I attended Queen’s coronation – she looked like a goddess but had to be rescued when she got stuck in Abbey doorway

IN 1952, my late father, Woodrow Wyatt, who was then a Labour MP, received an invitation to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2nd, 1953. 

Aside from being a Member of Parliament, my father had acquired a degree of fame as a writer, broadcaster and bon vivant and had a circle of famous friends. 


A diarist and inveterate letter writer, he left accounts of many great events that took place during his lifetime – the coronation was one of them.

From his old journals and correspondence, I have put together his eye witness account of this historic occasion. It has never before been published, and is, to my knowledge, the longest and most vivid description of the coronation ceremony in existence. 

October 1952

This morning I received a beautifully embossed invitation to the young Queen’s coronation, which is a terrific thrill. 

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It is to be at Westminster Abbey on the second day of June next year, and Nora [my father’s then wife] and I are invited by “the command of The Queen”. 

It is signed with a typically vain flourish by the Duke of Norfolk, who is the Earl Marshal of England and a man of colossal pomposity combined with hypocrisy. 

He is the premier Roman Catholic in the country, but it is rumoured he has affairs and makes his wife’s life a misery. 

The Norfolk family’s chief job is organising coronations. They have been at it for generations, but this time Bernard Norfolk was side-lined by the Duke of Edinburgh who insisted on being Chairman of the Coronation Committee. 

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I hear Norfolk was livid and has been going about London saying he was replaced because the Queen is sexually infatuated by her husband and cannot think straight.

I can’t help swanking about the whole thing. 

I told Tony Crossland (the future Labour Cabinet Minister) about it at lunch and he is very put out not to have received an invitation, even though he is often silly about Republicanism. 

I keep telling him the monarchy is incredibly good value for money. It costs every individual in the Britain less than a packet of boiled sweets. 


June 1, 1953

The whole country seems to be transformed into an England that really is one of hope and glory. 

When I made my way home last night there were enormous crowds of people who intended to camp out. 

They have come from everywhere. I asked one elderly man who was wearing his Sunday best why he had travelled all the way from Cornwall and he replied: “I came to see the most beautiful girl in England take her place on the throne. I shall die happy to have been a part of it“. It was very touching. 

June 2

Rain again. It took me ages to get into my mourning suit as I couldn’t find one of the studs.

Nora looked very chic in an enormous hat and some presumably fashionable suit made by a famous Frenchman, so she told me. 

She should have worn something English. 

A driver is taking us to the Abbey, which has been closed since the Queen’s accession to prepare for today’s great event. 

We have to get there by 8.30am at the latest, which means I had no time for kippers this morning, though I ate a piece of toast with marmalade. 

The whole ceremony is to be shown on television. 

I saw Winston (Churchill) last month and he said this was Philip’s idea and he was against it. He doesn’t think the public should be permitted to see something so elevated – what rot. 

I told him that I thought Philip was a very bright young man with a sense of what people want in a democracy. 

But Winston still behaves as if we had an Empire. He is furious at the moment because Anthony Eden wants to take over as Prime Minister on the grounds of Winston’s age and poor health. 

He said he was determined to be very visible at the coronation, which he partly oversaw, to show them he wasn’t finished.  

There has been hoo ha over the wretched Duke of Windsor. He was invited out of form, but the Duchess wasn’t, so either she made him stay in Paris or he refused to come without her.

Winston, who has always been a partisan of that man, which I have never understood, says it was the new Queen Mother who was responsible for getting Wallis off the list, out of spite, and that she didn’t want the Duke there, either. 

June 3 (day after the coronation)

I am in a sort of exhausted but exhilarated mood, experiencing a whole range of emotions.

We were lucky to get to Westminster Abbey at all. The whole route was obstructed by soldiers, sailors and other members of the Armed Forces. 

I later heard that four million people gathered near the Abbey to catch a glimpse of the new Queen, who is only the 6th female monarch in British history.

I have never seen so many stands. Some of them looked quite rickety and were held up by scaffolding, but no one seemed to mind. 

They were all singing, and almost drowned out the military and royal bands. Our car crawled along and I began to sweat with nerves. 

I kept looking behind me, and to my relief I saw we were being followed by members of foreign Royal Houses. 

All of them rode in carriages provided by the Royals Mews. It almost seemed we had been transported back to a time before the motor car. 


'Still hoovering carpet'

When we got to the Abbey a woman was still hoovering the carpet that the Queen would walk down. 

We were shown to our seats, or rather coronation stools, made from velvet and gold embroidery, which I had been told I could buy afterwards. 

Each sale will go towards the cost of staging this splendid occasion. No wonder Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers! 

I saw quite a few people I know, including the actor Larry Oliver, who is now a knight, and his wife, the exquisite Vivien Leigh. 

She looked very thin and I have been told she suffers from some sort of mental illness and that they both throw things at each other. 

We sat for over an hour, just looking around and taking it all in. The abbey was covered in banners and flowers, and now and then you could see a television camera and microphones, but very discreetly placed and certainly not detracting from the general solemnity. 

Eight thousand people had been invited. General Marshall, the United States Secretary of State, was sitting in the row in front of me, vey straight-backed. 

Clem Attlee arrived followed by Anthony Eden, who looked very dashing and made a show of being physically energetic, presumably to show up Winston. 

Clem Attlee arrived followed by Anthony Eden, who looked very dashing and made a show of being physically energetic, presumably to show up Winston

Presently everyone took their seats and there was a sort of hush as members of the Royal Family, including the Queen Mother in her diamond crown, and the enchanting Princess Margaret began to arrive. 

