On 12th May 1937 the Coronation of King George VI and his Consort, Queen Elizabeth, took place at Westminster Abbey. This was the date originally planned for the Coronation of King Edward VIII though after his abdication and for planning purposes, it was decided that the date for the crowning of the new King would stay the same.
As well as the sacred anointing and formal crowning, the event was designed to be a public spectacle and a display of the British Empire. The Coronation was also a important moment in the history of television – though television cameras were not allowed inside the Abbey it was the first Coronation to be filmed and broadcast on the radio.
Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret attended the Coronation and in an unusual step, Queen Mary, the King’s mother, also attended. Precedent states that Queen Mothers or Queen Dowagers do not attend the Coronation of their child however Queen Mary stepped away from precedent and decided to attend. Her attendance was an attempt to show the continuity of a strong Monarchy following the Abdication crisis of 1936.
Many members of Foreign Royalty were at Westminster Abbey for the Coronation. Some notable members included:
- The Crown Prince and The Crown Princess of Sweden.
- Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.
- The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
- The Count of Flanders.
- The Crown Prince and The Crown Princess of Norway.
The members of foreign royalty all processed from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey alongside other notable figures such as:
- Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Mrs Baldwin.
- The Queen of Norway. (Maud of Norway)
- The Marquess of Cambridge
- Lord and Lady Carnegie.
Other members of The Royal Family were also involved in the procession.
Tradition stated that the Coronation regalia was brought to the Deanery of Westminster the night before the Coronation. Regalia included the Imperial State Crown (remade for the occasion by the Crown Jewellers), Queen Elizabeth’s crown featuring the Koh-I-Noor diamond from Queen Mary’s crown and the Crown Jewels.
The Coronation Service began once the procession through the Abbey had taken place and Their Majesties were seated. The King took the oath after the recognition, where the Archbishop of Canterbury called for those present to proclaim their recognition of the sovereign as their rightful King. After the oath, His Majesty was anointed by the Archbishop before being crowned. As a remnant of the feudal origins of the ceremony, Peers and Peeresses of the Realm paid homage to the King.
In a much smaller and simpler ceremony, The Queen was crowned and anointed. When she was crowned, the Princesses and the Peeresses donned their coronets and she was then handed her Sceptre before walking over to her Throne where she sat beside the King.
Following the ceremony, the King and Queen processed out of Westminster Abbey via the West Door as ‘God Save The King’ was sung. As was done at the Coronations in 1902 and 1911, there was a procession through the streets of London back to Buckingham Palace allowing thousands of people to see the King and Queen. This route was massively extended in 1937:
- Westminster Abbey to Parliament Square and along Victoria Embankment.
- Up Northumberland Avenue to Trafalgar Square.
- Cockspur Street to Pall Mall.
- St James’s Street to Piccadilly.
- Up Regent Street to Oxford Street turning past Marble Arch.
- Down East Carriage Road alongside Hyde Park passing through Hyde Park Corner.
- Through Wellington Arch on to Constitution Hill and back in to Buckingham Palace.
The streets along the procession route were thronged with people and 20,000 police officers were deployed to keep the crowds calm and a sense of order. Street Parties across London and indeed the nation were held to celebrate the Coronation with food, drink, music and Pearly Kings and Queens galore.
In what was originally planned to be the Coronation of King Edward VIII, the 12th May 1937 instead witnessed the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth – a King and Queen who would soon be put to the test in the United Kingdom’s Second World War in two decades. Ultimately the King and Queen would prevail and were seen as symbols of hope throughout a tough six years.
As Princess Elizabeth noted in a letter to her ‘Mama and Papa’ after the Coronation:
‘I thought it all very wonderful and I expect the Abbey did too.