The Queen’s coronation dress, 2nd June 1953 27


Photo: Royal Collection.

Today marks the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on the 2nd of June 1953 so what better way to commemorate such a momentous occasion than a look at the all important dress that the Queen wore on her big day. After all, unless you lived back in the sixteenth century, coronations are far rarer than Royal weddings…

Photo: Royal Collection.

The Queen’s coronation dress was commissioned in October 1952 and took eight long finger numbing months to create. The actual design stage took a long time as Norman Hartnell submitted eight designs to Elizabeth, starting with a simple white satin dress based on the one worn by Queen Victoria at her coronation in 1837 and moving on through progressively more elaborate designs, all encrusted with crystals and covered with symbolic references until finally the eighth got a tacit nod of agreement.

Photo: Royal Collection.

Elizabeth, who had a very clear idea of what suited her and how she wanted to look had stipulated that her gown should be white satin and also follow the same elegant lines as her wedding gown in 1947 but not be too exaggerated in shape – regal but classic was the brief. Hartnell then went off and studied the history of the coronation gown, determined that Elizabeth’s dress should be of both historic and sartorial significance as well as being his masterpiece.

The design that was finally chosen incorporated all of the floral symbols of Great Britain and the Commonwealth and was originally conceived of in pure virginal white, however Elizabeth decided that this was not altogether appropriate for a married mother of two small children and stipulated that the embroidery should be coloured. This was, after all, to be her wedding dress to the nation.

Photo: Royal Collection.

Photo: Royal Collection.

In the end, the dress was decorated with pale pink Tudor roses (England); pale green leeks (Wales); green and silver shamrocks (Ireland); pale purple and amethyst thistles (Scotland); green and gold maple leaves (Canada); mimosa yellow wattle flowers (Australia); silver and green ferns (New Zealand); pink and silver proteas (South Africa) ; golden wheat (Pakistan) and mother of pearl and opal lotus flowers (India and Ceylon). All of this was embellished with a plethora of crystals, pearls and sequins so that the dress shimmered and glistened in the most magical manner whenever the Queen moved.

There was even an extra shamrock for luck embroidered on the left side of the skirt.

Photo: Scanned by me from the July 1953 edition of Lady magazine.

Photo: Royal Collection.

As can be imagined such an elaborate and opulent gown took several hours to create and was made by a team of three dressmakers and six embroideresses who worked in secret for nine weeks (9,000 sewing hours! Ouch!) before the dress was finally delivered by Hartnell three days before the coronation. The Queen was thrilled by the seed pearl and crystal encrusted creation and remarked that it was ‘glorious’ when she tried it on for the first time.

Photo: Scanned by me from the July 1953 edition of Lady magazine.

Photo: Scanned by me from the July 1953 edition of Lady magazine.

For much of the actual coronation ceremony, the gown was hidden by a ceremonial gown called the Colobium sindonis robe, which was also designed by Hartnell and was a simple sunburst pleated white linen dress. It was utterly devoid of all embellishment and is meant to symbolise the monarch’s rejection of worldly vanity as they stand before God to be anointed. I’ve always thought this to be a particularly beautiful garment, with very elegant, almost classical lines.

Photo: Royal Collection.

Photo: Royal Collection.

The Queen looked amazing in her dress, but it seems that a certain amount of practice went into looking that good! Elizabeth and her six maids of honour spent a lot of time rehearsing dealing with the long purple velvet train that was designed to be worn with her dress. The fabulous Imperial crown that she was to wear for much of the coronation day was also brought to her at Buckingham Palace so that she could get used to its weight and size by wearing it around the house as it were for the day. The pearls hanging from the centre of the Imperial crown are said to come from Elizabeth I’s earrings!

No detail was left to chance – models with the same colouring as the Queen were hired to try out different make up to find a look that would be equally suitable in the carriage journey and under the harsh lights of the Abbey. Elizabeth’s red lipstick was also carefully chosen so that it didn’t clash with her rich purple velvet train. Beneath her gorgeous dress she wore Roger Vivier gold leather shoes with garnet studded heels, an echo of the red heeled shoes worn by courtiers at Versailles.

