The coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth and as Emperor and Empress of India took place at Westminster Abbey, London, on 12 May 1937. King George ascended the throne upon the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, on 10 December 1936, three days before his 41st birthday. Edward’s coronation had been planned for 12 May 1937 and it was decided to continue with his brother and sister-in-law’s coronation on the same date.
Although the music included a range of new anthems and the ceremony underwent some alterations to include the Dominions, it remained a largely conservative affair and closely followed the ceremonial of King George V’s coronation in 1911. The ceremony began with the anointing of the King, symbolising his spiritual entry into kingship, and then his crowning and enthronement, representing his assumption of temporal powers and responsibilities. The peers of the realm then paid homage to the King before a shorter and simpler ceremony was conducted for the Queen’s coronation. The return procession to Buckingham Palace was over six miles in length, making it the longest coronation procession up to that time; crowds of people lined the streets to watch it, over thirty-two thousand soldiers took part and twenty thousand police officers lined the route. The coronation was commemorated by the issuing of official medals, coinage, and stamps, by military parades across the Empire, and by numerous unofficial celebrations, including street parties and the production of memorabilia.
The event was designed to be not only a sacred anointing and formal crowning, but also a public spectacle, which was also planned as a display of the British Empire. May 1937 included a programme of royal events lasting nearly the entire month to commemorate and mark the occasion. In the lead up to the coronation, guests from across the Empire and around the world assembled on Buckingham Palace and official receptions were held to welcome them; amongst those attending were Indian princes and, for the first time, native African royalty. For the event itself, the prime ministers of each Dominion took part in the procession to the abbey, while representatives of nearly every country attended. Contingents from most colonies and each Dominion participated in the return procession through London’s streets.
The media played an important part in broadcasting this show of pageantry and imperialism to the Empire, which marked George and Elizabeth’s coronation as an important event in the history of television, being the world’s first major outside broadcast. It was also the first coronation to be filmed, as well as the first to be broadcast on radio.