Nicola here, in the UK, where we are marking Queen Elizabeth II’’s 70th anniversary on the throne with Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The series of events being held to celebrate this milestone reminded me of 1977 when I was twelve years old and was living in Leeds in Yorkshire. We had a street party and in the park down the road from us there was a big concert which you could hear from our garden – which was great as my parents wouldn’t allow me to go as I was too young!
Jubilees don’t come around that often. They mark a major milestone in the reign of a monarch and only start after 25 years on the throne with the Silver Jubilee. They are named in the same way that anniversaries are: silver, golden, diamond and platinum but there’s no pearl or sapphire jubilee and none of the smaller anniversaries in between. However, they may be infrequent but they have a long history. The origins of jubilee celebrations go back to Ancient Egypt when a pharoah would take part in various ceremonies to demonstrate his or her fitness to rule. The word “jubilee” derives from the Hebrew word ‘Jobel’ which refers to the ram’s horn with which these ceremonies were proclaimed. Jubilees are, as the name suggests, times of jubilation.
The first English King who had a jubilee celebration was Henry III, whose 50th anniversary fell in 1266. He had come to the throne aged 9 so had an advantage in achieving longevity. However there isn’t much information on how he celebrated his Golden Jubilee and as the country was torn with power struggles at the time there probably wasn’t much cause for celebration.
Edward III was the next monarch to achieve a Golden Jubilee, which he celebrated in 1376 with a spectacular week long joust at London’s Smithfield. Before the tournament took place there was a magnificent procession from the Tower of London to Smithfield, a journey of two miles, accompanied by trumpeters. Smithfield was the site of many great medieval celebrations, and there is a vivid description of a similar event from the reign of Richard II in 1388: “these jousts and tournaments were held at London in Smithfield, for all manner of foreigners, of whatever land and country they were, and thither they were right welcome; and to them and to all others was held open household and great feasts; and also great gifts were given to all manner of foreigners. And they of the king's side were all clothed in matching outfits; their coats, their armour, shields, and their horses and trappings, all was white harts, with crowns about their necks, and chains of gold hanging there upon.” It must have been as impressive a sight as the flypast over Buckingham Palace is today!
A number of other British monarchs ruled for twenty five years or more, including Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth, who was queen for 44 years. Elizabeth celebrated "accession day" every year rather than making do with "just" a jubilee! Her accession birthday party included tilts, theatre performances, poetry readings and costume parties. Her accession day was such an important part of the court calendar that it continued to be celebrated as a national holiday into the 18th century.
James VI was on the throne of Scotland for 57 years. James VI’s Golden Jubilee tour occurred in 1617 and was not universally popular because of the cost. He assembled a huge expedition of courtiers, members of the royal household, bishops and chaplains, bodyguards and over seventy other servants. The courtiers took their own servants, there were 60 wagons of royal luggage and James sent his furniture, wall-hangings and plate on ahead by sea to decorate his Scottish palaces during the royal progress. It took the huge procession two months to reach Edinburgh from London and whilst based there James visited other cities such as St Andrews, Dundee, Perth, Stirling, Glasgow and Dumfries. He also made plenty of hunting trips and entertained his court with feasting and various sporting events. The whole trip ended in brawling between some of the English and Scots and grumbling over the taxes raised to pay for it. James never went on a royal progress again!
It was not until King George III in 1809 that a Golden Jubilee was celebrated again. Also known as the Grand National Jubilee, it was a big event despite the King’s declining health. There was a ball, services of thanksgiving at St George’s Chapel in Windsor and St Paul’s Cathedral, and various troop inspections and gun salutes. An ox roast was organised, there were fetes and fireworks, flower arches and feasting, with money provided and shops closed to enable everyone to attend. This was a time when jubilee merchandising really came into its own. China jugs celebrating the 50 years of George's reign and commemorative medals like the one in the picture were very popular. My favourite history snippet relating to George III’s jubilee is that a number of children were christened “Jubilee George” and “Jubilee Charlotte” in celebration!
George III almost made it to his Diamond Jubilee although by then his son was Prince Regent. Less than a century later, Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden and then her Diamond Jubilees with breakfasts and banquets, services of thanksgiving, fireworks and processions. She was the first British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years of service.
In the 20th century, Victoria's grandson, King George V, reached his Silver Jubilee in 1935. Just as now, the anniversary was declared a public holiday celebrated with pageants, services of thanksgiving, fetes and parties. Fortunately the May weather was very fine, especially as King George and Queen Mary took a number of open carriage rides through London, some with their granddaughters Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth, the future Queen.
These days a royal jubilee brings a plethora of souvenirs, of course, and not all of them are the sort of things you would want to keep. The prize for the most embarrassing was awarded to the commemorative china plate that featured a picture of the queen with the words "Platinum Jubbly" underneath! Amongst the nicest tributes are the knitted pillar box hats that have sprung up across the country. The one at the top of the blog, which features the Queen herself, is near Balmoral. Our local knitters have gone for a crown theme for our local postbox!
Queen Elizabeth II has outdone all her predecessors in reaching a Platinum Jubilee. For me, having lived all my life during her reign she has been a constant and inspiring presence during some turbulent times. Yesterday we had a village garden party and raised a toast to HM and ate our jubilee cake. Across the country, beacons were lit in celebration as night fell. We even had a new calf born at the local farm and named "Jubilee"! It was a beautiful day – which is great because the weather forecast, in true British fashion, promises a downpour for the street parties on Sunday!
A very happy weekend to all! Do you have any special souvenirs commemorating important occasions or events that you have enjoyed?