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Historical events,

May 02 2023

Historic Moments & Events at Westminster Abbey

The crowning of King Charles III and Queen Camilla on May 6th, 2023, brings one of London’s most famous buildings – Westminster Abbey – into the spotlight. This mediaeval building has been a site of worship since 960AD, and its illustrious history surrounds you when you step inside. We look at some historic moments that have taken place here.


Royal Coronations at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has hosted every coronation since 1066, apart from two: Edward V and Edward VIII. The rituals and symbolisms of the coronation have remained mostly the same for centuries, marking the change from the person who walks into Westminster Abbey to the monarch who walks out. 


The coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 didn’t quite go to plan. According to the Queen, Lord Rolle rolled “quite down” some steps, and the Archbishop rather painfully shoved the coronation ring on the wrong finger. But despite the errors, she called it “the proudest of my life.” 


Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in June 1953 was remarkable, not only for its pageantry but for putting televisions into British homes for the first time. Having cameras inside Westminster Abbey meant the sales and rentals of televisions skyrocketed and turned the coronation into a truly national event, with 20 million people gathered around 2.7 million television sets. That’s around seven people per television set. 


This wasn’t the first televised coronation, though. In May 1937, King George VI took the place of his brother Edward III, who abdicated before he could be crowned. The procession was televised, but no cameras were inside Westminster Abbey. It was also the first coronation broadcast on radio. 


Royal weddings at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has hosted 16 royal weddings so far. The most recent was Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, who pulled in a global audience of nearly a billion! This is also where Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip exchanged vows, and where Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson. 


One of the earliest photographs of a royal event is of the wedding of King George VI (when he was Prince Albert, Duke of York), and his bride Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon at Westminster Abbey. The tradition of weddings in the abbey goes back to 1100, when Henry I married Princess Matilda of Scotland.


Funerals and burials at Westminster Abbey

Of the most notable names in British history, 3,300 are commemorated or buried here, from monarchs and prime ministers to scientists and musicians. Famous names include Sir Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Westminster Abbey is also where the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II took place in 2022 before being laid to rest at Windsor Castle. You can also visit the tomb of The Unknown Warrior, killed in battle during World War I and buried here on 11th November 1920. 


Visit Westminster Abbey when you come to London and enjoy the comforts of home when you stay at one of our central London hotels, Thistle Trafalgar Square Hotel or Thistle Piccadilly. Both hotels are in easy walking distance of this iconic building.