Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth

Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth

The King and Queen in their coronation robes
Date 12 May 1937 (1937-05-12)
Location Westminster Abbey, London, England

The coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth and as Emperor and Empress of India took place at Westminster Abbey, London, on 12 May 1937. King George ascended the throne upon the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, on 11 December 1936, three days before his 41st birthday. Edward's coronation had been planned for 12 May 1937 and it was decided to continue with his brother and sister-in-law's coronation on the same date.

Although the music included a range of new anthems and the ceremony underwent some alterations to include the Dominions, it remained a largely conservative affair and closely followed the ceremonial of King George V's coronation in 1911. The ceremony began with the anointing of the King, symbolising his spiritual entry into kingship, and then his crowning and enthronement, representing his assumption of temporal powers and responsibilities. The peers of the realm then paid homage to the King before a shorter and simpler ceremony was conducted for the Queen's coronation. The return procession to Buckingham Palace was over six miles in length, making it the longest coronation procession up to that time; crowds of people lined the streets to watch it, over thirty-two thousand soldiers took part and twenty thousand police officers lined the route. The coronation was commemorated by the issuing of official medals, coinage, and stamps, by military parades across the Empire, and by numerous unofficial celebrations, including street parties and the production of memorabilia.

The event was designed to be not only a sacred anointing and formal crowning, but also a public spectacle, which was also planned as a display of the British Empire. May 1937 included a programme of royal events lasting nearly the entire month to commemorate and mark the occasion. In the lead up to the coronation, guests from across the Empire and around the world assembled on Buckingham Palace and official receptions were held to welcome them; amongst those attending were Indian princes and, for the first time, native African royalty. For the event itself, the prime ministers of each Dominion took part in the procession to the abbey, while representatives of nearly every country attended. Contingents from most colonies and each Dominion participated in the return procession through London's streets.

The media played an important part in broadcasting this show of pageantry and imperialism to the Empire, which marked George and Elizabeth's coronation as an important event in the history of television, being the world's first major outside broadcast. It was also the first coronation to be filmed, as well as the first to be broadcast on radio.



In January 1936, King George V died and his eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales, succeeded him as king-emperor of the British Empire under the regnal name Edward VIII. He was unmarried at that time, but the American socialite, Wallis Simpson, had accompanied him on numerous social occasions in years leading up to 1936; she was married to the shipping executive Ernest Aldrich Simpson and had previously been divorced. The relationship had not been reported in the British press, but was receiving considerable media attention in the United States; it was controversial due to her being divorced, a position considered untenable with the King's position as the nominal head of the Church of England, which did not recognise divorce.

In October 1936, Simpson filed for divorce a second time and the King informed the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, that he intended to propose to her. Baldwin and several leading imperial administrators advised the King that popular opinion in the dominions was hostile to the potential marriage; at home, the King also faced opposition from the Church of England and factions in Parliament. The widespread unwillingness to accept Simpson as the King's consort, and Edward's refusal to give her up, led to his abdication in December 1936.[1]

He was succeeded by his next younger brother, Albert, Duke of York, who chose the regnal name of George VI, in honour of his father. In 1923, George had married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the daughter of the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.

Coronation ceremony

Although the reign of the British monarch begins on their succession to the throne, the coronation service marks their formal crowning. In 1937, the ceremony was organised by a Coronation Committee, established by the Privy Council and chaired by the Lord President of the Council, a political appointment; its central component, the Executive Committee, was chaired by the Duke of Norfolk, who inherited the office of Earl Marshal, which carried with it, by convention, the responsibility for the organisation and coordination of the coronation ceremony.[2][3]



The Coronation Committee had been delayed when it met for the first time on 24 June 1936; Ramsay MacDonald, the Lord President of the Council, met with the Duke of Norfolk to discuss the proceedings; MacDonald would chair the Coronation Committee as a whole, and the Duke would chair the Executive Committee. While Edward VIII was away, cruising on the Nahlin with Wallis Simpson, his brother, Albert, Duke of York (the future George VI) sat in his place on the committees.[2] Edward VIII had initially been reluctant to have a coronation at all (asking the Archbishop of Canterbury whether it could be dispensed with), but conceded that a shorter service would be acceptable; his desire for a lower-key event led to the planned abandonment of the royal procession through London the following day, the thanks-giving service at St Paul's Cathedral and the dinner with London dignitaries.[4]

However, after the abdication of Edward VIII, the authorities simply assumed it had been planned so far for George VI and continued where they left off;[5] according to Sir Roy Strong, at the next meeting after the abdication "no reference was made at all to the change of sovereign, everything immediately being assumed to have been done for the new king."[6] After the abdication, though, many of the traditional elements that Edward VIII cared less for were restored, with Queen Mary taking an interest in the design of furniture and insisting on a more traditional appearance; indeed, much of the service and the furnishings were to closely resemble that of the 1911 coronation of George V.[7]

