Rationing and Revelry: The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II review contains affiliate links
Today we have a guest poster for this month’s royalty reading challenge, my friend Melissa. She is reviewing Rationing and Revelry: The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953 , by Janie Hampton.
Long to Rain O’er Us
Its Coronation Day. The preparations have been made, the invitations have been sent, the dress is perfect, the jewels are sparkling. It should be a perfect day—every princess deserves it, right? Fifty years ago, a real princess awoke to a real coronation day that was gray and raining and chilly, but somehow it still turned out the perfect day. It must have been Princess magic.
Coming of age in war-torn England, a veteran of the blitz herself, Elizabeth was raised for a life of service and with the expectation that dignity and grace should always rule the day. Crowds of people, hungry for a little star-power and a reason to celebrate had camped in the streets for days that June day in 1953, in hope of catching sight of the new Queen as she made her way to Westminster Abbey. In the few years since the end of World War II, the people of the British Isles were still under heavy austerity measures–rationing, reconstruction necessary from the bombing of England was still underway and the much beloved King George VII had just died. There had not been much to celebrate for some time. But finally the day had come and the new Queen delivered the pomp and circumstance necessary and a genuine reason for her war-weary people to genuinely celebrate.
In the last years of the reign of George VII, Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, were the closest thing England had to bona fide stardom. Although she had been born third in line to the throne, and as a child, no one had expected her to ever be a front line royal, that all changed when Elizabeth was 10 years old and her father inherited the throne from his brother Edward, who, chose Mrs. Simpson instead of the kingdom. As Elizabeth grew into young womanhood, she was the serious young royal, but a trend setter too. She was discreetly photographed and set fashion trends — her choice to wear khaki socks with her Girl Guide uniform changed the uniform for the entirety of the British Empire. It is astonishing as well to realize that Queen Elizabeth was and still is the single-most photographed and recognizable woman in the world. She is an icon and emblem of all things British, and has been so for many, many years, predating even her time as Queen.
In the post-Diana age of strobing paparazzi cameras, it’s hard to imagine a time when the BBC struggled to figure out the boundary between good taste and good coverage. But so it did happen in 1953 on the eve of Elizabeth’s coronation. How much coverage, who should do the commentary–if indeed anyone should do it at all– and how intrusive could and should the cameras be were significant issues facing the BBC. Sometimes the discussion was at the direction of the Queen herself, who knew that in a new technological era, it would be imprudent to shut the television out. It’s funny to realize how cutting-edge with regard to media coverage the young queen was.The Kindle Single book, Rationing and Revelry: The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953 , by Janie Hampton, is a short tribute to a war-weary people who looked to the monarchy for stability and celebration, and to the monarch who delivered on that promise. Of course, many of us today weren’t there to remember the events of the day, and we aren’t British anyway. For those of us who love all things royal, however, Hampton sets the day in perspective and gives an insider look at both the ceremony itself as well as how Coronation Day played out to the commoners, many of whom watched television for the very first time to catch the events as they unfolded live.
I was surprised to learn of the rain that day. As the Queen traveled down the London parade route, full of the most appropriately solemn dignity, the rain might have dampened the spirit of the crowd, but it didn’t. The crowds cheered at the dignitaries, riding in their landau coaches, and at the band that played Waltzing Matilda for the Aussies, and for the foreigners who came to share the occasion. Among those dignitaries, however, there was one unexpected surprise. The loudest and longest cheering (some said it was even louder than for the new Queen) was reserved for the Queen of Tonga. A 300 pound Polynesian woman, Queen Salote of Tonga rode in an open carriage, shrugging off the rain. Smiling at everyone, she was joyful, dismissive of the pelting rain, and waving madly at the crowd. One onlooker said, “You could see she wasn’t going to let a small thing like the rain ruin the day. We didn’t know who she was, but we still loved her.” She captured the feelings of the Londoners and the mood of the day like no one else. She gave vent to the jubilation of the crowd and made the day uniquely exotic and celebratory.
This short book captures the feelings of an era when modern life was just coming into focus. Television was still a novelty and not widespread. Those families who did own a television threw open their homes to their neighbors to share the day. Children gathered and played outdoors, while the adults ate goodies that hadn’t been seen in English homes for many years—cakes, pastries, and an abundance that made the happy day truly a holiday. Well-wishers from around the globe shared in the day, but not live. The Australians had to wait for specially-created newsreels to be delivered via air mail. Americans and Canadians saw the coronation, also on specially air-mailed film. I don’t suppose they would have imagined a day in which I went to youtube and watched all those long-ago coronation videos, archived for a completely different era and place. (And yes, I did do that, and yes, I LOVED watching them, and yes, it made reading the book even better!)
With the perspective that fifty-plus years gives us, there are those who criticize the Queen today and the royal family for being “too expensive”. I suppose we have forgotten how devastating World War II was and as Americans, I believe we had a very different war-time experience anyway, that the Londoners who were pounded by the loss of architecture, humanity, and dignity. The British use the Royal Family—then as now—as a defining paradigm of what it means to be British. Through thick and thin, the Queen has maintained her dignity for the most part. Sometimes it does rain on a Princess’s day, but the Queen has remained a stalwart champion of service, dignity and grace. And for my 2 cents worth, I think the British get more for their money from the Royal Family sometimes than Americans get from our Presidential families.
Thanks, Melissa, for a fascinating look at the Queen’s coronation! Join us April 1 for a wrap-up of royalty reading month. If you’re planning to join in, keep reading … 🙂