Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Gown
With the day of the coronation set for June 2 1953 the bustle
of behind the scenes activity went on for some 16 months. Adequate seating,
television coverage and careful route planning might be the making of the day
for others, but for the Queen knowing her coronation robes would be comfortable
and safely fastened throughout the long arduous day was of vital
The new Queen had listened respectfully to her grandmother's
advice about designs for a Coronation gown, but she had firm ideas of her own,
especially of what it should not be. Her specifications to Norman Hartnell her
chosen British designer were that the coronation dress should be on the lines of her
wedding gown and be made of white satin. It was to be both regal and religious
without exaggeration of shape. With thoroughness, Hartnell researched the
history and tradition of Coronation dresses, visiting the London Museum and the
London Library and emerged with factual information.
The coronation gown had to stand out against a competitive background of colour and the
brilliance of precious gems. Such a dress would also be destined to be historic
and Hartnell wanted it to be his masterpiece that would appear as a great piece
of costume history.
His mind teamed with all the
possibilities from heraldic and floral emblems to thoughts of heavenly bodies
and centuries old religious vestments. The ideas flowed onto paper and he made
many trial sketches from which emerged eight painted designs. Together, the
Queen and Hartnell discussed the designs which ranged from severely simple to
The first coronation dress design was for a very simply styled
gown similar to that worn by
Queen Victoria at her Coronation. The only decoration on the white satin was
a Greek key design which formed an embroidered border on the hem and bodice.
The second design was a modern slim-fitting sheath gown, embroidered in gold
and trimmed with black and white ermine tails at the hemline. The Queen rejected
this as too form fitting.
The third was a crinoline style coronation dress of white satin, silver tissue and crusty
silver lace, the whole shimmering with crystals and diamante.
The fourth was white satin embroidered with Madonna and arum lilies and
encrusted with pendant pearls.
The fifth introduced colour and although the Queen was dubious about the
design of violets, roses and wheat, she liked the departure from the traditional
all white gown with just the addition of gold or silver.
The Queen very much approved of the sixth design which was the first of the
emblematic Ideas. Spreading branches of oak leaves with acorns, were embroidered
in gold, silver and copper bullion thread on a white satin background.
The seventh introduced the Tudor Rose of England, appliquéd in gold tissue
and softly padded amidst looped fringes of golden crystals against white satin.
Finally, the eighth design was a variation of the seventh, but incorporating
all the floral emblems of Great Britain. It pleased the Queen, but the fact
that it was embroidered in silver and crystal caused her to remark that it
closely resembled her wedding dress. Queen Victoria wore all white at her
Coronation, but she was only eighteen and unmarried, whereas the Queen would be
a twenty seven year old mother of two at her Coronation. The Queen thought the
latter design would be ideal if Hartnell could introduce some colour. In a short time
the necessary tints were applied and the coronation dress design was approved.
Then Prince Philip made the observation that his wife was Queen of the
Commonwealth as well as Great Britain, so Hartnell was asked to draw up a ninth
design which included the Dominion emblems. Hartnell juggled with the eleven
emblems until he arrived at a satisfactory arrangement within the design.
This is a sketch of the Coronation dress I
made from looking at Hartnell's drawing which showed the placement of
If you click the thumbnail and print it out you may use it in
school project class work as a Jubilee colouring picture of Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth 2nd's gown.
The Queen wore a Diadem to the Abbey before the coronation
(Copyright © 1977 -2007. This picture may not be used as
part of a CD or electronic device for sale purposes.) Click thumbnail.
also checked them with the Garter King of Anno and was horrified to discover
that the emblem for Wales was not a daffodil, but a dull vegetable, the leek.
The Garter flatly refused to allow the use of the daffodil. Hartnell finally
'borrowed' the leek on the cap of the Welsh Guards and his embroideresses
interpreted it into an attractive motif using fine silks and diamante. The leek
became a source of inspiration and most of the other emblems were interpreted in
the same way. With the completed emblem samples, Hartnell travelled to Sandringham where he showed the Queen his ninth design.
For England there was a Tudor Rose, embroidered in palest pink silk, pearls,
gold and silver bullion and rose diamante.
The Wales the Welsh Leek, embroidered in white silk with leaves of palest green silk,
was enhanced with diamante.
For Scotland the Thistle was worked in pale mauve silk
and amethysts. The calyx was embroidered in reseda green
silk, silver thread and diamante dewdrops.
The Irish emblem, the Shamrock, was embroidered in soft green silk, silver
thread, bullion and diamante.
For Canada, the Maple Leaf was worked in green silk embroideries, veined in
crystal and bordered with gold bullion.
The Australian Wattle flower, was, after countless attempts, successfully
achieved with fuzzy mimosa yellow wool and green and gold foliage.