Flower fans like my chum Rachael from Tales from the Village may like to know that the glorious bouquet that the Queen carried with her in the carriage on her way to the coronation included orchids, lily of the valley, stephanotis and carnations.

Photo: Royal Collection.

Photo: Royal Collection.

The amazing diamond necklace and earrings that Elizabeth wore on her coronation day were made in 1858 for Queen Victoria and were also worn by Queens Alexandra, Mary and Elizabeth (the consort of George VI) at their coronations. The necklace is made from twenty nine collet diamonds from an old Garter badge and state sword, with the 22.48 carat Lahore Diamond as its central drop pendant. It’s going to be on display next year as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations – can’t wait to see it!

Photo: Royal Collection.

The Queen wore a diamond diadem made for the 1820 coronation of George IV on the way to Westminster Abbey. It has 1,333 diamonds in the design and is encircled by 169 pearls. It’s rather nice isn’t it?

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27 thoughts on “The Queen’s coronation dress, 2nd June 1953

  • Reply
    lesliecarroll

    Absolutely mouthwatering — the entire post (which is what I tweeted). Wherever do you find all these images (and info)? I wish I could afford to hire you as my research assistant! :)

    That coronation gown is amazing with all the symbols of Empire reprsented; and so much history and tradition … I almost teared up when I read that the pearls in the coronation crown were said to have come from QEI’s earrings! This is where I live as a writer and I get that catch in the throat when I discover and read about some of this royal history, yet being an American, in a nation so young by comparison to England I always find myself making comparisons of perspective. [For example, when I was in London for the bicentennial celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar and attended the grand black-tie dinner at the medieval-era Guildhall where the Duke of Edinburgh spoke, I felt a hitch in my breath as I walked past the uniformed military band into a building that is roughly 3x as old as the USA.]

    • Reply
      Madame Guillotine Post author

      Thank you! This post took a while to pull together but I’ve been saving the pictures and stuff for a while. I’m free btw! :)

      Isn’t it just fantastic? It’s very moving too – all that weighty symbolism and history all tied up together. I think it’s amazing that the Queen wears Elizabeth I’s pearls on her crown – she wore Queen Anne and Queen Mary II’s pearls on her wedding day too. Incredible.

      I’m British and come from a background that involved stately homes, knowing real live aristos with names that resonate from history books and meeting the royals and it STILL gets me, all the time. We are very lucky. :)

  • Reply
    Sharon

    What a stunning dress! No wonder it took so long to make, there’s sooo much detail in it.

    The Queen looked fabulous on her coronation.

  • Reply
    Telynor

    Stunning. It is simply stunning. Hartnell, when informed that he was to put leeks instead of the Welsh daffodil would have none of it — “I’m not putting a damned onion on that gown!” Eventually he bent to pressure.

    All that embroidery. Just amazing, and in nine weeks, too — they must have been working nearly around the clock to get that all put on there, and it is just exquisite.

    It is going to be something with the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

    • Reply
      Madame Guillotine Post author

      Heh, yes, I read in a few places that he struggled with the leeks! They aren’t exactly decorative are they?

      I hope they put it on display during the Jubilee celebrations – the necklace she wore is going to be in the diamonds exhibition at Buckingham Palace so maybe the dress and robes will be too? I’m meeting a curator from the Royal ceremonial collection next month and will ask her about it! :)

  • Reply
    Scott

    The pearls suspended from the arch of the Imperial State Crown are, indeed, from the earrings of Queen Elizabeth I but they have a longer and even more fascinating history.

    They were originally given by His Holiness Pope Clement VII to his niece, Marie de Medici as a wedding gift upon her marriage to King Henri II of France. She, in turn, bequeathed them to her daughter-in-law, Mary, Queen of Scots upon Mary’s marriage to the Dauphin of France who would reign, briefly, as Francis II.

    When Queen Elizabeth I executed her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots for treason, the pearls became her property and remained part of the royal collection. When the Imperial State Crown was created for the Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837, the pearls, and many other historic gems, were placed in it.

