On June 2, 1953, viewers around the globe watched a BBC broadcast of the coronation of 27-year-old Queen Elizabeth II. See highlights.

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on June 2, 1953 was the first royal British coronation ceremony to be televised. Twenty-seven million Britons and 85 million Americans joined viewers around the globe in watching the BBC broadcast. “Before 1953, dignitaries were the main participants in coronations. The global public was not aware of what went on other than in newspaper reports,” says Ariane Chernock, professor of History at Boston University. “It’s impossible to separate the media coverage from the event itself. It was a show of global power and optics.”

It was the 27-year-old queen who chose to have the ceremony filmed. In a speech given that evening, Elizabeth said: “The ceremonies you have seen today are ancient, and some of their origins are veiled in the mists of the past. But their spirit and their meaning shine through the ages…Many thousands of you came to London from all parts of the Commonwealth and Empire to join in the ceremony, but I have been conscious too of the millions of others who have shared in it by means of wireless or television in their homes. All of you, near or far, have been united in one purpose. It is hard for me to find words in which to tell you of the strength which this knowledge has given me.”

Queen Elizabeth II inherited the throne from her father, George VI, upon his death on February 6, 1952. While she had been queen in name since February, it was the June 1953 coronation ceremony that marked her formal ascension to the throne—and kicked off the media’s obsession with the monarch that would last throughout her record-breaking 70-year reign.

1. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip Travel to Westminster Abbey in the Coronation Coach

Queen Elizabeth II coronation
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Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in the Coronation Coach en route to Westminster Abbey for Elizabeth's coronation ceremony, 2nd June 1953.

Three million people lined the streets to glimpse Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in the gilded Coronation Coach on their route to Westminster Abbey. Among them were over 2,000 journalists and 500 photographers representing 92 nations. The Gold State Coach was designed in 1762 and at four tons, required eight horses to pull. The Queen herself had some choice words to share about the long carriage ride: “Not very comfortable,” she told the BBC. It was “pouring rain,” recalled an onlooker, and Elizabeth’s staff reportedly placed a hot water heater under her carriage seat to keep her from shivering.

The route was lined with government-erected grandstands inside barricades painted in the official coronation colors of lilac, green and scarlet. The New Yorker reported that for 30 guineas, ticket holders could expect “a cushioned seat, breakfast when you struggle along in the morning, elevenses when you flag later on, television to while away the weary hours of waiting, and a tiptop champagne lunch to put you in form for shouting hurrahs a few hours after.” Enterprising homeowners with windows facing the coronation route even sold access to the view. Those who caught a glimpse of the royal couple in their coach would have seen the Queen wearing the George IV State Diadem, the first of three crowns she’d don that day, while her husband sported full Naval dress.

2. Queen Elizabeth II in Her Coronation Dress With Maids of Honor

Queen Elizabeth II with her maids of honor.
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Queen Elizabeth II with her maids of honor, Green Drawing Room, Buckingham palace, June 2, 1953. Colorized by Cecil Beaton.

The Queen’s coronation gown  was designed by Norman Hartnell, who had also designed Elizabeth’s 1947 royal wedding dress. The designer recalled: “I thought of altar cloths and sacred vestments; I thought of the sky, the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars and everything heavenly that might be embroidered upon a dress destined to be historic.”

At the Queen’s suggestion, the white duchesse satin gown was embroidered with not just symbols of Great Britain, but “all the combined flowers of the Commonwealth countries,” Hartnell said. The design included embroidered leeks (the emblem of Wales), a Canadian Maple leaf, the Scottish Thistle, Indian lotus flower, and the Tudor rose. The Queen also requested they be embroidered in color instead of white, breaking with centuries of tradition. “When Elizabeth was crowned, the Commonwealth was on everyone’s mind,” says Chernock, referring to the dwindling postcolonial holdings of Great Britain. “Everyone was wondering how the queen was going to keep that organization together as the symbolic heart of the Commonwealth.”

Her purple velvet coronation robe was 14 feet long and held up by six Maids of Honor instead of pages, a nod to Queen Victoria’s 1838 coronation.

3. Prince Charles Watches His Mother’s Coronation

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and Prince Charles with Princess Margaret Rose shown in the royal box at Westminster Abbey during the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II.
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Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and Prince Charles with Princess Margaret Rose in the royal box at Westminster Abbey during the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II.

Prince Charles, aged 4 at the time, was the first child of a monarch to witness a parent’s coronation ceremony. His 2-year-old sister Anne was deemed too young to attend the nearly three-hour long ceremony. The 8,251 invitees inside Westminster Abbey were each allotted 18 ½ inches of space, "a tight fit with velvet robes, ermine, swords, epaulettes, and whatnot,” The New Yorker quipped at the time.

4. The Archbishop of Canterbury Crowns Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II coronation.
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Queen Elizabeth II seated on the St. Edward throne. She is wearing the crown of England which was placed on her head by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

During the crowning ceremony, the Archbishop of Canterbury placed St. Edward’s Crown on the Queen’s head. Made of solid gold inlaid with over 400 stones, it was created for Charles II in 1661 to replace the original that was destroyed during the interregnum—adding the weight of history to its considerable heft: “You can’t look down to read the speech… Because if you did, your neck would break and it [the crown] would fall off,” Queen Elizabeth told the BBC in a retrospective about her coronation. “So, there are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise they are quite important things.”

5. Prince Phillip Kneels Before His Wife, Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II coronation.
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Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh pays homage to Queen Elizabeth II during her Coronation.

During the homage, senior bishops, princes, and senior peers swore their allegiance to their new queen. After the Archbishop of Canterbury, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh was second in line to kneel before his wife and swear allegiance to her. Their marriage would go on to last 73 years and produced four children: Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, and future monarch King Charles III.

Elizabeth once said: “I have to be seen to be believed.” Her early grasp of the power of television to convey the monarch’s power set the stage for the royal family’s close—and often fraught—relationship with the media.

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