The Fern of New Zealand was embroidered in straight stitches using soft green
silk and veined in silver and crystal.
The South African Protea was embroidered in shaded pink silk, each petal
bordered with silver thread. The leaves of shaded green silk were embellished
with rose diamante.
The Lotus flower of India was worked in seed pearls and diamante, and mother
of pearl embroidered petals, whilst the Lotus flower of Ceylon was of opals,
mother of pearl, diamante and soft green silk.
Pakistan's three emblems are Wheat, Cotton and Jute. The Wheat was in
oat-shaped diamante and fronds of golden crystal. The Jute was embroidered as a
spray of leaves in green silk and golden thread. Finally, the Cotton blossom was
worked in silver with leaves of green silk.
The Queen liked the interpretation of each emblem and asked only that the
green of the Shamrock be subdued.
Once Hartnell had the Queen's approval, work commenced on
the white satin which had been obtained from Lady Hart Dyke's silk farm at
Lullington Castle. Six
embroideresses worked in utmost secrecy and all involved on the project were
closely surveilled until Coronation day.
By Christmas the Coronation dress, constructed by three girls, was ready for
its first fitting. Madame Isabelle, who was in charge of the construction of the
dress, had experienced some difficulties in getting the weighty bejewelled skirt
to fall correctly. On its wooden model the skirt of the dress swung to one side.
She solved the problem by backing the silk fabric with cream taffeta throughout
and reinforced it with three layers of horsehair. The additional support not
only solved the problem, but also gave the skirt a certain stability which
dispersed the weight of -the beading over the whole of the bell-shape, making it
as light as air to wear.
As the Coronation drew nearer the Queen and her six Maids of Honour rehearsed
the scenes that lay ahead. With a lengthy piece of sheeting attached to the
Queen's shoulders, representing the velvet train, they rehearsed folding,
holding, halting, walking and getting in and out of a mock coach made of an
arrangement of chairs. The Imperial State Crown was also secretly taken to
Buckingham Palace, where the Queen wore the seven pound crown for the best part
of a day. She wore It at her desk, for afternoon tea and to read the newspaper.
This helped her to become accustomed to the shape, weight and balance of it.
other rehearsals were trial and error make-up experiments on a model of similar
looks and colouring as the Queen. These experiments eventually produced a
make-up that would look equally well under the bright yellow lighting of the
television arc lamps in the Abbey, as in the rose-tinted lighting of the State
Coach. The make-up also had to look just as suitable with the crimson robe the
Queen was to wear on her way to the Abbey and look equally good with the purple
velvet robe she would be wearing on the return journey.
Three days before the Coronation, Hartnell delivered the Coronation gown to
When the Queen tried it on she used one word to describe it - 'Glorious'. Unknown to her, Hartnell had embroidered an extra four-leaved
Shamrock on the left side of her dress - a small omen for good fortune - which
the Queen's left hand would often touch throughout the day.
Left - The Queen
in her Coronation Robes.
As dawn broke on Coronation day people were preparing in their
own ways for a very special day whether in town or country or in London. There
the streets were lined with well wishers and loyal subjects keen to see history
made and be part of an atmosphere that falls so rarely in a lifetime for us all.
Millions in the UK and elsewhere in the world watched the
Coronation on a friend or
neighbour's small screen black and white television set. For millions it was the first time they ever saw
television and shortly after sales of television sets in the UK boomed, bringing
ideas and fashions to the masses.
At the Abbey, on Coronation Day June 2nd 1953, guests had been arriving since early morning, so
that by 8.30 a.m. the doors were closed for the first of the Royal processions
which included Royalty from home and abroad. Hartnell had dressed the whole of
the British Royal Family, the Maids of Honour and the Ladies of the Bedchamber.
All were treated as a theatre cast, with the Queen as leading lady and the Abbey
as the background set.
Right - The Maids of Honour and
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
As the Royal processions of H. R. H. Duchess of Kent, H. R. H. Princess Alexandra, H. R. H. Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother
each arrived, each one gave the impression of being more magnificent than the
former, so that they set the scene for the Queen's procession.
Left - The royal relatives with the newly crowned
Her Majesty the Queen
Shortly before 11 a.m. the Queen arrived at the Abbey. She was
assisted by six Maids of Honour, each Maid wearing white satin, embroidered with
pearl blossoms and trails of small golden leaves.
