National Geographic : 1953 Sep
exquisite, while her husband in his regalia appears faintly comic? I gazed at the peeresses in amazement. It hardly seemed possible that these superbly poised creatures had ever washed up a dish or made a bed, while the peers, who sat opposite in the south transept, looked as though death duties had never been known and each one possessed an enormous estate, a crowd of loyal tenants, and a vast house designed by the Adam brothers. Could it be possible, I asked myself, that these magnificent persons were the men who for the past 30 years have been giving away their houses to the National Trust? Women in full evening dress at 6:30 a.m. are never at their best, or perhaps at their sweetest, but they carried it off wonderfully, and only their decorative husbands knew what had really been said at the dressing table at 4 or 5 o'clock that morning! Great Abbey Fills with Splendor Gradually the whole church filled with pro consuls and ambassadors, with admirals and generals, with sultans and rulers of every hue. Upon a floodlit acre of gold carpet before the altar the Earl Marshal and the Great Officers of State moved, trailing clouds of glory, while every now and then the heralds looking remarkably like the knaves from a pack of cards-appeared in their quartered tabards, turned inwards, and bowed as they showed some member of the Royal Family into the royal box. And all the time a great orchestra mounted on the organ loft filled the church with the splendid solemnities of Handel. At last came the moment which must have touched the heart even of a cynic. All alone in the solitude of a great destiny stood a young woman in a white dress beneath the floodlights on the golden carpet. From hidden vantage points in concealed boxes television and film cameras were at work. The Queen of England was standing before the whole world (pages 314-327). No man, I thought, at such a moment could have behaved with such composure. Her bearing was a credit to all queens and to all women. And as I saw her I confess that my heart melted and I knew that I was in the presence not only of the daughter of George VI and our "undoubted Queen" but of Vic toria, Anne, Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, of Great Harry himself, of the splendid Plan tagenets and of the far-off Normans. When the trumpets split the air in triumph, they seemed to open the gates of the past and to fill the church with crowned and scep tered ghosts, each one with the word "Eng land" on its lips. I wondered if she were con scious of them. They were all round her, watching her with grave faces and experienced eyes. Hidden by the tapestries and the hangings and concealed by tiers of boxes were the tombs of her remote ancestors. Behind the altar was the grave of Edward the Confessor, who died nearly 900 years ago. Round him in a circle were Henry III, who built the present Abbey Church; Edward I and Edward III, those great warriors; and Richard II, who lies there with Anne of Bohemia, the wife he loved to distraction. How strange it was, I thought, that one young woman in a white dress standing before the altar of Westminster Abbey could sym bolize 900 years of a nation's history, its suc cesses and its failures, its aspirations and its dreams. I saw a slow wave of gold brocade sweep up and surround her as the archbishops and the bishops led her to the Coronation Chair. A golden canopy hid her from view as she was signed with consecrated oil upon the hands, the breast, and the head, and became from that moment "the anointed of God." I saw them dress her as if she were a Byzantine saint on an icon, until she sat weighted down with golden vestments, the Rod in one hand and the Scepter in the other. In the head of the Scepter the Great Star of Africa, cut from the Cullinan diamond, writhed with fire and sent out flashes of blue and red light every second like a lighthouse. Bells, Voices, Guns Salute the Queen Then the Crown of St. Edward was lifted high and placed upon her head, and instantly a great cry went out to God to bless her, the bells of Westminster began to ring, and far off in the Tower of London the guns fired a salute. Elizabeth II had been crowned. I watched her husband kneel before her and swear homage in the exact formula used in the days of chivalry. She sat stiffly, her hands held together, the fingers extended. He placed his hands within hers and swore to be true and loyal to her all his life. And the stiff, glittering image who was his Queen, his wife, and the mother of his children, looked back at him gravely and saw his bent fair head without a smile. Then, rising, he quickly touched the crown and bent forward and kissed her on the cheek. Hours afterwards I stood in a wet street outside the Abbey and watched her pass in the golden coach, the Crown upon her head, the Scepter and the Orb in her hands. I felt as one feels for a bride at a wedding, only this bride had been married to England. All the church bells were ringing, and so the new Queen drove out into London. Members who wish additional copies of the issue containing this notable record of London and the Cor onation for themselves or their friends may obtain them from the National Geographic Society, Washing ton 6, D. C., as long as the limited supply lasts. Prices in the United States, U. S. Possessions, and Canada 650 each; elsewhere 754. Postage prepaid.