- The impossibly lavish clothes worn at the ascension of our monarch go on display at Buckingham Palace
- Highlights include the Queen’s gown, the 21ft cloak and the enormous diamonds that adorned her
- The robe alone took 3,500 hours for needle-workers – working around the clock – to complete
Reunited for the first time since June 2 1953, some of the most sumptuous outfits and gems worn at the Queen’s Coronation are about to go on show at Buckingham Palace. Featuring the young monarch’s breathtakingly beautiful Norman Hartnell-designed gown, her 21-foot purple velvet, Ermine-trimmed Coronation Robe and Queen Victoria’s dazzling diamonds – some as large as pigeon’s eggs – the display is a colourful and vivid re-creation of the 60-year-old ceremony.
Open to the public from Saturday, visitors will also be able to see the Coronation brought to life by charming colour private home movies shot on the Queen’s instructions, some of which have never been seen in public before.
The Queen’s white satin coronation dress, the undoubted centrepiece of the exhibition, was created by couturier Hartnell, who also designed the sumptuous outfits of the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and the maids of honour. The monarch’s gown – which was loosely based on her wedding dress – incorporated embroidered national and Commonwealth floral emblems in gold, silver and pastel-coloured silks, encrusted with pearls, crystals and sequins. Visitors are sure to be surprised at how tiny it is. Her robe, worn when the Queen left the Abbey for the Palace, is of English purple silk-velvet and took members of the Royal School of Needlework 3,500 hours to embroider the robe with wheat ears and olive branches, representing peace and prosperity.
In order to get the commission finished on time, the school employed a policy of ‘never a seat goes cold’, so if an embroiderer left the workroom she was immediately replaced. Exhibition curator Caroline de Guitaut said: ‘I just admire the incredible craftsmanship and the design of Hartnell’s dresses, and to produce that incredible beautiful unified look for not only Her Majesty the Queen but other members of the Royal Family was really an incredible feat.’
Several gowns and coronets belonging to peers of the realm are also included, as well as the adorable outfits made for Prince Charles, then four, and two-year-old Princess Anne. Some of the eye-catching jewels worn by the royal women are also on display, including the diamond Halo tiara worn by Princess Margaret and later loaned by the Queen to the Duchess of Cambridge for her wedding in 2011 as well as the Queen’s Diamond Diadem, which was designed and made for George IV to wear at his coronation in 1821. It is one of the most recognisable of the Queen’s jewels.
Objects from the sacred moment the Queen was anointed with oil on her ‘head, breast and hands’ during the ceremony can also be seen. The anointing was not filmed or photographed and was shielded from view by a canopy, made for George VI’s coronation in 1937 from a cloth of gold embroidered with silver eagles. The plain white linen anointing dress also designed by Hartnell has never been seen in public before. ‘This is worn over the coronation dress for the moment of anointing,’ said Mrs de Guitaut.
‘It had to be very carefully thought through because the Mistress of the Robes, the Duchess of Devonshire, had to put the garment on (the Queen) and remove it while wearing kid gloves, so, after a certain amount of trial and error, it was decided that poppers down the back of the dress would be the best thing.’ Alongside official black and white photographs, the exhibition features private movies filmed behind the scenes for the Queen, that show the personal story behind the pomp and ceremony.
As the Queen in full regalia posed for official pictures with the Duke of Edinburgh, her two young children – Prince Charles, aged four, and Princess Anne, aged two – play up by covering their faces with their hands. The young monarch puts a hand on Charles to settle the youngsters down before Cecil Beaton’s shutter comes down. The Queen’s private home movie, filmed in colour, features another, remarkably tender moment of Philip smoothing down his son’s hair as they get ready for another photograph.
At one point when a group picture of the Royal Family and European royals is being set up, the Duke is shown waving his right arm repeatedly to get people on his far right to squeeze into the shot. After the photographic session is over the footage shows the Queen, Philip and their children all holding hands together walking from view. Lastly, there is a faithful recreation of the Coronation State Banquet held the following day in the Ballroom, which amusingly included dishes such as ‘Delices de Soles Prince Charles’ and ‘Boite de Fraises Reine Elizabeth’.
In all more than 8,000 guests were entertained over four days of festivities. Mrs de Guitaut, from the Royal Collection Trust, said the Queen toured the exhibition on Wednesday, adding: ‘She seemed very pleased.’ She added: ‘The exhibition brings together a magnificent display of dress and objects which are both unique and personal to The Queen and so redolent of the extraordinary events of Coronation Day. ‘The private footage in the Throne Room adds a unique dimension to the display of formal black and white portraits we are so familiar with.’
The Queen’s Coronation 1953 exhibition is being staged as part of Buckingham Palace’s annual summer public opening from July 27 to September 29.