Wednesday 12th May 1937 saw the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This was the day that had originally been chosen for the coronation of Edward VIII, before he abdicated. As a result the whole thing appears to have been quite a shambles behind the scenes.
All the planned images of ‘King Edward VIII’ were used with the equivalent of a modern day ‘PhotoShop’ job putting George’s face where Edwards would have been. On this day the staff on duty started work at 4am and the crowns and other regalia were brought to the Jerusalem Chamber – a part of the Deanery – at the crack of dawn. The guests began arriving at 6am, with many peers reported to be carrying sandwiches in their coronets! At 9.30 the procession of the Regalia started, going through the cloisters to the Abbey. Eye witnesses recalled that the overall impression in the Abbey was colour everywhere, with blue and gold hangings and carpets, and crimson robes and uniforms. Queen Mary and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret watched from the royal gallery while around 40 newsreel cameramen, all in full evening dress, were in the Abbey to capture the enthronement. Virtually all of the ceremony was broadcast live on the radio.
However – one of the clergy fainted; a bishop stepped on the king’s train – the King later recorded in his diary that ‘I had to tell him to get off it pretty sharply!’ and, to cap it all, Archbishop Cosmo Gordon Lang put his thumb over the words of the oath when the king was about to read it!
The coronation procession was shown as the first major outside broadcast by the BBC’s new television service. The Royal couple were briefed beforehand as to when and where they should wave so that the cameras caught them. Some 50,000 people were claimed to have watched that television broadcast – a broadcast described by commentator Freddie Grisewood.
George’s real name actually Albert but he assumed the regnal name “George VI” to emphasise continuity with his father and restore confidence in the monarchy. The beginning of George VI’s reign was taken up by many questions surrounding his predecessor and brother, whose titles, style and position were uncertain. He had been introduced as “His Royal Highness Prince Edward” for the abdication broadcast, but George VI felt that by abdicating and renouncing the succession, Edward had lost the right to bear royal titles, including “Royal Highness”. In settling the issue, George’s first act as king was to confer upon his brother the title “Duke of Windsor” with the style “Royal Highness”. However – the ‘letters patent’ creating the dukedom prevented any wife or children from bearing royal styles.
There were also other steps involved in the whole situation. For instance – King George VI was forced to buy from Edward the royal residences of Balmoral Castle and Sandringham House, as these were private properties and did not pass to King George VI automatically!
However – three days after his accession, on his 41st birthday – the new King George VI invested his wife, the new Queen Consort, with the Order of the Garter and a ‘new world’ began – a new world that would soon fall back into conflict caused by others.