Coronation robes through history

The king’s coronation will take place on May 6, in a ceremony steeped in 1,000 years of history.

Charles will be crowned with the historic St Edward’s Crown, the same with which his mother, Queen Elizabeth, was crowned.

Jewels will be the focus of the big day: the sacred coronation regalia, including the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross, Sovereign’s Orb and Coronation Spoon will be carried to Westminster Abbey from the Tower of London, but also royals are expected to wear sumptuous gowns.

How could they be? While there will be a modern update to proceedings, the extravagant gowns of past coronations may give us a glimpse into the royal aesthetic.

Coronation of George V

Queen Mary's coronation robe

Queen Mary (PA) Coronation Dress

For George V’s coronation in 1911, his wife Mary was in full regalia to be crowned queen.

She wore a cream silk satin gown with a cinched waist, square neckline, and three-quarter length sleeves, covered in intricate metallic embroidery, meaning the gown had an overall gold appearance.

“Queen Mary has taken a dutiful approach to royal life and this is reflected in her no-nonsense coronation gown,” said Rosie Harte, author of The Royal Wardrobe (Headline, £22, available 8 June).

“Crafted by court dressmaker Reville and Rossiter, the gown is fittingly cut in the style of the Princess line, a type of dress named after the previous queen consort.”

Queen Mary's coronation robe

Queen Mary (PA) Coronation Dress

Symbols of the British Empire were woven throughout the garment, with embroideries including the Tudor rose, thistle and shamrock, English oak leaves and waves on the hem representing the oceans linking the Empire.

Everything has been carefully considered, even the trim around the neckline, which is done in Irish lace.

Harte suggests the style was representative of the era. “The bodice is lined with fine boning to give it shape; Mary’s coronation dress was made at the end of one of the most extreme eras of corsetry and during her time as queen she would disappear from fashionable clothing altogether,” she explained.

The coronation of King George VI

King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (PA)

Following the abdication of his brother Edward VIII, George VI was crowned king in 1937.

The queen consort, Elizabeth, was crowned alongside her husband in a sleeveless gown reminiscent of Mary’s gown, with a similar neckline and gold embroidery.

“Although more than 20 years separated the coronation of George V and George VI, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon chose a dress identical to that of Queen Mary,” said Harte.

He said the design “is more streamlined,” but “there’s very little that sets it apart.”

He added: “Many people assumed this was the new uniform for coronation dress, and in 1953 most forecasters assumed that Elizabeth II would wear the same thing for her coronation.”

Created by court stylist Madame Handley-Seymour, who often made dresses for Mary, the embroidery similarly depicted various emblems of the kingdom.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with their daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret after the coronation

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with their daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret after the coronation (PA)

The then Princess Elizabeth was in attendance with her sister Princess Margaret. Elizabeth wore a cream gown with gold bow detailing, cap sleeves, and lace inserts, complemented by a purple robe and crown.

According to Harte, coronets are “small crowns worn by members of the nobility and royalty at coronations, the design of which indicates to persons what title the wearer holds.”

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II wears a gown designed by Norman Hartnell for her coronation.

Queen Elizabeth II (PA)

In 1953, Queen Elizabeth turned to her wedding dress designer for her coronation gown: couturier Norman Hartnell.

The white satin gown was all about opulence and was encrusted with diamonds, gold and silver bullion, seed pearls, crystals, pale amethysts, and sequins.

“This full-skirted Victorian-inspired dress is covered in thousands of colored crystals depicting the emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth,” Harte explained.

The Queen's coronation dress on display

The Queen’s coronation dress on display (Aaron Chown/PA)

“The crystals were originally clear, as Hartnell thought the dress should be all white, but Elizabeth argued in favor of making it coloured. There’s even a lucky four-leaf clover hidden in the design of the skirt.”

The Queen brought an all-white bouquet with orchids and lily of the valley from England, more orchids from Wales, stephanotis from Scotland and carnations from Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace following her coronation

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh (PA)

In her autobiography, Hartnell said she produced a total of nine sketches, with the Queen selecting the eighth but requesting that more color be added rather than just silver embroidery.

The final design, shown by Sir Norman to the Queen at Sandringham, included: the maple leaf for Canada; The wattle flower for Australia; the fern for New Zealand; the Protea for South Africa; lotus for India and Ceylon and wheat, cotton and jute for Pakistan.

The Queen remained monarch of Canada, Australia and New Zealand for the rest of her life and a number of other Commonwealth realms, but later South Africa, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and Pakistan became republics.

Elizabeth II was never queen of India, which became a republic before she took the throne, but the country remained part of the Commonwealth.

She was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, who wore the full naval uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet.

The Queen Mother waves after the coronation of her daughter Queen Elizabeth II

The Queen Mother (PA)

Hartnell has made dresses for all the principal female members of the royal family, including the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

Harte said the Queen Mother’s dress was “a complete transformation from her simple 1930s dress”.

She said: “Throughout her time as consort, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon has used fashion to transform herself into a fairy queen with romantic, flowing gowns.

“Norman Hartnell created this dramatic silk gown to reinforce his extravagant image, but also to remind people who the outgoing queen was. The design of the dress appears to open at the bottom to reveal a hem of sumptuous gold fabric.

Princess Margaret at Buckingham Palace following the coronation of her sister Queen Elizabeth II

Princess Margaret (PA)

Harte described Margaret’s clothing as “feminine and regal at the same time”.

She said: ‘Rather than royal emblems, her dress was embroidered with roses and daisy flowers in reference to her full name – Margaret Rose.

Norman Hartnell's original design for Princess Margaret's coronation dress

Norman Hartnell’s original design for Princess Margaret’s coronation dress (PA)

“She’s wearing a pretty tiara, the Cartier halo tiara worn by Kate [now Princess of Wales] on her wedding day, she stands in front of a crown.

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