On June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II is formally crowned monarch of the United Kingdom in a lavish ceremony steeped in traditions that date back a millennium. A thousand dignitaries and guests attended the coronation at London’s Westminster Abbey, and hundreds of millions listened on radio and for the first time watched the proceedings on live television. After the ceremony, millions of rain-drenched spectators cheered the 27-year-old queen and her husband, the 30-year-old duke of Edinburgh, as they passed along a five-mile procession route in a gilded horse-drawn carriage.
Elizabeth, born in 1926, was the first-born daughter of Prince George, the second son of King George V. Her grandfather died in 1936, and her uncle was proclaimed King Edward VIII. Later that year, however, Edward abdicated over the controversy surrounding his decision to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, an American divorcee, and Elizabeth’s father was proclaimed King George VI in his place.
During the Battle of Britain, Princess Elizabeth and her only sibling, Princess Margaret, lived away from London in the safety of the countryside, but their parents endeared themselves to their subjects by remaining in bomb-damaged Buckingham Palace throughout the German air offensive. Later in the war, Elizabeth trained as a second lieutenant in the women’s services and drove and repaired military trucks.
In 1947, she married her distant cousin, Philip Mountbatten, a former prince of Greece and Denmark who renounced his titles in order to marry Elizabeth. He was made duke of Edinburgh on the eve of the wedding. The celebrations surrounding the wedding of the popular princess lifted the spirits of the people of Britain, who were enduring economic difficulties in the aftermath of World War II. Their first child, Prince Charles, was born in 1948 at Buckingham Palace. A second, Princess Anne, was born in 1950. On February 6, 1952, the royal couple were in Kenya in the midst of a goodwill tour when they learned the king had died.
Elizabeth was immediately proclaimed Britain’s new monarch but remained in seclusion for the first three months of her reign as she mourned her father. During the summer of 1952, she began to perform routine duties of the sovereign, and in November she carried out her first state opening of the Parliament. On June 2, 1953, her coronation was held at Westminster Abbey.
The ceremony at Westminster was one of pomp and pageantry, and the characteristically poised Elizabeth delivered in a solemn and clear voice the coronation oath that bound her to the service of the people of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth. In the procession through the streets of London that followed, Elizabeth and her husband were joined by representatives from the more than 40 member states of the Commonwealth, including heads of state, sultans, and prime ministers. British troops like the Yeomen of the Guard were joined by a great variety of Commonwealth troops, including police from the Solomon Islands, Malaysians in white uniforms and green sarongs, Pakistanis in puggaree headdresses, Canadian Mounties, and New Zealanders and Australians in wide-brimmed hats. After the parade, Elizabeth stood with her family on the Buckingham Palace balcony and waved to the crowd as jet planes of the Royal Air Force flew across the Mall in tight formation.
In five decades of rule, Queen Elizabeth II’s popularity has hardly subsided. She has traveled more extensively than any other British monarch and was the first reigning British monarch to visit South America and the Persian Gulf countries. In addition to Charles and Anne, she and Philip have had two other children, Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964. In 1992, Elizabeth, the wealthiest woman in England, agreed to pay income tax for the first time.
On April 21, 2006, Queen Elizabeth turned 80, making her the third oldest person to hold the British crown. Although she has begun to hand off some official duties to her children, notably Charles, the heir to the throne, she has given no indication that she intends to abdicate.