Archbishop of Canterbury

Although the Executive Committee was at the direction of the Earl Marshal, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, was also a driving force behind the preparations for the 1937 coronation and many of the decisions in respect to the order of service were made by or with him. Owing to his office, he was a member of both the Executive Committee and the Coronation Committee, which dealt with the detail and, as such, he attended all of the rehearsals. He tended to take a leading role in the planning process, becoming a key mediator when queries arose, and dealing with questions over how the service should be broadcast by the media.[8] Lang also spoke to the nation through the BBC services in the run up to coronation day; he saw the coronation as an opportunity for the spiritual renewal of the nation and he organised a campaign of evangelism called Recall to Religion, which he launched on 27 December 1936 with an address on BBC radio. He was also keen to ensure that the King and Queen understood the religious nuances of the service and held two meetings with the couple beforehand.[9]

The Archbishop met with the King and Queen on the evening before their coronation, running through the ceremony and explaining the most important parts. He was also concerned about King George's stutter and discussed the matter with Lord Dawson of Penn and Lord Wigram; Lionel Logue was then the King's speech therapist and the Archbishop discussed replacing him, but decided to monitor the King's improvement and Logue remained his therapist. As it happened, the King delivered his speech without stuttering.[9]


The coronation cost £454,000, which was more than three times the cost of the 1911 ceremony.[10] This cost included the construction of the annexe, which was built as a temporary add-on at the entrance of the abbey for each coronation. In previous years, it had taken the form of an imitation Gothic entrance, but, as a remnant of Edward VIII's modernising attitude, it was now an art-deco design, adorned with stylised heraldic beasts and tapestries belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch.[11] For each coronation, special seating was also constructed to incorporate the large number of guests; 1937 was the first year to make use of metal structures to support the seats, in the form of tubular steel. 400 tons were used alongside 72,000 cubic feet of wood, with 400 men working on the construction. The theatre and sacrarium were also lowered to floor level for the first time since the restoration.[12]

Imperial considerations

Eaton's department store window in Toronto displaying mannequins of George and Elizabeth wearing their crowns and holding orbs

In 1911, standards of the Dominions, autonomous communities of the British Empire, were borne during the procession, but, after the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which established legislative equality between the Dominions and the United Kingdom, the actual service and coronation rite needed to be updated to reflect this change in political power within the Empire. Furthermore, the fact that the service was an Anglican rite excluded other faiths and denominations; in 1937, several Dominions had premiers who were Catholic and, by that time, laws which previously excluded people from public office on religious grounds had been repealed.[13] The Coronation Committee altered the rite to reflect this change; the King now swore to maintain "the Protestant Reformed Religion only as established by law in the United Kingdom."[13] During Edward VIII's reign, a committee was established and chaired by the Duke of York to investigate how colonial representatives might be included within the ceremony, but the Committee failed to implement any changes, except to the Coronation Oath. This was the first amendment to the oath since the coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II in 1689.[14]

Although 1937 saw an increase in the colonial contingents partaking in the procession and an official lunch in Westminster Hall was given to Parliamentary representatives of Empire states for the first time, the service itself was barely altered to reflect the new status of the Dominions.[15]


The ceremony was attended by the King and Queen's daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, as well as by the King's mother, the dowager Queen Mary, making it the first British coronation attended by an already crowned queen.[5] Members of the extended Royal Family attended and all peers and members of parliament were invited. Additionally, leading colonial administrators, ambassadors, Indian Princes and Premiers of the Dominions featured on the Guest list.[16] Working-class representatives included representatives of the trade unions and co-operative societies,[17] while native Africans were allowed to attend for the first time.[18]

The abbey's doors were closed to guests at 08:30 on the morning of the coronation. The official record of the ceremonial, published in the London Gazette, describes the seating plan: "The Lords Spiritual were seated on the North side of the Area, or Sacrarium, the Lords Temporal in the South Transept, and the Dowager Peeresses and Peeresses in the North Transept."[19]

Procession to the abbey

Before the coronation ceremony begins, a lengthy procession to the abbey traditionally takes place. The outward route went as follows: the procession left Buckingham Palace and headed up the Mall, though Admiralty Arch, and down Whitehall, before entering Westminster Abbey.[3]

The first to take part in the procession were lesser members and relatives of the Royal Family and the representatives of foreign royalty and heads of state; they departed Buckingham Palace by car between 08:40 and 08:45 and arrived at the abbey ten minutes later; British and Dominion prime ministers followed half an hour later, leaving at 09:15. At 09:49, members of the Royal Family left the palace (Queen Mary's carriage left Marlborough House shortly afterwards at 10:13). The King and Queen then travelled in the Gold State Coach from Buckingham Palace at 10:43; their procession was by far the longest and included numerous military contingents and delegates from Britain, the Dominions, and the colonies, as well as members of the War Office, the Army, Naval and Air Boards and the personal aide-de-camps.[20]

