Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, commemorates her momentous 70-year reign this coming weekend. Officially acceding to the throne in February 1952 following the death of her father George VI, her Westminster Abbey coronation took place on 2nd June 1953.
Here in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust archive there are numerous records of Stratford-upon-Avon greeting a plethora of royal visitors. From the official opening of town landmarks, such as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (now the Royal Shakespeare Theatre) by the Prince of Wales (who abdicated as Edward VIII) in 1932, to a poetry readings at Holy Trinity Church by Princess Grace of Monaco in 1977. Most appropriately, there are records of the town celebrating the Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria in 1887 and 1897.
In this blog I examine Queen Elizabeth II’s visits to Stratford-upon-Avon and the town's celebrations of her life landmarks through her presence in the archive.
One of the earliest appearances of Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) in our collection is the occasion of her eighteenth birthday. A set of Shakespeare volumes was given to Princess Elizabeth from Stratford-upon-Avon on 21st April 1944. Over three years later, on 1st December 1947, she expressed in a letter to the town her sincerest gratitude for the present of a walnut bureau on her marriage to Philip Mountbatten (1921-2021).
On 2nd June 1953, the Queen’s coronation was celebrated to the utmost with numerous events throughout the day. Stratford-upon-Avon’s souvenir programme lists high tea, fireworks displays and fancy dress processions. Twenty-five years later in 1977, the town celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee equally as joyously and patriotically with street parties, parades and church services.
The Queen visited Stratford-upon-Avon for the first time with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1957. Her six-hour trip included tours of Shakespeare's Birthplace, the Town Hall and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre for a performance of ‘As You Like It’ featuring Dame Peggy Ashcroft. She came again in 1975 for the centenary celebrations of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (previously the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre) and for the opening of the Centenary Gardens. In 1986 Her Majesty opened the Swan Theatre which adjoins the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Ten years later she was accompanied by Prince Philip for the 800-year celebrations of the town where she unveiled the stainless steel swan statue on the Bancroft as well as the return of the swans to the town.
As Stratford-upon-Avon prepares for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee in 2022, one cannot help ponder how this once-in-a-lifetime event will compare to past royal occasions. Her Majesty’s life-long connection to the town and to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust represented in our archive demonstrates a relationship that I hope will continue through the rest of the royal family for many years to come.
‘Memories of Her Majesty’, a display containing objects from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust archive and museum collection, opens at the Town Hall on Friday 3rd June, 10am - 4pm.