One of the Queen's Maids of Honour Recalls her Part at the Coronation - Spear's Magazine

One of the Queen’s Maids of Honour Recalls her Part at the Coronation

The Coronation: Court on Film One lady at the Cecil Beaton exhibition was recalling her part in Royal history, says James Husain

The Coronation: Court on Film
 
   
One lady at the Cecil Beaton exhibition was recalling her part in Royal history, says James Husain

 
   
ON THE OPENING
night of the exhibition Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton at the Victoria and Albert Museum, one lady had particular cause to take an interest in the photos. She was not an ardent Royal-watcher or a student of the photographic art — no, she was in one of the pictures. Jane, Lady Rayne, daughter of the 8th Marquess of Londonderry, was one of the Queen’s maids of honour at the Coronation.

When I later meet Lady Rayne, born Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart, at the Coburg Bar in the Connaught, she says she was speechless when, aged twenty, she received a letter from the Lord Chamberlain requesting her to be one of the six maids of honour at the Coronation (alongside Lady Moyra Hamilton, Lady Anne Coke, Lady Mary Baillie-Hamilton, Lady Jane Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby and Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill): ‘I thought, “How extraordinary for them to invite me.”’

Asked why she believes she was chosen, she says: ‘My parents knew the Queen’s mother and father, but I’d never met them. I had a cousin then who was the Queen’s right-hand man, somebody who she trusted and was a childhood friend. I had a feeling that maybe, because he was a cousin of mine, he had put in a good word. I don’t know if he did, but he was so terribly correct he said, “It had nothing to do with me!”’

Leading up to the Coronation, Lady Rayne recounts endless rehearsals, one every week. ‘They were quite fun, a way of us all getting together. We wanted to be perfect at it, too. We had some good laughs. The Archbishop of Canterbury, a man called Dr Fisher, was very unpopular with us, and one day he was trying to correct us on walking down the stairs. As he demonstrated, he fell down and rolled over his head. We all screamed with laughter!’ The rehearsals took place in the Abbey, though the Queen was not present at any of these. ‘On the day we marvelled at how she had it foot-perfect. I gather she had it mapped out in one of the large rooms in Buckingham Palace.’

Delicately curated by Susanna Brown, the exhibition showcases the photography of Beaton (1904-80), official photographer to the Queen between 1942 and 1968. It focuses on different aspects of Her Majesty’s life during this period: from a teenage princess during the austere war and postwar years to the Coronation to the Queen as mother. On show is a letter from the Queen Mother, so taken by the depiction of her daughter and grandchildren that she wrote to Beaton: ‘As a family, we must be deeply grateful to you for producing us, as really quite nice and real people!’

Beaton’s photographs may be excellent, but do they capture the true Queen? ‘She looks so relaxed,’ says Lady Rayne. ‘From the earliest time, they had a great rapport together, and she sat in a more relaxed way with him. In other photographs she often looks very posed and rigid. She knew Beaton as a child, had great trust in him and knew he wouldn’t take liberties.’
  
    

Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart (now Lady Rayne) stands on the far right as a maid of honour on Coronation Day in 1953, photographed by Cecil Beaton   
     

ON THE DAY of the Coronation, 2 June 1953, Lady Jane travelled by coach. ‘There were four of us in the coach, including a really nice man named Lord Tryon, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, which looked like a school satchel embroidered in gold. After about an hour or so, I said to him, “I’m so hungry, I haven’t had anything for breakfast. I’d give anything for a bar of chocolate.” To which Lord Tryon replied, “I can’t magic up a Mars bar, but I do have some of these.” Out came Macintosh toffees — one of my favourite sweets — they were most delicious! We stuffed ourselves with toffees.’

As she arrived at Westminster Abbey, she remembers looking out for her father among the 500 peers. She caught a glimpse of him and he gave her a big wink. ‘As I got inside and carried the train, it only just dawned on me that this was going to be televised, and realised it would be watched the world over. I thought to myself, “Goodness, wouldn’t it be terrible if someone fell down or fainted,” as we were standing for hours.’ One of the maids did: Lady Jane felt Lady Anne Coke’s figure against her as she began to faint during the anointment. ‘We had long white gloves, and inside we kept a pile of smelling salts. We gave her just a little bit, and it immediately put her on a high. She was OK after that.’

Lady Jane recalls seeing the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne running around at the Palace after the Coronation. ‘The Queen sat down next to me, took off her crown and placed it on a low table. I suddenly saw a chubby little boy, Prince Charles, with his eyes on the crown. He tried to pick it up, but luckily, as it was so heavy, one of the ladies-in-waiting put it on a higher table.’

The defining moment of the day for Lady Rayne came when she went out on to the balcony of Buckingham Palace and stood just next to the Queen for the fly-past. ‘It was extraordinary and moving, seeing all the people the length of the Mall. Everybody wanted to look at the Queen. After the war, when we were rationed and life was quite hard and drab, the Coronation brightened up everyone’s life. It was like a fairy tale and quite wonderful. It heralded a new era, and you felt it was the start of something good.’
     
     
Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton is at the V&A (vam.ac.uk) until 22 April and will tour Leeds, Norwich, Newcastle, Ballarat (Australia) and British Columbia (Canada) 
  
  
Photograph by Cecil Beaton © V&A Images 
 

James Husain is an editorial assistant at Spear's

 

 
 

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