Procession into the abbey

Minor royals and foreign representatives

The first to arrive in procession were the royals and foreign representatives; they arrived ten minutes after departing the palace. The royal members were led in by two officers of arms—the Bluemantle Pursuivant (R.P. Graham-Vivian) and the Portcullis Pursuivant (A.R. Wagner)—followed by two gentlemen ushers (Captain Humphrey Lloyd and Colonel Vivian Gabriel) and were led to their seats in the royal gallery.[19]

The foreign representatives followed in at roughly 09:00 and were greeted by senior members of the Royal Household and the Diplomatic Corps.[nb 1] Led in by the Rouge Croix Pursuivant (P.W. Kerr) and the Rouge Dragon Pursuivant (E.N. Geijer); they were escorted to their seats in the choir.[21]


According to tradition dating back to the reign of King Charles II, the regalia was brought to the Deanery of Westminster the night before the coronation. Staff started working at 4 am, while guests began arriving two hours later. The Imperial State Crown had been remade for the occasion by the Crown Jewellers, Garrard & Co.[22] Queen Elizabeth's crown was new and made from platinum; it featured the Koh-i-Noor diamond from the crown of Queen Mary.[23] Queen Elizabeth wore a gown made of silk satin, with pure gold thread embroidery in a rose and thistle pattern. It also featured designs patriotic of the British Empire. The ermine-lined velvet robe had a floral pattern with a gold outline.[24] While the litany was sung, the Choir led the Dean and Prebendaries of Westminster down from the High Altar at 09:55; they were carrying the Crown Jewels and regalia, which they then deposited at the Vestibule. The Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain's Office then handed the regalia to the Lord High Constable, who in turn handed them to the Lord Great Chamberlain; the items were then handed over to individual peers, who are listed below.[25]

Entrance of the Royal Family

Led by two officers of arms—the Rouge Croix Pursuivant and the Rouge Dragon Pursuivant—and two gentlemen ushers (Rear-Admiral Arthur Bromley and Lieutenant-Colonel Henry De Satgé), the senior members of the Royal Family arrived at 10:15 and formed their procession into the abbey. The Princess Royal, flanked by Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, were followed by the Duchesses of Gloucester and Kent and then, in pairs, Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught; Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone and Lady Patricia Ramsay; and Princess Marie Louise and Princess Helena Victoria, each with an attendant, train-bearer, or coronet carrier, as applicable.[26]

Twenty minutes later, the Queen of Norway and Queen Mary arrived, being received by the Earl Marshal. Their procession took a different form to that of other members. The York and Windsor Heralds led, followed by G.A. Ponsonby[nb 2] (Comptroller of Queen Maud's Household) and then the Queen of Norway, attended by Miss von Hanno and followed by the Richmond and Chester Heralds. Then, Queen Mary's Lord Chamberlain (the Marquess of Anglesey) led Queen Mary, whose train was borne by four pages (viz. the Earl of Dalkeith, the Marquess of Lansdowne, Gerald Lascelles, and Viscount Errington) and who was attended by the Mistress of the Robes (the Duchess of Devonshire), two ladies of the bedchamber in waiting, her private secretary, comptroller, and three equerries (two ordinary and one extra).[27]

Entrance of the King and Queen

A guard of honour had formed at the vestibule and at the entrance and the King and Queen arrived at 11:00. On their entry, they were greeted by the Great Officers of State, the Archbishops, and the peers bearing the regalia. They then formed their procession, which was led by the Kings Chaplain and the Chapter at Westminster, who were followed by representatives of the Free Churches and the Church of Scotland. It involved all of the Great Officers of State, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Lord Mayor of London, the Officers of Arms of England and Scotland, the Standards of each Dominion, the Prime Minister of the UK and each of the Dominions, and the most senior and highest-ranking officials in the Royal Household. They were followed by twelve members of the Yeoman of the Guard and six of its officials. The King and Queen walked surrounded by their regalia, which was borne by the designated peers; King George wore his great robes of state, which had to be carried by nine pages. They walked past the choir, in which sat the foreign representatives and delegates, before passing through the screen. As each member passed through, they sat or stood in their designated area and the King and Queen took their seats in the Chairs of State in front of the royal box. As the King and Queen and the procession proceeded, the choir sang "I was glad" with the traditional acclimations of "Vivat Rex Georgius" by the King's Scholars of Westminster School.


The coronation service itself began once the procession into the abbey was over and the King and Queen were seated. Beginning with the recognition, the King then took an oath and was anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, before being crowned king. As a remnant of the coronation ceremony's feudal origins, the King then received homage from the peers and peeresses of the realm in attendance.