The Maids carried
the six-yard long Robe of State of Crimson Velvet which was attached to the
Queen's shoulders. The robe, often incorrectly called the Parliament Robe, is a
crimson velvet mantle edged with ermine and two rows of hand-made embroidered
gold lace and gold filigree work. The robe was made by Messrs. Ede and
Ravenscroft of Chancery Lane, London. The velvet had been hand-woven
by Warners of Braintree, Essex, from silk supplied by Lady Hart Dyke of Lullington
Hand-weaving of velvet is now a very rare process today as power-driven machinery has
superseded this operation in most places. The traditional design of the robe was
modified so that the robe would be narrower in width at the shoulders and show
the splendid Coronation gown to advantage, whilst, at the same time relieving
the Queen of some of the mantle's weight.
Promptly at 11 a. m. the Coronation ceremony commenced, and as the moment of
anointing drew nearer the six Maids of Honour disrobed the Queen of her Robe of
Crimson Velvet and removed her jewellery.
Removed of all vain-glorious
possessions, the Queen's magnificent dress was covered with a plain white linen
robe called a colobium sindonis. Hartnell designed the starkly simple dress, devoid of lace or embellishment, to cover completely the
short-sleeved, heart-necklined gown.
The sun-ray pleated pure white colobium sindonis dress
fastened at the back like a pinafore. Hartnell, who always considered the
practicalities of dressing Royalty knew that a zip could fail at a critical
moment and be difficult to manipulate by the gloved hands of the Mistress of the
Robes. Wisely, he chose to incorporate large buttonholes with equally large
buttons. At the moment of robing and disrobing there was no fumbling. Right
- The Queen wearing the
simple Colobium Sindonis dress.
Coronation dress had a zip-fastener down the back plus the additional support of
a series of tiny hooks and eyes, in case of a zip failure. It's little details like this that make Royal ceremonies flow so smoothly.
The ceremony continued, throughout which the Queen was continually robed and
disrobed, according to ancient custom.
Finally, disrobed of all liturgical and
ceremonial vestments she donned the exquisite Robe of Purple Velvet before
leaving Westminster Abbey. Like the Robe of State, this 6 yard train was made by
Ede and Ravenscroft and woven at Warners of Braintree. It was also cut on
narrower lines to allow the Coronation gown to be shown off and reduce the
burden of weight. Unlike the Robe of Crimson Velvet, the Robe of Purple Velvet
was not lined throughout with ermine, but with white silk instead. Again this
reduced the weight further.
Ermine was used to line only the edge of the robe and to make the cape; the
skins having been specially obtained from Canada, one of the Commonwealth
countries. The Royal School of Needlework was responsible for the embroidery
worked in gold bullion thread and the design is a simple one which has been
beautifully executed. Ears of Wheat with leaves and stalks intertwine down both
sides of the train, culminating in a solid gold embroidered crown with the symbol E. R.
I was fortunate to be able to see this magnificent work of art at a special
Silver Jubilee Exhibition at the Royal College of Art in London. The purple velvet was so
luxurious that it took my breath away. Despite many other wonderful exhibits,
this Robe of Purple Velvet was the 'piece de resistance' of the exhibition.
People kept returning to look at the exquisite embroidery gold bullion raised
high amid the deep deep velvety pile. It was so sumptuous and a beautiful
To my way of thinking, this rich purple velvet robe far surpassed the beauty of
the Queen's Coronation gown which was also on display in the London Museum at
the time of my visit. The embroidery on the Coronation gown is very very pastel
with only the merest, most subtle trace of colour and the overall effect is of a
glass like iridescence. The picture of the Queen in her full regalia shows the
correct colour of the beading and depicts the dress exactly as it must have been
the day the photograph was taken. There is no doubt that a garment like this can
only be truly appreciated on the moving human form with the beadwork shimmering
and shifting in the light.
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In every coronation film I've ever seen I can only think how majestic
and poised the youthful Queen looked on her
Coronation day. That the day had been a huge success must have been obvious to
the Royal Family and the fact that 50 years has passed since the event will this
year make it an event to celebrate throughout the UK.
The Golden Jubilee meant that Museums, Libraries, Schools and Galleries nationwide
had displays relating to Royalty and royal clothes. If you are a royal fan
make the most of any opportunity you get to see exhibitions of this nature. It seems that
as the years move on and interest in the Royal family wanes within the UK there will
be less chance to experience celebrations of this type and such showcase
presentations of pomp and circumstance.
Looking for a colouring in picture -
Golden Jubilee Colouring In
Coronation Dress Picture
Link to State
Apartments, Kensington Palace web site where royal ceremonial robes are
Note - This page on the Queen's Coronation
dress is based on some content taken from a dissertation called:
Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth II - The Splendour Of Regal Wear
which I wrote in 1978. The dissertation looked at the symbolism behind
the decorative embellishment on ceremonial dresses worn by the Queen and
how the decoration on those dresses could be used as a starting point to
create fresh new design ideas.
Go straight back to Hartnell's Design
of the Queen's Wedding Dress
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