Coronation is the ultimate pocket-sized companion to what has become an exclusively British preoccupation, (the last European crowning was in 1922). There is no better guide to Elizabeth’s 1953 bonanza than royal biographer Hugo Vickers whose up close and personal relationship with the House of Windsor makes him the finest living connoisseur of the six stages of a coronation. Not to be mistaken with the seven stages of man, although King Charles may well feel like he has entered his seventh stage by the time he comes out the other side of anointing, investiture, enthronement, homage…I could go on, but much better I hand you to Hugo whose dinky book serves up a smorgasbord of delights from seventy years ago.
With a knowing tone that stays just the right side of gossipy Coronation, The Crowning of Elizabeth II dances up to and across the late Queen’s big day. The Stone of Scone (still in Scotland at the time of writing – please keep it away from Nicola Sturgeon’s husband!), the Declaration of Faith (taken immediately after the oath by all accounts) and the Duke of Norfolk plus long-suffering wife Lavina are all placed in helpful context. But the chronology and history does not inhibit Hugo’s penchant for an anecdote – apparently divorced peers were welcomed by the Earl Marshal with a dismissive, “This is a Coronation, not Royal Ascot!”, £1100 was the budget for extra lavatories in the Palace of Westminster and over in New York two thousand people an hour filed past a giant model of the coronation coach and horses at Rockefeller Plaza. (America has always been a little envious of our constitutional tinsel and tiaras).
This book is gentle time-travel, with a side hustle in liturgies, hierarchies, monarchies and television rights. You will stop wondering why we are having another coronation when you take Coronation to bed and instead wake up wishing you could have been part of the ultimate party in 1950s London. By my calculation Hugo, like the King, is just about old enough to remember it.
Coronation: The Crowning of Elizabeth II is available now and published by The Dovecote Press. Dr Tessa Dunlop is a broadcaster and historian and the author of Elizabeth & Philip.