There were few departures from the services conducted at previous coronations. Efforts were made to shorten the lengthy proceedings; the litany was sung during the regalia procession before the start of the service and the sermon was omitted entirely.[28] Even with these changes, the service itself lasted for two and a half hours,[29] excluding the preliminary processions.

Recognition, oath, and anointing of the King

The first part of the service was the recognition, where the Archbishop of Canterbury called for those present to proclaim their recognition of the sovereign as their rightful king. The King was conducted by the Garter King of Arms to St Edward's Chair and the Archbishop, as tradition dictates, asked: "Sirs, I here present unto you King George, your undoubted King: wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage and service, are you willing to do the same?" The people replied loudly at each repetition "God save King George". The king then sat in the Chair of State and the regalia, except the swords, were laid on the altar.[30] The King then knelt before the altar and swore on the Bible his coronation oath, a copy of which he then signed.[30]

The Archbishop of Canterbury then began the Communion Service, while the Bishop of London read the Epistle and the Archbishop of York the Gospel; after the Service concluded, the King and Queen knelt while the choir sang "Veni, Creator Spiritus". This marked the beginning of the anointing of the monarch, where the Archbishop of Canterbury marks the monarch's head with oil to symbolize the introduction of the holy spirit. The Choir sang Handel's Zadok the Priest and the Archbishop prayed, before the King was disrobed and sat in St Edward's Chair, with the Canopy borne by four knights of the Garter placed over him. The Archbishop then anointed him with oil from the Ampulla, which had been poured onto the Anointing Spoon.

Crowning the King

In preparation for his crowning, the King, still at St Edward's Chair, was invested with the two coronation robes, the Colobium Sindonis and the Supertunica by the Dean of Westminster. Next, he was invested with the regalia, which each symbolised his progress to kingship. Firstly, the Lord Great Chamberlain touched the King's heels with the Golden Spurs; the Great Sword of State was deposited in St Edward's Chapel and the Jewelled Sword of Offering was passed to the King by the Archbishops and Bishops, who said "with this sword do justice;" the King then offered this sword at the altar. Seated again, the Lord Great Chamberlain fastened the armills and the Dean invested him with the Royal Robe; the Archbishop passed him the Orb, put the Ring on his fourth finger and handed to him the two sceptres - with the cross (for Royal power) and with the dove (for "mercy and equity"). The Earl of Lincoln, as Deputy of the Lord of the Manor of Worksop, then handed over a glove, which the King wore.[31]

Once adorned with his regalia and seated in St Edward's Chair, King George was crowned with St Edward's Crown by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the people in the abbey proclaimed loudly "God save the King;" the peers and peeresses wore their coronets (the only time that this happens) and the guns in the Royal Parks were fired to mark the crowning.[32] The ceremony appeared to run smoothly, although a few mishaps quietly took place during the service: the Archbishop of Canterbury almost placed the crown on the King's head the wrong way, one bishop stepped on the King's train, and another concealed the words of the Oath by his thumb while the King was reading it.[5]

Enthronement and homage to the King

In the text of the service, this part of the ceremony was described using the archaic term "inthronization". The Archbishop of Canterbury presented the Bible to the King and the King returned it to him, who gave it to the Dean, who placed it on the Altar. The King handed the glove over to the Lord Chamberlain of the Household and the Sceptre with the Cross to the Lord of the Manor of Worksop. The Benediction followed and then the King moved over to the other throne, accompanied by the Bishops of Bath and Wells and Durham, the Great Officers of State, the Lords carrying the swords and the Lords who had carried the regalia. The Archbishop knelt and paid homage to the King; the Archbishop of York did so next, followed by each of the Bishops. The Dukes of the Blood Royal then did homage, followed by the Lords Temporal (Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts, Barons);[33] six anthems were sung by the Choir during the homage: "O come ye servants of the Lord", "Hear my prayer, O Lord", "O clap your hands together, all ye people", "All the ends of the world shall remember themselves", "O praise God in His holiness" and "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace".[34]

The Queen

The Queen was crowned and anointed in a much smaller and simpler ceremony. It began immediately after the homage to the King finished, when the Queen knelt in prayer before the altar. She then went to the Faldstool, which had been placed before the altar, where she knelt under a canopy, which was held by the Duchesses of Norfolk, Rutland, Buccleuch and Roxburghe. The Archbishop anointed her, placed on her fourth finger on her right hand the Queen's ring and then crowned her, at which point the Princesses and Peeresses donned their coronets. She was then handed her Sceptre with the Cross and the Ivory Rod with the Dove, before walking over to her own throne beside the King, where she sat.[34]

The Offertory followed, in which the King and Queen offered their regalia on the Altar. They then received holy communion from the Archbishop and were passed their crowns before returning to their thrones where they were also given their scepters back. Te Deum was sung by the choir. A recess followed, during which, the King and Queen proceeded to St. Edward's Chapel. There, the King delivered the Sceptre with the Dove to the Archbishop who laid it on the altar. The bearers of the Orb, the Golden Spurs and St. Edward's Staff delivered these to the Dean of Westminster who laid them on the altar in the chapel. The King was disrobed of his Royal Robe of State and put on the Robe of Purple Velvet by the Lord Great Chamberlain. The King, now wearing the Imperial State Crown, was then given the Orb from the Archbishop.

