In the final part of her series on the monarchy Molly Pollock compares ostentatious wealth displayed at the coronation with post war inequality, but also a time without food banks.
The Coronation Oath – rewrite required
The coronation oath was taken by Elizabeth, in which she swore to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, and of her Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs. Also she promised to maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law and to maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England.
Interesting, given that Scotland’s laws and customs are being overridden and that even the future of our nation is in doubt under the present UK government. Upholding Protestantism would now be anathema to most in our multicultural, multi religion Britain, not only to Catholics, long appallingly excluded, but to those of other and no religions also, and certainly would be alien to human rights legislation. A major reworking of the text will surely be required for the next coronation whenever that comes.
The Queen was presented with the golden spurs, the symbol of chivalry, a jewelled sword, and then the armills, the golden bracelets of sincerity and wisdom, then the Queen put on the stole and cloth of gold Robe Royal and received the orb (a globe of gold surrounded by a cross girdled by a band of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphire and pearls with a large amethyst at the summit), the coronation ring, the glove, and then the sceptre.
For her return journey to Buckingham Place the queen had yet another outfit – the newly-made Purple Robe of Estate. Embroidered in silk with the cipher of the Queen and with a border of wheat ears and olive branches, the robe took 3,500 hours to complete by a team of 12 seamstresses from the Royal School of Needlework. The Imperial State Crown was substituted for the Edward Crown.
Meanwhile in Scotland…
Celebrations in Scotland
Scotland celebrated the day along with England, of course we did, though perhaps in a slightly more muted manner. It was 1953 after all and unionism remained strong. The Tories were still the Unionists (at a local council level calling themselves Progressives) and it would be another twelve years before the Unionist Party came under the control of the Conservative Party in England.
Red, white and blue bunting and union flags were in abundance, decorating the facades of decaying housing as well as smart shops in city centres. Though not even these could brighten the backcourts of the slums, children in hand-me-down clothes clutched small union flags and waved them bravely. The incongruous sights brought wan smiles to the creased and disillusioned faces of those who eeked out a living in the precious union of the United Kingdom.
People avidly watched the TV and news reports in the cinemas, bought the souvenirs and the colourful books. But there were some who quibbled. The title of Queen Elizabeth II didn’t sit well with many Scots who argued that Scotland had never had an Elizabeth 1 and that as the new Queen was the first Elizabeth of the UK then she should be styled as the first. A few tempers ran high, and when new pillar boxes with EIIR appeared some were vandalised or blown up. Since then postboxes and vans in Scotland carry only the styling of ER with no numeral, surmounted by the Scottish instead of the English crown. In many cases the old post boxes were left and remain to this day.
Three weeks after the coronation on the 24th June 1953 the Honours of Scotland (the crown, the sceptre and the sword) were carried before the Queen in a procession from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles Cathedral where a service of thanksgiving was held. According to Wikipedia: ‘Keen to avoid the service being interpreted as a Scottish coronation, Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister, advised the Queen to dress with relative informality.’ That was the extent of the Queen’s coronation in Scotland with the Scottish Regalia paraded up the Royal Mile. Equal partners?
There was a visit to a packed Hampden Park in Glasgow for what was called a youth rally. Tickets had been difficult to obtain. Expectation was high, as high as a hotly contended football match. But no coronation coach. Instead the Queen and Prince Phillip were driven in a large black car around the park. No silks or satins either, just a plain, possibly dark grey, fitted dress and duster coat, prompting the comment that she looked as if she’d just nipped out for the messages.
Yes, Scotland has changed in the past seventy years.
The Honours of Scotland
Though difficult to believe from the scenes in Westminster Abbey, the Honours of Scotland are the oldest regalia in the British Isles, first used together to crown the infant Mary Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle in 1543. The Honours have been hidden three times. Firstly in the mid-17th century to keep them safe from Oliver Cromwell when hidden at Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire, then smuggled out during a siege and buried in Kinneff parish church for nine years until the monarchy was restored in 1660.
Following the Union of the Crowns the Honours were used at sittings of the Scottish Parliament to represent the monarch. After the Treaty of Union in 1707, they were locked away in a chest in Edinburgh Castle and forgotten about for over 100 years until 1818 when pressure from Sir Walter Scott brought about a search for them in the castle. During the Second World War they were hidden again for fear of a Nazi invasion.
The Honours are now kept company in Edinburgh Castle by the Stone of Destiny which in an effort to stem the tide of Scottish nationalism was returned to Scotland amid much pomp and ceremony on St Andrews Day, 30 November 1996.
