Friday, 5 May 2023

The Coronation - Inevitably! - Celia Rees

Coronation Mug - 1953

I'm not a royalist, by any means, but as my allotted History Girls post falls the day before the Coronation, I didn't think that I could ignore this great national occasion. Whatever one's thoughts are about the monarchy (and I have views) this is the History Girls Blog after all and the ritual which is the coronation reaches back deep into history. The order of service and the liturgy extends back to the 10th Century and the ultimate roots of the ritual lie in the Bronze Age, as explained by Tom Holland on The Rest Is History, the superb podcast he shares with Dominic Sandbrook. If you don't already listen, you are missing a treat. 

Coronation Mug - 2023 (attr.Adèle Geras)

 By tomorrow evening, I will have witnessed two coronations. I was three when Elizabeth was crowned Queen in 1953. The world is very different now.  For me, this is neatly illustrated by the different coronation mug designs. There are plenty of mugs for this coronation of traditional design but in 1953 this 2023 design would have been unimaginable.

So very much has changed between now and then. The 1953 Coronation is my clearest early memory.  All the neighbours crowded into the McCauley's sitting room because they were the one of the few families in the street with a television. It was in the corner of the room, encased in a polished wooden cabinet. The screen was very small, the picture black and white and very fuzzy (but that might have been the McCauley's set). I'd never seen television before. I went to see where the horses' legs were then I decided I didn't like it and hid behind the settee. I was eventually coaxed out to sit on my father's knee and watch what seemed like an endless procession of soldiers, sailors, coaches and men on horses. The parading of our own armed forces and those of the Commonwealth. 

For Charles' coronation, the procession through London has been shortened, parred down, modernised. The ceremony inside Westminster Abbey, however, will remain the same.  The robes, regalia, the order of service, go back at least a thousand years. There are two changes: ambergris has been omitted from the holy oil (to make it vegan friendly) and the central ritual, the anointing, will take place behind a screen, not under a canopy. Screen or canopy, the anointing of the monarch with holy oil goes back to the Old Testament, a ritual so sacred that it is kept away from public eyes. In 1953 it was not even televised. All this reminds us that we live in a monarchy and that the monarch is marked out from the rest of us by God. Awesome, in the true sense of the word, and profoundly odd - an ancient mystery being carried out in the twenty-first century.  

To mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, children were given little models of the State Coach as souvenirs. Time and wear have taken a toll on these mementoes but they were much prized and a few have survived. I still have mine and so does my friend, Rachel. 

Coronation coach - attr. Rachel Bagley

Coronation Day, 1953, it rained but everyone went out in the afternoon to celebrate this great occasion. There was an ox roast in the park and a street party which was moved into the Mills' garage when the rain intensified. There were sandwiches, cake, jelly, peaches and evaporated milk. There will be street parties tomorrow, although fewer than in 1953. How will the table differ? I doubt there will be jelly and evaporated milk. No crisps in 1953, no nibbles of any kind. Apparently, the popular 2023 celebratory choices are Quiche and Fizz, unimaginable in 1953, but Coronation Chicken is up there with them.  

1953 Street Party

1n 1953, Coronation Chicken had only just been invented by celebrated cookery writer Constance Spry for the official Coronation Luncheon. It has since become a stalwart of the buffet and a popular sandwich filling. This concoction of chicken, mayonnaise, apricot jam (or mango chutney) and curry powder will be served at street parties on Saturday (see above), a tenuous link to the last coronation. A very 2023 hack on the Coronation Chicken is M&S's Coronation Scotch Egg. A delicacy not dreamed of in 1953.

Coronation Chicken

M&S Coronation Scotch Egg

Enjoy the Coronation of Charles III however you choose to celebrate it and bon appetite!

Celia Rees


  1. Lovely post, thank you, Celia.

  2. Thank you, Carol. I really enjoyed writing this piece. Do you listen to Rest Is History Pod? Great to garden to...


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