What could possible go wrong at a coronation? Well …
Maybe the ring won't fit or the king's estranged wife will bang at the abbey doors
While Queen Elizabeth's 1953 coronation has become an iconic representation of royal pageantry, other efforts to put British sovereigns on their thrones have not been so smooth.
Crown jewels lost in bogs, a coronation ring that wouldn't fit and a disgruntled, estranged queen consort banging at the doors of Westminster Abbey to get into her husband's ceremony have made for unpredictable or unseemly spectacles.
"With Queen Victoria, the ring was sized for her pinky finger but the archbishop tried to ram it onto her fourth finger," says Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and blogger.
The 19-year-old Victoria had to maintain her composure during the ceremony on June 28, 1838, and then soak her hand in ice water afterwards to get the ring off.
In other instances, new crown jewels had to be created because the old ones had gone missing — once inadvertently in a swamp — or were otherwise unavailable.
"After the English Civil Wars, for example, the Royalists had pawned some of the jewels to pay for their side of the military conflict, and Oliver Cromwell had also melted down some of the jewels for his own coffers, so Charles the Second had to commission new crown jewels," says Harris.
A nine-year-old Henry III was crowned at Glastonbury Abbey in 1220 — the French were in London at the time — with one of his mother's circlets because his father, King John, had lost the crown jewels when his baggage train overturned in a bog.
Four years later, Henry "had new crown jewels commissioned and had a proper coronation in Westminster Abbey," says Harris. "He had a second coronation in a sense to make up for what had happened when he was nine and the thrown-together ceremony had happened."
Banging on the abbey doors
No coronation spectacle, however, has ever rivalled that of Queen Caroline banging on the abbey doors, trying to get into the ceremony that was officially placing her estranged husband, George IV, on the throne in 1821.
"George the Fourth had a very difficult relationship with his wife, Queen Caroline and was determined to exclude her from the coronation festivities," says Harris.
"He hadn't been successful in obtaining a divorce, but he was determined she would not be included. So he did not invite her to his coronation and left instructions that the guards were not to let her in."
In a scene that would today seem befitting of reality TV show, Caroline banged on the doors, but the guards held firm: she was turned away.
"That really took away from the dignity of the occasion, that Queen Caroline was knocking on the door and insisting, as the queen, she should be given admittance and the guards saying they had specific instructions from the king that she was not to be allowed in under any circumstances," says Harris.
"Queen Caroline died soon afterwards, but that was really an example of the royal protocol breaking down."
In 1953, though, protocol was followed down to the second.
"The English have a genius for pageantry and I mean genius," Beverley Baxter wrote in CBC's guide to coronation broadcasts in the CBC Times for May 31-June 6, 1953.
"When the ceremony takes place in the abbey, everything will go like clockwork, yet there will be no sign of anyone directing it."
That's not to say everyone behaved absolutely perfectly.
A restless 4½-year-old Prince Charles attracted some attention in an abbey gallery as he rummaged through the purse of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, as his mother formally assumed the role that will one day be his.