On June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was formally crowned monarch of the United Kingdom in a lavish ceremony steeped in traditions that date back a millennium. A thousand dignitaries and guests attended the coronation at London’s Westminster Abbey, and hundreds of millions listened on the radio and for the first time watched the proceedings on live television.
Elizabeth, born in 1926, was the first-born daughter of Prince George, the second son of King George V. Her grandfather died in 1936, and her uncle was proclaimed King Edward VIII.
Later that year, however, Edward was forced to abdicate over the controversy surrounding his decision to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, an American divorcee, resulting in Elizabeth’s father being proclaimed King George VI in his place.
During the Battle of Britain, then Princess Elizabeth and her only sibling, Princess Margaret, lived away from London in the safety of the countryside, but their parents endeared themselves to their subjects by remaining in bomb-damaged Buckingham Palace throughout the German air offensive. Later in the war, Elizabeth trained as a second lieutenant in the women’s services and drove and repaired military trucks.
In 1947, she married her distant cousin, Philip Mountbatten, a former prince of Greece and Denmark who renounced his titles in order to marry Elizabeth. He was made Duke of Edinburgh on the eve of the wedding.
The celebrations surrounding the wedding of the popular princess lifted the spirits of the people of Britain, who were enduring economic difficulties in the aftermath of World War II. Their first child, Prince Charles, was born in 1948 at Buckingham Palace. A second, Princess Anne, was born in 1950. On February 6, 1952, the royal couple were in Kenya in the midst of a goodwill tour when they learned the king had died.
Elizabeth was immediately proclaimed Britain’s new monarch but remained in seclusion for the first three months of her reign as she mourned her father.
During the summer of 1952, she began to perform routine duties of the sovereign, and in November she carried out her first state opening of the Parliament. On June 2, 1953, her coronation was held at Westminster Abbey.
In more than six decades of rule, Queen Elizabeth II’s popularity has hardly subsided. She has travelled more extensively than any other British monarch. Although she has begun to hand off some official duties to her children, notably Charles, the heir to the throne, she has given no indication that she intends to abdicate.