While the King and Queen were in the chapel, the Officers of Arms arranged the procession out of the abbey, which largely took the form of that conducted on entering. The King and Queen then joined the procession with the King carrying the Sceptre with the Cross in his right hand and the Orb in his left while the Queen carried her Sceptre with the Cross in her right hand and the Ivory Rod with the Dove in her left.[35] They proceeded to the West Door of the Abbey as the National Anthem, "God Save the King", was sung.

State Procession to Buckingham Palace

As in the 1902 and 1911 events, the coronation was followed by a procession through London's streets from Westminster Abbey to the Royal residence, allowing the public to view the new king and queen. In 1937, this return route was extended significantly.[36] From Westminster Abbey, it passed around Parliament Square and up the Victoria Embankment (where 40,000 schoolchildren were waiting)[36] and then along Northumberland Avenue, into Trafalgar Square, up Cockspur Street through to Pall Mall; from there, the procession went up St James' Street, joining Piccadilly, which led on to Regent Street, which it followed until joining Oxford Street and driving westward, before turning past Marble Arch and then down East Carriage Road, alongside Hyde Park; from there, the procession passed through Hyde Park Corner and then through Wellington Arch, on to Constitution Hill and then back in to Buckingham Palace.[3]

It included a large number of military personnel from across the Empire. There were representative detachments from all the elements of the British armed forces and the reserve forces, the British Indian Army and Royal Indian Navy, contingents from the British Dominions and a contingent representing the defence forces of the Colonial Empire. Contingents taking part represented the following sections of the Empire: India, the dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Burma, Newfoundland and South Africa, and the Colonies of Southern Rhodesia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Nyassaland, the Gambia, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Somalia, the Aden, Transjordan, Malta, the West Indies, Guyana, Honduras, Ceylon, the Falklands and Hong Kong.[37] In total there were 32,500 officers and men either marching or lining the route. Overall, the procession was 3,500 yards (3,200 metres) in length and took 40 minutes to pass any given point.[38] The route of the procession was the longest on record at six and a quarter miles (10 kilometres).[39] Before and after the event, the British and Dominion troops were accommodated in temporary camps at Kensington Gardens, Regent's Park, Primrose Hill, Olympia and Hampton Court; the Colonial troops were housed in various London barracks.[38]


The musical director for the service was Ernest Bullock, who was organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey, in consultation with the Master of the King's Musick, Henry Walford Davies. The Abbey choir was supplemented by choirs from the Chapel Royal, St Paul's Cathedral, St George's Chapel, Windsor and the Temple Church. An orchestra composed of musicians from London's main orchestras was conducted by Adrian Boult.[40]

Tradition demanded the inclusion of George Frederick Handel's Zadok the Priest (1727) and Hubert Parry's I was glad (1902). New work written for the occasion included Confortare (Be strong and play the Man) by Walford Davies and the Festival Te Deum in F Major by Ralph Vaughan Williams.[41] Perhaps the best known work from the 1937 coronation is Crown Imperial, an orchestral march by William Walton.[42] It was the desire of Bullock and Davies that the programme should include music from 'Tudor times to the present day' and so new pieces were composed by Arnold Bax, Arthur Bliss and Granville Bantock, as well as Walton and Williams.[43] Walton's Crown Imperial was played while the King and Queen progressed up the nave; Edvard Grieg's Homage March from Sigurd Jorsalfar and Edward German's Coronation March were played when the Princes and Princesses, and then Queen Mary arrived, respectively.[43] Choral works included the traditional plainsong Veni, Creator Spiritus, William Byrd's Creed and Sanctus, Christopher Tye's O Come ye Servants of the Lord, Henry Purcell's Hear My Prayer, Samuel Sebastian Wesley's Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace, Sir George Dyson's O Praise God, Sir Edward Bairstow's Let My Prayer Come Up into Thy Presence and Dr William Henry Harris's Offertorium.[44]


