The Crown: “Smoke and Mirrors”, The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

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Guys, to be honest, I was pretty let down by the fifth installment of Netflix’s The Crown. I had been expecting a whole lot more costume content, especially since it dealt with the coronation, but there were hardly any worthwhile shots of the stunning Swarovski-commissioned replica of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gown. This has caused me to be very grumpy.

Anyway, yes, you heard me right…Swarovski approached Angels Costumiers to make the replica in 2012 as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; it was displayed at Harrods during the Jubilee and then packed into storage. When Swarovski caught wind of the production, they offered the gown to show costumer Michele Clapton, but she initially turned them down, concerned that the dress wouldn’t fit lead actress Claire Foy, and thinking she’d have enough time to reproduce the dress in-house.

The replica gown commissioned by Swarovski and created by Angels Costumiers.

Well, that didn’t exactly work out as planned, and when Clapton discovered she was running out of time, she got ahold of Swarovski and accepted their offer to loan out the gown. Turns out that the dress actually fit Foy better than expected, despite being a little too long (higher heels than normal were required to make sure the hem cleared the ground). The coronation robe, on the other hand, was a collaboration between the show’s costume department and the Royal School of Needlework. Blink and you’ll miss it, though, since the vast majority of the coronation scenes are intercut with the actual black and white footage of the real Queen’s coronation. All told, you get to see hardly anything of the coronation gown.

If you just ignore the weird wrinkle across her midriff, the dress fits pretty well.

The real coronation gown was designed by Norman Hartnell, the same couturier who designed her wedding dress and countless other gowns for the young QEII. He offered Elizabeth several sketches of various styles but the seventh, and last, design won out (with a few tweaks requested by Her Majesty).

Hartnell’s sketch of the final gown.

 

Here you get a pretty good look at the ladies-in-waiting, but in the show, they’re barely shown which makes it hard to do a comparison of the real gowns versus the show reproductions.

The symbolism of the motifs in the gown itself is fascinating. There’s the Tudor Roses, emblems of both Elizabeth’s namesake, Queen Elizabeth I, as well England itself. The Thistles are, of course, referencing Scotland; the Shamrocks, Ireland; and the Maple Leaf, Canada. Those are perhaps the most obvious motifs that the vast majority of people these days could identify. But what about the other emblems? There’s the Welsh leek, the Australian wattle flower, the New Zealand fern, the South African protea flower, and the lotus flower of India. It doesn’t stop there, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll just refer you to this handy explanation of all the various symbols and symbolism in the coronation gown.

Detail shots of the skirt, showing the Tudor Roses, Maple Leaves, Wheat Sheaves, and various other emblems of the Commonwealth as it existed in 1952.

The outfit that got by far the most screen time was the colobium sindonis, a.k.a. the anointing gown, a simple white linen gown that had a distinct Victorian flavor to it (it’s that pleated collar that screams “1850s bertha” to me). The colobium sindonis was designed by Hartnell to be worn over the coronation gown, but it looks as if the show simply had Foy wearing it on its own. Given that the Queen did not have the luxury of undressing and redressing between scenes, the linen dress had to be engineered to quickly slip over the coronation gown and fasten down the back (probably with snaps, though I haven’t been able to find anything to corroborate this). It was the responsibility of the Duchess of Devonshire, as Mistress of the Robes, to get it securely on the Queen in the scant time allotted before the anointing ceremony began, all while wearing her own cumbersome gown, robe, coronet, and of course, gloves.

Claire Foy wearing the reproduction colobium sindonis made for the show.

The colobium sindonis worn by Queen Elizabeth II during the anointing ceremony. It was also designed by Norman Hartnell.

The Duchess of Devonshire, Mistress of the Robes, fastens the colobium sindonis over the coronation gown.

Some awesome person made this gif and uploaded it to Tumblr. It’s the only footage I’ve been able to find of the colobium sindonis actually going on over the coronation gown.


Thank goodness for You Tube… Someone uploaded color footage of the beginning of the actual anointing ceremony (the footage cuts away once the canopy is in place and resumes after the anointing) where you can see the entirety of the dress in motion. The pleating on that skirt. *bites fist*

As you can probably infer, I’ve spent a ton of time describing the actual coronation gown and not a lot about the show’s version of both gowns. That’s because they’re barely shown on the screen. Honestly, this is one of the most important historical ceremonies still in existence, but we see more of Wallis Simpson (Lia Williams) in her skin-tight white satin evening gown than we do of the Queen’s robes.

*grumble*

 

 

A woman admires Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Dress and Robe in exhibition in Buckingham Palace celebrating the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty The Queens Coronation on July 25, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

What did you think of the episode “Smoke and Mirrors”? Share it with us in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

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Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

15 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    I echo your grumble. That was one thing they should have concentrated on. BTW, wasn’t the Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah Devonshire’s mother-in-law?

