Wales reacted to 1953 coronation with ‘enthusiasm, apathy and a bit of hostility’ says historian
Wales’ response to the 1953 Queen’s coronation is more complex than has been appreciated, with a large amount of apathy, some hostility and even an attempt to put a Welsh stamp on the Royal Family, a historian has said.
In a paper published in the Cultural and Social History journal, Dr Mari Wiliam argues that public responses to the coronation can’t be understood on a pan-British level only and consideration needs to consider the relationship between different nations within the UK and the monarchy.
She argues that even Welsh nationalists interpreted the coronation in different ways, from trying to claim that the Royal Family were Welsh, to attempting to largely ignore it as a difficult political topic, to hostility.
“For example, the prominence in the narrative of ‘Tudorality’ – i.e. laying claim to the ‘British’ Royal Family by means of the ‘Welsh’ Tudor connection – was an elite endeavour aimed at embroidering a Welsh distinctiveness to proceedings,” the Bangor University historian said.
“However, the Coronation also highlighted the blurred lines of Welsh ‘nationalism’: a phrase that was simultaneously associated with a range of perspectives, from such ‘loyal’ Tudor-Welshness, to Plaid Cymru’s muffled ambivalence and the anti-English militancy of the Welsh Republicans.”
For example, on a national level, Y Cymro Welsh language newspaper welcomed the Coronation on its cover page as a Welsh event by including two large images side-by-side: one of the Queen and another of two Welsh folk dancers at the Urdd Eisteddfod.
Leading Welsh nationalist icon Saunders Lewis wrote that “Crowning a queen is not a sin”, and welcomed seeing both the Welsh Dragon and the Union Jack fluttering together across Wales.
However, for the Welsh Republican Movement, the Coronation was “sickening” and was only of interest to “Welsh lickspittles”. Plaid Cymru’s policy was to “keep quiet” (“tewi â sôn”) on the Coronation since it was potentially divisive.
“So, whilst purveyors of Tudor-Welshness displayed consent with the British monarchy, they also assigned the Coronation and the royal visit with a Welsh particularism, thus appropriating them for the benefit of cultural shibboleths such as the National Eisteddfod of Wales,” Dr Mari Wiliam said.
“However, appropriation enabled not only expressions of loyalty but also resistance, most viscerally from the Welsh Republicans, whose version of Welshness was completely antithetical to any tinge of Britishness.
“Furthermore, by mining a range of civic responses to the Coronation, the work contends that looking beyond the nostalgia-stained street-party impression unearths a fragmented process of ‘celebration’ far more marred by tokenism, dissonance and apathy than acknowledged in popular memory, revealing not so much the presence of straitjacketed ‘Welshness’ or ‘Britishness’, but instead a rather misty amalgam of identities.”
Dr Wiliam said that the findings were “sometimes surprising” and “reveals the complexities of Welsh identities”.
“In the seaside resort of Rhyl, where I’d expected to find a lot of zeal for the Coronation to appeal to tourists, there were complaints that people were apathetic, and the press was critical that the town hadn’t made a big enough of a ‘splash’ with their Coronation festivities,” she said.
“Meanwhile in the rural, strongly Welsh-speaking village of Llansannan near the Denbigh Moors, the Coronation was honoured not only with traditional Welsh fare such as a noson lawen, Welsh folk music and harp-playing, but also Morris Dancing, a local Coronation Queen parade and singing God Save the Queen.
“This shows us that looking at big events like the Coronation and the Platinum Jubilee, especially in terms of community celebrations, can tell us a lot about Welsh society and the history.
“In the case of 1953 there was a mixture of enthusiasm, apathy and a bit of hostility in Wales, and it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences in the current debates around the 2022 Jubilee.”
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