Technically, she became the Queen 66 years ago, after her father, King George VI, died on February 6, 1952. But her coronation didn’t come for over a year after his death, in order to allow time to plan the elaborate event, and in hopes that they’d get a sunny day in June (they didn’t.) As fans of The Crown know, it is also said that the wait was partially for political reasons.
But the delay was well worth it: The jewel-studded occasion was attended by 8,000 guests, which included heads of state, including then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and representatives from the royal families of Sweden, Japan, Denmark and more. In total, 129 countries were represented. The Queen’s son, Prince Charles, was 4 years old, and was thus allowed to attend the festivities, making him the first heir apparent of a Queen to attend a coronation.
The newly-crowned Queen took the Coronation Oath at Westminster Abbey, where the three-hour-long service went off without a hitch. She was crowned with the St. Edward’s Crown, the same one that her father was crowned with 16 years before. The traditional (and heavy!) crown is only ever used at a coronation — the State Imperial Crown is used for other occasions afterwards, like the Opening of Parliament. She also wore the centuries-old coronation ring, on the fourth finger of her right hand, and carried the Orb, a gold sphere topped with a cross covered in diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphire, pearls and an amethyst.
Unlike in previous coronations, the Queen was the only person crowned. Prince Philip was not a King Consort, like the Queen Mother had been a Queen Consort, and was also crowned during her husband’s coronation ceremony. However, following the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was the first person to pay homage to the new monarch.
Three million more lined the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the new monarch riding from the Abbey back to Buckingham Palace. The route was designed to take as long as possible, in order for more people to be able to see the Queen. It took two hours total to make the relatively short journey. She did so in an intricate gilded carriage.
It was also the first coronation to be broadcast on television, with 27 million Britons watching and an additional 11 million listening on the radio. During the radio broadcast, the Queen said her own personal words of devotion to the people of the Commonwealth in her Coronation speech.
“The ceremonies you have seen today are ancient, and some of their origins are veiled in the mists of the past,” she said. “But their spirit and their meaning shine through the ages never, perhaps, more brightly than now. I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”
The day ended with the traditional appearance of the royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. A Royal Air Force fly past flew over the Mall, despite the rain clouds. And after the sun went down, fireworks lit up the London sky over the Thames.