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Good catch. Mary Cavendish, who was Mistress of the Robes for the coronation, was by this point the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. The title had passed to her daughter-in-law Deborah in 1950.

      Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      And specifically relating to this episode, I can’t really understand why there wasn’t more done with the Coronation from Elizabeth’s perspective. This episode is really about Wallis & Edward and the emotional mess they got themselves into when he abdicated, which I guess is fine if all you want is to end the episode with a teary-eyed Edward playing bagpipes alone in his palace garden.

      Much tragic. Such pathos.

      Reply
      • Susan Pola

        Walls and David, by the,n were old news. I found myself nodding off during these scenes. What I wanted was more Coronation: prep work, fitting The Queen in her gown, more on choosing the attendants, shots of their clothes, more of the Coronation. I’m sure you get the picture.
        At least Victoria has Coronation coverage. Lots.

        Reply
        • Sarah Lorraine

          YES. YES. YES.

          They really punted on this episode, IMNSHO. I get that there’s only so much you can cram into an hour, but COME ON. IT’S THE BLEEDING CORONATION.

          That said, I am planning on doing a post about Wallis’ gowns. They cut so fast through most of them, but they’re all fabulous. I need to do a little more digging to see if they were based on any actual gowns of hers.

          Reply
          • Susan Pola

            No matter what your opinion is of Wallis Duchess of Windsor, you cannot deny that she was a style icon and her taste in clothes and jewels was impeccable.
            Please post her clothes as soon as you find out if they were based on actual garments.

            Reply
            • Sarah Lorraine

              I’ll post about it no matter what. It’s too early for The Crown, but the Dali/Schiaparelli collaboration on the lobster dress is one of my favorites.

              The scandal behind those photos was SOOO good, too. Vogue totally knew what it was doing.

              Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I read that Hartnell specifically avoided a zipper because it would be too difficult for the Mistress of the Robes to fiddle around with while wearing gloves. The thing is, though, you can see in the video above that the Mistress of the Robes has pulled her hands through the wrist opening of her gloves, leaving her hands free, so… Dunno.

      Also, in the gif I posted of the colobium sindonis going on, you can see what looks like snaps along one edge for just a second. Could be great-honking hook & eyes, though.

      Reply
        • Sarah Lorraine

          Typical!

          I tried to dig up photos of the colobium sindonis because it’s been on display recently for the Diamond Jubilee, but everything I’ve turned up only shows it from the front. Also, I know it’s in the Royal Collection, but they’re pretty iffy on how much detail they include on the collection website.

          Until I started researching for this post, I had always thought the Queen had to do a costume change between the coronation gown and the colobium sindonis, which would have been the most amazing quick change routine in the history of mankind. Imagine the Archbishop of Canterbury swirling his cope around Elizabeth and BOOM! NEW OUTFIT.

          Then when I found out it actually went over her gown, but didn’t look like it was being worn over anything, I was REALLY impressed with Hartnell’s construction of the coronation gown. That thing must have fit like it was spray painted on her!

          Reply
      • Terry

        I’ve read this too. As I recall it had large buttons with roomy button holes and went on like a pinafore (completely open back). The hooks and zip were on the Coronation gown itself, the hooks being backup in case of zip failure.

        Reply
  2. Quinlyn

    I actually loved this episode. Believe me, there’s no love lost between me and Wallis & Edward, but I thought their commentary throughout the coronation was a brilliant screenwriting move. Most adaptations would have shown the whole coronation ad naesuem, trying to show off with fancy camera angles in order to make their view “unique”, but this one did something truly original. It gave us a narrator in the form of a snarky, annoyed uncle and humanized the whole process, which gave the audience a different appreciation for it than if we had seen it all from Elizabeth’s pov. And luckily we did get to see the anointing from Elizabeth’s perspective, and that was the most important part of the entire coronation. Thank you for your analysis of the coronation gown–I had no idea about all the symbols it contained!

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      What bothered me was that the promotional stuff that went out ahead of this episode really hyped the coronation with shots from Elizabeth’s perspective, so I had serious expectations of getting to see a lot more of the costumes (it’s always about the costumes). When I watched the episode, it was a let-down because there’s barely any costume-action.

      That said, Alex Jennings is FABULOUS as Edward. The guy is the spitting image, and just such an engaging actor.

      Reply
  3. Susan Pola

    So true. And I agree that Alex Jennings is David. He has his mannerisms down to a tee. Re the Schiaparelli Lobster and Vogue shoot, I will have to look it up.

    Reply

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