Despite a number of hitches, described above, the coronation ran relatively smoothly. It has somewhat been overshadowed by the larger Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, with the Abbey's sacrist, Jocelyn Perkins, summarising that that year's was 'out and away the most impressive' of the 1953, 1937 and 1911 coronations.[45] Nonetheless, a number of those present, the King included, commented privately on the spirituality of the ceremony. Despite recalling it as being 'inordinately long' and remembering how heavy the crown and robes were, the Queen said that it was 'wonderful and there is a great sense of offering oneself'.[46] The King wrote to Lang thanking him for his support and, although saying it was an 'ordeal', he also wrote that 'I felt I was being helped all the time by Someone Else as you said I would'.[47]

Media coverage


The Coronation ceremony itself was not televised, but it was the first coronation service to be broadcast on radio; 28 microphones were placed around the Abbey to capture the music and speech. There was no commentary, but the Reverend Frederic Iremonger, Director of Religion at the BBC and Honorary Chaplain to the King, read out the rubrics or written directions from the service book from a seat high in the triforium over Saint Edward's Chapel. During the most sacred parts of the service, the consecration and the Holy Communion, the microphones were turned off and listeners heard hymns being sung by the choir in the Church of St Margaret, Westminster.[48] The ability to project the service to citizens of the Empire allowed for the Coronation to further Britain's imperial ambitions; as Range wrote, 'with the twentieth century there also came a heightened awareness of ... the propagandistic qualities of the event'.[49]

The BBC and CBC jointly transmitted the proclamation of George VI. In the lead up to the Coronation, the BBC organised talks by Minsters to be broadcast under the name Responsibilities of Empire, and also broadcast The Empire's Homage featuring messages from colonial officers and citizens from across the Empire.[50] The BBC's Empire Service broadcast the whole service, lasting two-and-a-half hours.[51]


The procession was broadcast on the BBC Television Service, which had only been operating since the previous November. Several tons of television cables, measuring 8 miles (13 km), were laid across central London,[52] so that the images from three Emitron television cameras could be sent to the transmission centre at Alexandra Palace. Commentary was by Frederick Grisewood, who was with the cameras at Hyde Park Corner. The coverage of the procession is regarded as being the BBC's first outside broadcast.[52] In reviewing the broadcast, The Daily Telegraph commented: "Horse and foot, the Coronation procession marched into English homes yesterday," while the Daily Mail said: "When the King and Queen appeared the picture was so vivid that one felt that this magical television is going to be one of the greatest of all modern inventions."[52]


The coronation service of George VI was the first to be filmed; the 40 camera crew inside the Abbey were required to wear evening dress. It was later shown in edited form as a newsreel in cinemas across the British Empire. The service was later broadcast from these recordings, with the authorities censoring only one small section: a clip of Queen Mary wiping a tear from her eye.[53]

Honours and official commemorations

Programme of celebrations and royal events

The Ribbon of King George's Coronation Medal

Aside from the Coronation ceremony itself, a 23-day-long programme of official events spanned most of May 1937. The 1902 Coronation was the first to see such a programme implemented, but 1937 was nearly twice as long, and, building on similar developments in 1911, it was a very public spectacle; Sir Roy Strong argues that the month-long festivities were designed to "recapture the confidence of the nation" following the abdication crisis.[54] The first week saw receptions for foreign visitors and delegates, while a State Banquet was held on the 10 May, but the weeks following the coronation saw more public spectacles; the following day included a royal drive through north London, the 16th included a luncheon at Guildhall with London dignitaries and the 'Empire Service of Youth' in Westminster. On the 20th and 21st, the King and Queen inspected fleets and visited flagships, while, on the 22nd, the Queen visited Hyde Park to inspect St John's ambulances and then drive through another area in North London.[55]

Commemorative stamp, issued in New Zealand.
Another stamp, issued by Swaziland.

Coronation honours, medals, coinage and stamps

See also: 1937 Coronation Honours and King George VI Coronation Medal

The King marked the occasion of his coronation by conferring honours on a select group of his subjects; in all, thirteen peerages and seven baronetcies were created, while appointments were made to the Privy Council and to the Orders of the Garter, Thistle, Bath, Merit, Star of India, St Michael and St George and the Royal Victorian Order.[56] An official medal was also struck to mark the occasion, as is customary; however, unlike his father's and grandfather's coronation medals, it was produced in one class.[57] The medal was issued to 90,279 people from across the Empire.[58] Canada, for instance, was allowed just over 10,000, with many being issued to commanding officers in the military, cabinet ministers, senators and their staff and the staff of the Governor-General.[58]

The Royal Mint issued two special 1937 coin sets comprising the coinage for that year and commemorative issues. 5,501 gold Sovereigns and half-Sovereigns were minted (the only ones of George VI's reign). Additionally, over 400,000 Coronation crowns were issued, plus over 26,000 at proof grade.[59] The Post Office had planned to issue special commemorative stamps to mark the Coronation of Edward VIII, but, on his abdication, were uncertain as to whether a new design could be prepared in time, but invited Eric Gill to submit designs for a 1½d stamp. Another artist, Edmund Dulac, also submitted two plans. The King accepted Dulac's and they were printed in brown with a hint of violet the day after the Coronation.[60]