It has now been decided by the Scottish Government that the Stone will return home to Perthshire as the centrepiece of a new £26.5m museum. Construction work on the new museum at Perth City Hall is due to start this month, with the museum scheduled to open in 2024. Will its return to Westminster be demanded for the next coronation, a condition set by the Queen for its return to Scotland, or will Charles decide he can manage without the ‘Wee Magic Stane’?
Since the 2nd June 1953 the UK has joined and then left the European Union. People from the EU came to study and stay, often marrying and raising families. People from former British colonies have made their homes here, turning Britain into a multicultural society, changing much in our lives from the food we eat to the music we listen to, to the voices and accents we hear in our everyday lives, and to the countries we decide to visit, work and often live in.
The Britain of today is not the Britain of 1953. The excitement and hope that crackled in the air then have leached away, been trodden on, tossed aside. The Thatcher years wreaked havoc with our industries, throwing many on the scrapheap, making lives intolerable for youngsters unable to find work. The poll tax caused irreparable damage, fuelling lasting bitterness.
Today the thrill of a beckoning new era has gone, aspirations have narrowed from anything is possible to anything is acceptable providing it benefits me and to hell with others. Brexit Britain now looks to many like a sad, self-centred, introverted society, causing enormous harm to itself by its isolation whilst still pretending to be at the top of the table instead of below the salt. [The term ‘below the salt’ is from medieval times where salt, a precious commodity, was placed in the middle of the dining table. According to the social hierarchy of nobility those seated below the salt were therefore regarded as of lowly standing and rank, of little regard.]
Our Scottish Parliament, which we voted for overwhelmingly in 1997, is now under threat. It’s far more popular than Westminster, more in touch with the desires of those who live in Scotland, yet the English majority at Westminster thinks it knows best. Insists we follow in its footsteps.
Who knows what the next few years will bring. The neutering or even closing of Holyrood? The privatisation of our health and care services? The ending of free university education? The U.K. government is determined to subsume Scotland into greater England, destroying our culture and way of life.
So much for the Queen’s coronation oath about governing according to the respective laws and customs of the countries under her rule. And how did her comment a few days before the 2014 referendum asking people in Scotland to think carefully before they voted comply with that oath?
A look into the future
An uncertain future
As the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation approaches, austerity grips yet again along with fear for the future, for the known and unknown. We know life will get harder for most under this Tory government and its hard Brexit. We don’t yet know quite how far they will go. In 1953, despite rationing and the ravages of war there were no such things as foodbanks. The first was established in the UK, a supposedly prosperous country, in 2020. Latest figures estimate there are now over 2200. Our main hope is that we can escape the worst of what is now being created by the Tory government by achieving independence.
There will always be those whose undying fealty will be to the monarchy, who enjoy looking up to their monarchs, putting them on a high pedestal, uncritically lauding them, believing they are special. Their expectation is that their rulers will be superior and rich without question, that the monarchy is an integral part of the British democracy, though many concede it could be modernised to become more like those in, for instance, the Scandinavian countries.
The more egalitarian will question the need for such a form of feudalism remaining in the 21st century, swaying towards republicanism where more equality is in evidence and where the people and not a few chosen by birth are in charge, where an elected president more in touch with the realities of everyday life would better convey the wishes of the majority, and could be changed if their words and deeds no longer reflected that. Most would probably opt for the Irish rather than the American system.
Will there be flags and bunting?
Come the next coronation will there be flags and bunting in Scotland’s streets? Quite likely, but probably nothing like in 1953, though many remain supportive of the monarchy. That, of course may change as the monarch changes. Scots are now more assertive of their nationhood, with the saltire largely replacing the union flag. People want more equality though the division between rich and poor has become wider. The UK according to the OECD had among the highest levels of income inequality in the European Union. Per person the UK is the poorest country in north-west Europe and is becoming increasingly poorer with the wealth gap doubling from -7.6% in 2000 to -16.3% in 2021. Only a select number could avail themselves of Russian finance and the lifestyles that went with it.
It’s already been announced that Charles’ coronation will be a scaled down affair.
“[The ceremony] will be shorter, sooner, smaller, less expensive and more representative of different community groups and faiths.”
Just as well it’s to be scaled down as Rishi Sunak will be reluctant to open his Treasury purse for much unless a significant financial return can be proved. A man unwilling to keep people safe and who demands the end of free coronavirus tests is unlikely to view a mass extravaganza with equilibrium. Given that the Queen’s coronation is said to have cost £43,427,400 at 2019 prices, it’s unlikely Brexit Britain could afford much more than a paltry wee ceremony anyway. The glitz and glamour of 1953 will have lost its sheen and much of its appeal. The Queen’s coronation truly was a coronation like no other.
For many the only celebration to look forward to now is on independence day. Until then we circle the wagons and look after one another.
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