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Monday, May 20, 2024

From the Archives: The history of the coronation and royal drama

“From the Archives” is an opportunity for various writers to visit the Middlebury Special Collections and write about a different artifact each week. The Special Collections boasts hundreds of thousands of historic items, and through this column we encourage writers to explore not only the college’s history, but also the history of the world around us. 

May 6 will mark the first royal British coronation in 70 years with the crowning of Charles III; Queen Elizabeth II, who died this past September, was crowned on June 2, 1953. Due to Queen Elizabeth II’s enduring reign, those of us who are not avid fans of “The Crown” may be unsure of what to expect from a coronation ceremony. Thankfully, “Long Live the Queen!”, a pop-up book from 1953, provides us with the answers. Purchased by Middlebury Special Collections from a rare bookshop in Bath, UK, this veritable guide to the coronation ceremony follows the journey of two young children, John and Ann, who travel to London with their uncle to watch the crowning of Elizabeth II.  

The book begins with a delicately painted pop-up of Buckingham Palace, which Ann and John learn was built for and named after the Duke of Buckingham. Each following page contains whimsical, hand-painted imagery of London’s most venerated monuments, such as Whitehall, Big Ben and Trafalgar Square. At each monument, Ann and John learn coronation factoids such as the procession route, attendees and other traditions. Each page also educates the reader on key British history, Ann and John learn about everything from the defeat of Oliver Cromwell’s army to the origins of the British flag as they meander through London’s streets. 

The book concludes as John and Ann watch Elizabeth’s royal coach as it travels to Westminster Abbey, the sacred site of coronation. As the coach passes by, their uncle explains what will happen once the queen has reached the Abbey. First, “The Recognition” occurs, where the Queen stands before the congregation while the Archbishop proclaims her as the “heir to the crown.” The Archbishop will then ask the congregation to voice their allegiance to the Queen to which they must shout their approval as loudly as possible. Next, the Queen will be anointed with holy oil and presented with finery before finally taking a seat in the Coronation Chair for her official crowning. 

Ann and John listen in awe to their uncle’s explanation, as they eagerly wait for the royal coach to return to Buckingham Palace laden with the freshly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. However, while the book espouses unabashed excitement and unity surrounding the coronation, the tone of King Charles’ upcoming coronation is far from that. 

Within the royal family, drama abounds over invitations to the royal ceremony. Prince Harry (King Charles’ son), who has stoked tensions with his family through his recent memoir “Spare,” only RSVP’d this past Saturday, despite being invited months ago. Speculation over his delayed response points to him being invited through email rather than physical invitation. And although Harry is grudgingly attending, his wife, Megan Markle, will stay in Los Angeles, which is unsurprising to many given the racism and disrespect she has endured from the royal family.

Another contentious invitation is that of Prince Andrew, Charles’ younger brother, who was embroiled in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal and accused of sexual assault of a minor. These allegations forced Andrew to step back from his royal duties and have his title of “ royal highness” revoked in 2019. Although Andrew has committed to attending the coronation, he has been barred from participating in the ceremony, which has reportedly left him “furious.” 

In other shocking news, President Biden has declined his invitation to the coronation and will be sending his wife in his stead. Because President Biden attended Queen Elizabeth’s funeral but has not met with Charles since Elizabeth’s death, this could suggest some tension between the two leaders.

This coronation has further caused a buzz as Charles may be the first-ever monarch to be publicly anointed. The most sacred aspect of the coronation occurs when the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the monarch with holy oil, a practice that has never been seen by the public, as the monarch traditionally enters a private canopy for this portion of the ceremony. Although there has been no official word from Buckingham Palace as to whether Charles’ anointment will be private or not, he has officially requested a canopy with a see-through top for this part of the coronation, hinting that the public may be privy to his anointing. 

Finally, controversy over the continued existence of a monarch has intensified in recent months with Charles suffering multiple public “eggings.” Anti-monarchist sentiment is likely to crescendo during the coronation, with demonstration groups already announcing plans for peaceful protests in Parliament Square during the coronation. 

Evidently, much has changed since John and Ann watched Queen Elizabeth II pass by in her royal coach. A slew of factors have tainted the quaint excitement captured in “Long Live the Queen!” However, because of its dated nature, this pop-up book offers a lens into the psyche of the British citizenry, acting as a conduit to a simpler time, one filled with rich watercolor and impressive pop-ups.


Tulip Larson

Tulip Larson ‘25 (she/her) is an Arts & Culture Editor. 

She also serves as an Arts & Culture writer, mainly writing for the "From the Archives" column that highlights an item from Middlebury's Special Collections each week. In her spare time, Tulip enjoys playing music in her on-campus band and exploring Vermont.  

Tulip is an English major and and Art History minor. 


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