Other celebrations and commemorations

United Kingdom

Artwork commemorating the Coronation of King George VI in 1937 at a post office in Bromsgrove

The streets along the procession route were crowded with people, with women estimated by one newspaper to outnumber men two-to-one. In all, 20,000 police officers were deployed to line the route and keep the crowds calm and, apart from a "dense crush" in Trafalgar Square, which the police dispersed, there were few problems with managing the public in London.[61] In London and elsewhere across Britain,[62] the Coronation became a social occasion, with street parties taking place, in which inhabitants and communities closed off roads, decorated their streets with bunting and flags, and laid on a celebratory lunch; the Pearly Kings and Queens, a traditional part of working-class culture in London, turned out, joining in with festivities and theatrically mocking the Royal Family.[63]


The National Archives have released photographs of celebrations for the Coronation from across the British Empire, various commemorations were held. This included military parades, athletics events and religious services, and the gallery below shows examples of these commemorative events:[64]


The coronation was capitalised on by manufacturers as a means of selling commemorative material. Recordings of the service were put up for sale, while glassware and pottery were also made to commemorate the event.[65] In Canada, for instance, at least five cookbooks were printed to mark the Coronation.[66]

The Coronation Review of the Fleet

The battleship HMS Nelson off Spithead for the 1937 Fleet Review. Anchored in the background are two Queen Elizabeth class battleships and two London class cruisers.

The final coronation event was the Review of the Fleet, held on 20 May at Spithead off the coast at Portsmouth. The largest assembly of warships since the coronation review of 1911, it has been described by military historian Hedley Paul Willmott as "the last parade of the Royal Navy as the world's greatest and most prodigious navy". Ten British battleships and battlecruisers were present, and for the first time at a coronation review, four aircraft carriers.[67] Altogether, there were 101 surface warships, 22 submarines and 11 auxiliaries drawn from the Home, Mediterranean and Reserve Fleets. The Review Procession included the royal yacht, HMY Victoria and Albert, two minesweepers and a survey ship. The Commonwealth and Empire were represented by two warships from Canada and one each from New Zealand and India. A large complement of British merchant ships ranging from ocean liners to paddle steamers were also present.[68]

By tradition, foreign navies were invited to send a single warship each to the review and seventeen were present.[68] Notable among them were the USS New York, the new French battleship Dunkerque and the elderly Soviet Marat. Also present were the formidable looking German "pocket battleship", Admiral Graf Spee and the Japanese heavy cruiser, Ashigara.[69]

Following the review, in which the King and Queen on the royal yacht passed along seven lines of moored ships, there was a flypast by the Fleet Air Arm, however a planned second pass had to be abandoned because of the misty weather.[70] That night, the assembled ships were illuminated by their own searchlights; the spectacle was famously described on BBC Radio by commentator Lieutenant-Commander Thomas Woodrooffe, who had enjoyed too much naval hospitality and was very drunk.[71]

See also



  1. Lieutenant-Colonel T.E.G. Nugent, Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain's Department, Lieutenant-General Sir Sidney Clive, Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, J.B. Monck, Vice-Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, Major Norman Gwatking, Assistant Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain's Department and Captain Sir John Dashwood, Assistant Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps.[21]
  2. Sir George Arthur KCVO, see Debrett's Peerage, 1963, p. 155 for his full details


