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Queen Elizabeth II Discusses 'The Coronation'
January 14, 2018  | By David Hinckley
 

Queen Elizabeth II is never going to sparkle on the talk show circuit.

Still, watching Britain’s longest serving monarch discuss the Crown Jewels provides a unique moment Sunday at 8 p.m. ET (and repeated throughout the week) when the Smithsonian channel unveils The Coronation.

The hour-long special, roughly tied to June’s 65th anniversary of Elizabeth II’s own coronation, spends much of its time talking about Britain’s most extravagant tradition.

While many countries have monarchs, no others welcome them with the pomp and circumstance of the Brits.

Elizabeth’s coronation on June 2, 1953, was preceded by 16 months of planning, from the meticulous rehearsal of the ceremony to the construction of grandstands for some two million parade-route viewers.

Westminster Abbey, which has hosted the coronations of  39 kings and queens going back to the 11th century, was closed for the six months preceding the ceremony so a railroad track could be laid down the center to facilitate the elaborate rituals.

For this show Queen Elizabeth does a rare sit-down with Royals historian and expert Alastair Bruce, watching footage of coronation day and talking about the weight of the crown.

That’s the literal weight, not the metaphoric weight. The queen very carefully talks only about the elements of the coronation ceremony, and then in a measured, rather guarded manner.

Since it’s the sort of thing she never does, it’s a moment to remember even if she never gets much more droll than suggesting the five-pound crown, laden with jewels, feels heavy enough to break your neck if you’re not careful.

That crown is placed on the table where she’s talking to Bruce, who of course never touches it. By law and custom, it can only be touched by the queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the crown jeweler.

Bruce and the queen also discuss her everyday crown, the three-pounder that she wears when it’s a state occasion, and she’s not being coronated. She admits that one, too, is “uncomfortable.”

The show notes that the coronation crown is studded with some of the prize pieces from the 23,000-stone crown jewels collection. That includes the world’s largest clear cut diamond, the 535-karat Cullinan,

A large ruby in the crown is said to have been worn by King Henry V at the battle of Agincourt, and viewers can see where a hole was drilled in it to hold his plume.

The Coronation takes us through the colorful and extravagant history of crown ceremonies while tying much of it into Elizabeth II’s.

She was coronated at a time when Britain was still struggling to recover from the devastation of World War II, during which a German invasion was considered likely enough that the crown jewels were stashed in a hidden room 60 feet under Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle is also where Elizabeth and her family were stashed during the war, which makes it interesting that she says she didn’t know the jewels were also in the house.

The Coronation provides a good primer on its subject, with a few harmless mild anecdotes about what happened on Elizabeth II’s big day and her casual remark that in many ways, that’s when her life began.

One of the few deviations from the solemn, military-style precision of that day came when a young boy helping carry the queen’s train playfully lifted it for a moment and ducked under it.

Bruce says that was amusing. Elizabeth, unamused, says, “That’s not what they were meant to do.”

One imagines she might have said much the same thing to her son Charles 40 years later, under different circumstances. But since that’s one of the many things the queen will certainly never discuss on television, we will for now just enjoy her thoughts on the world’s most elaborate and memorable coronation ceremony.

 
 
 
 
 
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