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The Royals

See Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on Their Father King George VI’s Coronation Day — and Read Her 80-Year-Old Diary Entry!

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Royal Collection Trust

It was the day that Queen Elizabeth played royal historian.

Eighty-years-ago today, the then-11-year-old Princess Elizabeth watched the build-up and excitement of the Coronation of her parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth – and chronicled it for them in a special five-page record, even noting the “boring” section of the service that was “all prayers.”

There was a lot of waiting around for the young princess and her sister Margaret, then 6, but when the King arrived in Westminster Abbey he looked “very beautiful in a crimson robe and the Cap of State,” she wrote.

“I thought it all very, very wonderful and I expect the Abbey did, too. 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.”

But it wasn’t all glamour for the young royal. “At the end the service got rather boring as it was all prayers,” and when she and her Grannie spotted the word “Finis” at the last page they “smiled at each other,” she noted.

Queen Elizabeth and Princess Elizabeth on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, after the Coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey
Popperfoto/Getty

Elizabeth addressed her charming note to “Dear Mummy and Papa. In memory of Their Coronation” and signed in her family nickname, Lilibet, “By Herself.”

On May 12, 1937, Elizabeth was woken at 5 a.m. by the band of the Royal Marines just outside her window. She got up like a shot, (and so did her nanny Margaret (Bobo) MacDonald – who made her wrap herself in an eiderdown for when they looked out of the window on the “cold, misty morning.”)

King George VI with Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) and their two children Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret during in 1945.
Popperfoto/Getty

After getting up for breakfast – earlier than usual at 7.30 a.m. – she dressed in what she tells her parents was a gown of “silk and cream lace” with “little gold bows all the way down the middle.” They had “puffed sleeves with one little bow in the centre.”

She recalls herself and sister Margaret kissing their “mummy” goodbye before joining some relatives for the carriage ride to Westminster Abbey. “At first it was very jolty but we soon got used to it.”

King George VI with his daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on the grounds of the Royal Lodge in Windsor, England in 1946.
Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty

The meticulous diarist noted that their procession at the Abbey began with two heralds, and two gentlemen ushers. Then, her sister Margaret, Aunt Mary and herself paraded down the aisle of the Abbey and waited for the arrival of the King and Queen.

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Following the service there were sandwiches rolls and orangeade and lemonade, and when the royal party got back to the palace there was the traditional balcony appearance to complete. There in the Mall below “millions of people were waiting below,” she recalled.

Tea came at 6 o’clock and the day was so tiring that when she got into bed, her legs “ached terribly,” Elizabeth said.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on the monarch’s Coronation Day
Popperfoto/Getty Images

In her essay, Elizabeth remarked that “Grannie” (Queen Mary) didn’t remember much of her own Coronation – “I should have thought that it would have stayed in her mind for ever.” Luckily, for historians, Elizabeth recalled her parents’ big day. Whether we will ever see her diary entries of her own Coronation that followed 16 years later in June 1953 remains to be seen.