  1. Matthew, "Edward VIII (later Prince Edward, duke of Windsor) (1894–1972)", The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
  2. 1 2 Strong, Coronation, 2005, p. 421
  3. 1 2 3 The Coronation Book of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, n.d., pp. 16-17
  4. Strong, Coronation, 2005, pp. 421-422
  5. 1 2 3 ""George VI", Westminster Abbey (official website)". Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  6. Strong, Coronation, 2005, p. 422
  7. Strong, Coronation, 2005, p. 423
  8. Beaken, Cosmo Lang: Archbishop in War and Crisis, 2012, pp. 132–133
  9. 1 2 Beaken, Cosmo Lang: Archbishop in War and Crisis, 2012, pp. 132–133
  10. Strong, Coronation, 2005, p. 458
  11. Strong, Coronation, 2005, pp. 423, 459-460 and 462
  12. Strong, Coronation, 2005, pp. 462-463
  13. 1 2 Strong, Coronation, 2005, p. 442
  14. The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) – Saturday 20 February 1937 – CORONATION OATH: FORM ANNOUNCED
  15. Strong, Coronation, 2005, pp. 443-444
  16. "Plans for the Coronation Broadcast", Radio Times, 7 May 1937, pp. 10
  17. Strong, Coronation, 2005, p. 428
  18. Hobsbawn and Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, 1983 (2012 reprint), p. 241
  19. 1 2 "Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937 issue no. 34453, p. 7037". Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  20. Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937, issue 34453, pp. 3071-3077
  21. 1 2 "Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937 issue no. 34453, p. 7038". Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  22. The Imperial State Crown at the Royal Collection.
  23. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother's Crown at the Royal Collection.
  24. Tierney, Elizabeth the Queen Mother Paper Dolls, 2001, p. 71
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 "Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937 issue no. 34453, p. 7043". Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  26. "Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937 issue no. 34453, p. 7044". Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  27. "Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937 issue no. 34453, pp. 7044-5". Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  28. Range, Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations: From James I to Elizabeth II, 2003, p. 243
  29. Lacey, Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II, p. 111
  30. 1 2 Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937, issue no. 34453, p. 7054
  31. Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937, issue no. 34453, p. 7055-6
  32. Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937, issue no. 34453, p. 7056
  33. Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937, issue no. 34453, pp. 7056-7; list of peers pp. 7057-73
  34. 1 2 Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937, issue no. 34453, p. 7073
  35. Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1937, issue no. 34453, pp. 7073-4
  36. 1 2 Strong, Coronation, 2005, p. 452
  37. The Central Queensland Herald, 20 May 1937, p. 21
  38. 1 2 "Coronation", HC Deb 16 March 1937 vol 321 cols 1833-1836 (Hansard)
  39. The Advocate (Burnie, Tasmania) Wednesday 19 August 1936 Coronation Procession Route: LONGEST ON RECORD (p. 1)
  40. Richards, Imperialism and Music: Britain, 18761953, p. 113
  41. Amphion Recordings – British Choral Tradition Volume Two – Choirs Royal – Choral Music from the 1937 Coronation
  42. Petrocelli, William Walton and the Violin Concerto in England between the 1900 and 1940, 2007, p. 32
  43. 1 2 Strong, Coronation, 2005, p. 468
  44. Richards p. 114
  45. Strong, Coronation, 2005, p. 494
  46. Beaken, Cosmo Lang: Archbishop in War and Crisis, 2012, p. 135
  47. Beaken, Cosmo Lang: Archbishop in War and Crisis, 2012, pp. 134-5
  48. "Plans for the Coronation Broadcast", Radio Times, 7 May 1937, pp. 10–11
  49. Range, Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations, 2012, p. 31
  50. Potter, Broadcasting Empire, 2012, p. 99
  51. Potter, Broadcasting Empire, 2012, p. 94
  52. 1 2 3 "The story of BBC Television – Television out and about".
  53. S. Bates, "King Edward VIII abdication: the newspaper that never was", The Guardian, 9 December 2011
  54. Strong, Coronation, 2005, pp. 446-447
  55. Strong, Coronation, 2005, pp. 447-448
  56. The London Gazette, 11 May 1937, issue no. 34396, pp. 3074-3105
  57. Joslin, The Standard Catalogue of British Orders and Decorations, 1976, p. 36
  58. 1 2 "King George VI Coronation Medal (1937)", Veterans Affairs of Canada (official site), (accessed on 30 May 2014)
  59. Mussell (ed.) et al., Coin Yearbook 2010, 2010, pp. 170, 173, 179 and 256
  60. "Coronation", The British Postal Museum and Archive (accessed on 30 May 2014).
  61. The Central Queensland Herald, 20 May 1937, p. 20
  62. See, for instance, photographs at "George VI Coronation street party, Southgate Street, Neath, 1937" at Gathering the Jewels: the Website for Welsh Cultural History (accessed on 29 May 2014), and newspaper clippings at "Coronation of King George VI 12th May 1937" at History of Wallasey (accessed on 29 May 2014)
  63. P. Conrad, "The big picture: a coronation street party in Islington, London, 1937", The Observer, 16 May 2010, and newspaper clippings at "Coronation of King George VI 12th May 1937" at History of Wallasey (accessed on 29 May 2014)
  64. See also: 'Coronation Souvenir', 1937, The National Archives profile of Flickr (accessed 29 May 2014)
  65. Market Lavington Museum Blog, 30 March 2012 (accessed on 29 May 2014)
  66. Driver, Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 2008, pp. 800-1
  67. Willmott, H P (2010) The Last Century of Sea Power: From Washington to Tokyo, 1922–1945, Indiana University Press, ISBN 978-0-253-35214-9 (pp. 24–25)
  68. 1 2 Willmott, p. 34
  69. Willmott, p.28
  70. F E M (August 1937). "The Naval Review: VOL. XXV. NO. 3 (pp. 417-418)" (PDF). The Naval Review. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  71. "History of the BBC - Thomas Woodrooffe at the the Coronation Fleet Review 20 May 1937". BBC. 3 Jun 2014.


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