King George VI died in February 1952, leaving a country as an orphan after a reign marked by World War II and all its tragic events. Europe was in recession after the war years and even for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth, heiress presumptive to the throne, with Philip Mountbatten, former Prince of Greece and Denmark, then Duke of Edinburgh. For his role during the war, having on his side HM Queen Elizabeth, King George VI became not only respected but also adored and loved by his subjects. London was in deep mourning as the news of the King’s death arrived from Sandringham. His funeral was perhaps the most impressive of the 20th century, with millions flocking to the streets to pay his respects on the King’s last journey, from Westminster Hall, where he lied in state for 3 days, to Windsor, where he was buried amongst his predecessors in St. George’s Chapel.
Britain had a new queen. In the long history of the islands, the Queens who reigned over England, Scotland and later the United Kingdom, marked their reigns on a very peculiar way. Two were remarkably outstanding: Elizabeth I and Victoria, both giving names to her ages, the Elizabethan and the Victorian eras, as they are known. The late King had also been the last Emperor of India. Queen Victoria had been the first Empress of India; Queen Elizabeth was the first not to wear that title, after the fall of the majestic British Empire in the late years of King George’s reign. The Empire was now replaced by the Commonwealth of Nations, an attempt to save what was left from that Empire spirit. There was expectation to see how the new sovereign would deal with the new situation, how Britain would react to the loss of the Empire. Would there be a new Elizabethan era? Would the new Queen mark her epoch like her two ancestors?
Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Head of the Commonwealth, but also head of state of more than a dozen other countries that preferred not to break their ties with their British and imperial past, has reigned for 50 years and the World has been through the most amazing changes since that great year of 1952 in which her reign began. Having experienced the most difficult of times in her personal life and her official life, the Queen remains the most powerful symbol of Britain and is respected as few other monarchs were.
During Her Majesty’s reign, the monarchy has been through everything: glory and applause, unpopularity and critics. Glory in the most celebrated years of the Queen’s reign, the 70’s and the early 80’s, with magnificent celebrations which marked Britain forever: the Silver Jubilee, the weddings of Princess Anne, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, the 80th birthday celebrations of the Queen Mother... Then came the difficult years of gossip, talk and some unpopularity of the royal family, which culminated in the summer of 1997 with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, then already divorced for a year from the Prince of Wales. Unprecedented criticism against the Royal Family and the Queen broke as it was thought the Windsors were not showing their grief as they should, perhaps not realizing that it were also saddest of times for them, perhaps ignoring that the Queen was not only the Queen but also the grandmother of two children, the Princes William and Harry, who had not their mother with them anymore.
Difficult times over, it was time to reflect on the future and the role of the monarchy. It was a slow reflection, at times one perhaps too harsh and too unfair. The critics of the institution, did not loose time before attacking the institution, in a not only radical but also ridiculous way: Their critics, however, were shown cruelly wrong in 2002, the year they prophesised to be a failure for the monarchy and was, after all, a proof of its value, its popularity and its strength. On 6th February 2002, it was with a sense of indifference the country saw the actual date of the Golden Jubilee go by. A few days later, an outpouring of grief didn’t succeed the surprise of the death of the Queen’s sister, HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. Again, the critics wrongly saw in this the decline of the House of Windsor and the failure of the Jubilee. It would not be the last time they would do so.
On the evening of the 30th March, the nation learned of the sad death of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. One would difficultly find words to describe what happened on the following days. It somehow seemed Britons did not know how to respond to the death of their beloved grandmother, their beloved Queen Mum. Some called it apathy, some even dared to call it indifference. What happened on the day of the ceremonial cortege that took the coffin of the Queen Mother from St. James’ Palace to Westminster Hall and in the following 3 days of Lying-in-State came as a surprise to everyone, not least to the critics. It seemed that, woken from a dream of lethargy, faced with the void of the Queen Mother’s irreplaceable presence, surprised by the dignified magnificence of the funerary ceremonies. In the final day, the funeral route was lined by up to one million people and the most harsh critics were forced to aknowledge, very simply, that they were wrong. The monarchy was, after all, important, meaningful and close to the heart of an entire people.
When this site was opened in February 2002, the celebrations of the Jubilee had still not started. As we now write, those same celebrations have ended and with them came not the glorification of the monarchy, for that is not needed, but the recognition of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, which is more than deserved. The monarchy represents the history, the traditions, the present and the future of the United Kingdom. The Queen is, quite simply, the most respected head of state of the whole World and the most powerful representative that a Nation could expect, one that has undertaken her role in almost perfection. Above that, though, she is also the most loved queen one country could have, as it became patent in London on the Golden Jubilee Weekend.
This reflection made, we invite you to look back at that glorious day of June, in 1953. After more than one year of preparations, London was ready to live one of the most memorable days of its history, with a pomp and pageantry difficult to be repeated in the years to come. We will look back at the ceremony, at the coronation symbols, at the guests and the jewels worn to the event, and we will present brief profiles of those who marked that day and who marked the Queen’s reign: HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH the Prince of Wales. As a mark of deep respect, we decided to include a discreet memorial to HRH Princess Margaret and we also provide a link to our tribute to HM Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother. A moment to remember now, as the glorious reign of Queen Elizabeth II has been remarkably celebrated by the whole United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
August 2002, the Editors