Shortly before 11, the actual ceremony began. There was a fanfare and then St Edward's Crown was carried into the abbey by the lord high steward of England, Lord Cunningham.

It has been used to crown English kings since the 13th century. It’s not the original,sadly, which was melted down during the Civil War, but a replica made for Charles II. 

It is still pretty magnificent and is said to weigh an enormous amount. Tommy Lascelles told me the Queen has had to get used to its weight by practising walking up and down with it in her head. 

Then she arrived. There was a pin drop silence and we all turned. 

For an awful moment the young Queen seemed stuck in the door. Apparently there was some trouble with her robes and the carpet that made it hard for her to walk. Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury had to come to her aid. 

'Goddess-like'


Her gown was really lovely. It was all ivory satin and silk, with gold embroidery reprinting things like the thistle of Scotland and the Shamrock of Ireland and nearer the hem, numerous roses for England. 

It was quite low cut and you could see her beautiful shoulder blades under a magnificent diamond necklace. 

Attached to the top of the dress was the Robe of State, which is not a train at all but a velvet cloak lined with ermine. 

It was carried by her maids of honour, who included Debo – the young Duchess of Devonshire – looking enchanting as always.

Once things got going, the procession, which included the High Commissioners of the Commonwealth, walked up the central aisle to the stage. 

For an awful moment the young Queen seemed stuck in the door. Apparently there was some trouble with her robes and the carpet that made it hard for her to walk. Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury had to come to her aid

The choir began singing "I was glad", by Hubert Parry, which was very rousing and emotional for everyone. I have a terrible voice but joined in just the same.

With tremendous grace, The Queen almost glided forward to stand before King Edward's Chair, which really is ancient. It is made of oak and has been used for coronations since the 14th Century. 

She then turned around as if she were offering herself to us as a sacrifice, which in truth, she was. 

Fisher then addressed the congregation, saying: "Sirs, I here present unto you Queen Elizabeth, your undoubted Queen: wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage and service, are you willing to do the same?" 

He said this repeatedly and we all roared out "God save Queen Elizabeth!" every time. 

The Queen curtsied most charmingly at us in return and then moved to sit on the Chair of Estate, which is upholstered in brocade and more comfortable, one would imagine. 

She then took the Coronation Oath which was given to her by the Archbishop. 

Fisher, who is a bit of a prig and slightly doddery, stumbled a bit. 

The Queen then walked to the altar and said very clearly, “The things which I have here promised, I will perform, and keep. So help me God". 

Emotional

I couldn’t quite see, but I think she kissed the Bible, which was given to the Dean of Westminster.

Personally, I have never believed in God, certainly not the Christian one, but even I was moved by the beauty of the communion service that followed. 

There were several Bible readings, from the King James Version which is pure poetry, and then came the most arcane and important part of the ceremony, the anointing with holy oil, which symbolises the divinity of kings and queens and elevates them above mere mortals like me. 

The Queen’s jewellery and cape was removed by the mistress of the robes, and she looked simple yet goddess-like as a shaft of light illuminated her entire face. 

A canopy was placed over her as she sat motionless and heartrendingly young in the Coronation Chair. 

I wondered what was going through her mind? Was she thinking of all the monarchs who had sat there before her, some with unenviable fates? 

Or did she have a moment of wild regret that her life as a woman was effectively over?

I wondered what was going through her mind? Was she thinking of all the monarchs who had sat there before her? Or did she have a moment of wild regret that her life as a woman was effectively over?

Becoming a queen is not so different from becoming a nun, only it is more binding. At least nuns can stop being nuns if they wish to, but this girl can never stop being Queen. 

I could glimpse Fisher leaning forward with the holy oil and using it to make the sign of the cross on her hands, chest and forehead. Everyone was still. Nobody around me so much as coughed. 

I gather that this part of the ceremony will not be televised. It is an intimate communion between the monarch and their God. 

The anointing done, the choir burst into "Zadok the Priest" with such exaltation that I felt a tear on my cheek. I think that as long as I live I will never see anything as magical or moving.

Special bracelets were then put on her wrists, the Robe Royal placed on her shoulders, before the now anointed Queen was handed the Sovereign's Orb, the Sceptre with the Cross and the Sceptre with the Dove. 

As she held them up, the Archbishop of Canterbury lowered St Edward’s Crown onto her bare head. We all had to shout “God save the Queen!" three times at the precise moment the crown touched her scalp. 

Julian (Amery) forgot, so I gave his stool a gentle kick. 

All the peers and their wives then put on their coronets and there was a 21-gun salute fired from the Tower. 

Philip's commitment

Philip then knelt before his wife and very graciously pledged his allegiance. I doubt he liked having to kneel, but Tommy told me it was insisted upon. 

St Edward's Crown was then lifted off her by Fisher, and the Queen put on the Imperial State Crown. Still holding the Sceptre with the Cross and the Orb, with effortless grace as though they were made of air, she began to process slowly out of the Abbey as we all sang the National Anthem. 

I followed her retreating figure until my eyes were strained. When she was gone my spirits unaccountably plunged and I felt rather gloomy. 

Julian said he felt the same and claimed it was the result of being thrown up so high emotionally by the ceremony and the lovely way the Queen had conducted herself, and then being thrown down again once it was over. 

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There was none of the chatter or gossip you might have expected. People left very soberly, hardly speaking.

I suppose it will take a while for all of us to emerge from this almost dream-like state.


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