Gyles Brandreth

The comedy of the Queen’s coronation

[Getty Images]

Once, years ago, making small talk with Elizabeth II, I asked her if it was true that many peers attending her coronation in 1953 had taken sandwiches into Westminster Abbey hidden inside their coronets. ‘Oh, yes,’ she said. ‘They were in the abbey for something like six hours, you know. The Archbishop of Canterbury even had a flask of brandy tucked inside his cassock.’ Apparently, His Grace offered Her Majesty a discreet nip, but she declined.

When I pressed the Queen for any amusing recollections of the great day, she did recall the moment, after the crowning, when England’s premier baron, William Stourton (22nd Baron Stourton, 26th Baron Segrave and 25th Baron Mowbray), came forward to pay homage. As the noble lord, whose titles dated back to 1283, when Edward I was king, retreated backwards from the throne, the poor fellow almost fell over. ‘His robe – which had been used by generations of the family – bunched up around him, with moth balls and pieces of ermine flying all over the place.’ This could explain why the peers in attendance this weekend were initially instructed not to dig out the family coronation robes. At the last minute, they have been allowed to dress as they please, but advised to check for moth balls first.

Elizabeth II certainly remembered the best quip from the day. She only heard about it afterwards, but it made her laugh out loud. Crowned heads from around the world came to London for the event and one of them was Queen Salote of Tonga. She was a magnificent lady, aged 53 in 1953, very tall (6ft 3in) and splendidly built. She travelled to the abbey in an open carriage sitting opposite the comparatively diminutive Sultan of Kelantan.

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