  • Reply
    Scott

    Oh, it should also be pointed out with a delicious sense of irony that Pope Clement VII was also the Pope who denied England’s King Henry VIII his annulment from Queen Catherine of Aragon, thus precipitating England’s break with the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Reply
    Jenny Coughlan

    I believe my grandmother was one of the six people that sewed the pearls and crystals
    onto the Coronation dress, is there any way of finding out for definite? I would love to
    know for sure.

  • Reply
    Marina Bolton

    I have just inherited a string of these ‘Crystals’ from the coronation dress….!!
    They were given to me by my mother and father-in-law, whos mother had also worked on the queens coronation dress. These crystals were apparently taken off the dress to make lighter for queen to wear as too heavy and the surplace crystals were shared out to the workers of the dress?? These were then given to my mother in law to wear for her wedding, then also to me when i married some 8 years ago, and now they have been given to me by my in laws. I am so pleased, and also to be given them on the jubilee year too.
    i am trying to find out some more details on them too??!!

      • Reply
        Jay

        The Queen paid a visit to the Farm Shop I used to work in. We all had to stand in line, in our freshly wshaed and pressed aprons while she chatted to the owner of the Farm Shop. Her Majesty was holding a bunch of flowers, given to her by one of the local school children. I watched in horror as a bee that had been sitting on the bouquet, took off and landed on the brim of the Queen’s hat. Instead of watching the Queen and taking in the moment I couldn’t take my eyes off the bee, terrified that it would crawl down onto the Queen’s face. Needless to say, it flew off without incident and the Queen was none the wiser. But a day I will never forget!

      • Reply
        Mrs M Bolton

        I would love to find out more about these crystals and the workers who worked the dress. Where or who could I contact? Would be lovely to find out about my inherited crystals this jubilee year..
        I know my father in laws mother was one person who worked ont he dress for the coronation, and was given these crystals from it as it was too heavy..
        Thank you..
        Marina Bolton

  • Reply
    Rosaerona

    This is such a lovely post and thakyou so much for providing such wonderful pictures! I adore Norman Hartnell and this dress in particular so it is wonderful to see it online. Will definitely be using the pics as inspiration for some of my work.

  • Reply
    Chris

    Seems to me that Norman Hartnell got it so right – the most amazing design yet one that didn’t detract from the young Queen’s beauty, whilst incorporating so much that was symbolic without it looking like some mediaeval tabard. Contrast this with the crumpled mess of Princess Diana’s wedding dress by the Emmanuels, or the horror of the Philip Treacy ‘fascinator’ as worn by Princess Beatrice (Eugenie? – can’t remember the face for the vileness of the hat!) – Royal fashion disasters one and all. No wonder Hartnell went on to become the Queen’s favourite designer.
    Great research, Madame.

  • Reply
    Sarah

    Fab post, sharing this. Also just seeing Prince Charles’ programme on tv he talks of the Queen wearing the crown when he was having a bath and as a kid. That crown must weigh a ton! I think all these old photos show her as a very elegant, pretty young woman!

  • Reply
    Linda

    I own one of the special ‘samplers’ of the Queen’s Coronation Gown. I am trying to find out its value… I have had it for 12 years, purchased from an family that had lived and taught in England…

  • Reply
    Charlotte Weimar

    What an interesting site. Small correction to The Queen’s clothing. The Norman Hartnell dress was indeed covered with the elegant, white, accordion pleated dress, but only for the Anointing.

    The dress was then removed and replaced by the much plainer “little dress of linen” called the Colobium Sindonis. This was immediately covered by the Supertunica, a manly coat of cloth of gold with a belt, in which she received the Jewelled Sword of State This in turn was covered by the golden Stole Royal and then the semi-circular, gold and red lined Robe Royal. In these garments she was given the Regalia and was Crowned.

    This information comes because, for the Golden and Diamond Jubilees, I produced “The Children’s Coronation”, a serious re-enactment of the original ceremony. (Excerpts can be seen on YouTube).

    Wearing so many heavy, elaborate garments, plus the Crown, I am amazed Her Majesty did not faint.