.
The Coronation Oath is at the National Archives at Kew.
DVD "A Queen is Crowned", colour film of the coronation narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier
DVD "Happy and Glorious. The Royal Wedding 1947 and Coronation 1953 from original newsreels"
CD "Music from the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II" with the Westminster Abbey choir (available from the Shop)
"The Queen's Coronation. The inside story" by James Wilkinson (2011)
"Elizabeth crowned Queen. The pictorial record of the Coronation" (various contributors), Octopus Publishing, 2006
"The Queen's Coronation 1953. The official souvenir album", by Caroline de Guitaut, Royal Collection Trust 2013
"Coronation June 2 1953" by Conrad Frost, 1978
"When the Queen was Crowned" by Brian Barker, 1976
"The best of both worlds- a life of Sir William McKie" by Howard Hollis, 1990 (Sir William was in charge of the music at both the wedding and the coronation.)
The scores for Zadok the Priest and Parry's I was Glad orchestrated by Gordon Jacob for the ceremony are in the Abbey Library (MS.64 and 65)
"The year that made the day. How the BBC planned...coronation day broadcasts", issued by the British Broadcasting Corporation
"The Coronation and the BBC – guide to the sound and television broadcasting", issued by the BBC
"Coronation. A history of kingship and the British Monarchy" by Sir Roy Strong, 2005
"Music and ceremonial at British coronations from James I to Elizabeth II, by Matthias Range, 2012
"Queen Elizabeth and her Church: royal service at Westminster Abbey" by John Hall, 2012
"The Royal Encyclopedia" edited by R. Allison & S. Riddell, 1991
Elizabeth II: The Steadfast by Douglas Hurd
Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday 8th September 2022 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland aged 96. She reigned for a total of 70 years and 214 days, making her the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Her son Charles, Prince of Wales ascended the throne as King Charles III.
Her coffin, made of oak and lined with lead, was taken to St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where a service was held and she lay at rest. Later the coffin was flown to London to rest in Buckingham Palace. A long procession, with the coffin draped in the Royal Standard on a gun carriage and followed by the King and members of his family, made its way to Westminster Hall within the Palace of Westminster for a four day lying in state. Many thousands filed past the coffin on which was placed the Imperial State Crown and the Orb and Sceptre, with a wreath. The catafalque was flanked at the four corners by candlesticks from the Abbey and its processional cross stood at the head of the coffin.
The State Funeral, by the late Queen's own wish, took place at Westminster Abbey on Monday 19th September 2022 at 11.00am. This was the first State Funeral of a reigning monarch at the Abbey since that of George II in 1760 (they are now usually held at Windsor Castle). The new King, Charles III, the Prince of Wales and members of the Royal family followed the cortege, with the coffin pulled on a gun carriage by ratings from the Royal Navy, from Westminster Hall to the Abbey. The service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other representative clergy taking part. The coffin was carried by eight Grenadier Guards and was placed in the lantern. The High Altar was vested in black. Many heads of state and overseas royalty attended.
After the service the coffin, with a new wreath from the King on the top, was pulled in procession to the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner and transferred to the royal hearse for the drive to St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle for a service. The late Queen was laid to rest in the vault in which her husband Prince Philip, her parents George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and sister Margaret had been buried.
Further reading about the funeral
Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster
Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster
Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster
Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster
Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster