Who Were Queen Elizabeth's Six Maids Of Honour For Her Coronation?

In the late 1940s, King George VI had health problems that caused him to stay away from the public eye. His physicians diagnosed him with Buerger's disease, a health condition that affects the blood vessels and causes clots in the arms and legs. The king was also a heavy smoker and had lung cancer. In 1951, as reported by Time, he underwent lung surgery, but his health declined afterward. On February 6, 1952, King George VI died in his sleep at the age of 56, and his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, took his place as the next monarch.

Before his father's death, Princess Elizabeth had already been fulfilling royal duties on behalf of her sick father. In fact, as reported by the Telegraph, she was in Kenya when her father died. Upon learning the news, she canceled the rest of her Commonwealth tour and returned to England. She was officially proclaimed queen soon after, and in her speech, she said, "My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than I shall always work, as my father did throughout his reign, to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples, spread as they are all the world over," (via BBC). Her coronation ceremony took place on June 2, 1953.

Queen Elizabeth II's coronation

Large crowds gathered all throughout London to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's coronation despite the downpour, while others tuned in to their TVs to witness the momentous event. The queen traveled from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Gold State Coach that was constructed in 1762 to carry British monarchs (via the Royal Collection Trust). She wore an exquisite gown that was designed by Sir Norman Hartnell, a renowned fashion designer for the women of the royal family, and as noted by People, Queen Elizabeth II herself contributed to the design.

The fabric used was white duchesse satin embroidered with floral designs and latticework using silver and gold thread. It was embellished with crystals, sequins, and pearls and weighed about 11 pounds. According to reports, the dress took more than 3,500 hours for 12 workers to complete. Queen Elizabeth II also wore a 21-foot long train, which was carried by six maids of honour as she got out of the golden coach and entered Westminster Abbey for her coronation.

Who were the six maids of honour?

The six maids of honour — who ranged in age between 19 and 23 — were all from noble families, and their main task was to accompany Queen Elizabeth II during her coronation and carry her long and heavy train as she walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey. They were Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill, Lady Anne Coke, Lady Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, Lady Mary Baillie-Hamilton, Lady Moyra Hamilton, and Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stuart (via Tatler). The six women were honored to have received an invitation to assist the queen, and they spent weeks rehearsing before the event.

In 2013, five of the six maids of honour were guests in a radio program wherein they talked about the experience, as reported by Express. When they were revealed as the six maids of honour, they became instant celebrities and were the subjects of publications. Lady Anne Coke said that they were treated "just like the Spice Girls" of their time with the media coverage they received. Lady Mary was excited but had concerns about tripping, fainting, or dropping the queen's train. All six women were given a vial of smelling salts hidden in their gloves in case they needed it during the three-hour ceremony.

Maids of honour mishaps

To the public, the six maids of honour did a great job of assisting the queen, but some of them revealed the troubles they encountered before and during the event. Lady Anne, who expressed her embarrassment in the 2013 interview, made a blunder by revealing the design of her dress — which was supposed to be a secret — by wearing it during a rehearsal that was flocked by the press (via Express). She also had her hair permed but ended up "looking like a sheep" and thought she looked "hideous." Thankfully, her hair had settled by the time the ceremony took place.

Lady Rosemary, on the other hand, shared how the vial hidden in her glove was accidentally crushed when she shook hands with the archbishop, and the strong smell of ammonia wafted, as reported by The Daily Mail. In the middle of the ceremony, Lady Anne felt faint. Fortunately, the archbishop had a flask of brandy that he brought out during the recess, and Lady Anne took a sip to revive her senses.

All six women had never met Queen Elizabeth II before being chosen as maids of honour, but according to The Daily Mail, the monarch kept in touch with them after the coronation. The women collectively agreed that taking part in the ceremony was the most exciting part of their lives, even more than their own weddings.