This week Britons around the world are celebrating the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession. I’ve had fun watching the coverage on TV these last few days while exercising merrily away on the elliptical machines at my gym. I’m sure you must have heard at some point that this is only the second Diamond Jubilee for a British monarch in the thousand-year history of the kingdom…the first being that for, of course, Queen Victoria.
Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in June 1897, when she was a frail 78 (she would live three and a half more years, until 1901.) But her frailty didn’t keep her from being pleased to have beaten the record-length reign of a previous monarch—that of her grandfather, King George III, who was on the throne for 59 years and 96 days. Nor would it keep her from celebrating in a suitable fashion—she was much more amenable to appearing in public than she had been for her Golden Jubilee ten years before, when she had to be more or less bullied into joining the celebrations or even dressing up a bit for the occasion—indeed, one of her sons had to tell her, "Now, mother. You must have something really smart."
By 1897, her feelings had changed; her cabinet, in particular Joseph Chamberlain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, wanted to use the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee as a way to celebrate Britain’s mighty empire, and the Queen was happy to join in. Representatives from everywhere—from Australia to Zanzibar—were in attendance to celebrate with her.
Since the actual anniversary of her accession was on a Sunday (June 20), it was decided that the major public celebration would be held instead on the following Tuesday. Sunday was given to a Thanksgiving service in Windsor, and on Monday the Queen traveled to London to ready herself for the next day.
At 11:15 am on the 22nd she set out in an open carriage drawn by eight cream-colored horses, accompanied by her daughter Princess Helena and Alix, the Princess of Wales. Though the day had been overcast, according to accounts the sun broke through the clouds as she set forth, in a display of what had come to be called Queen’s Weather (so called as it never seemed to rain on her parades!) Though she wore her customary black, it was very elegant: "black silk, trimmed with panels of grey satin veiled with black net and some black lace", with a bonnet "trimmed with creamy white flowers and white aigrette"—no chiding required from her children! She was as eager to see the bystanders as they were to see her, though disconcerted by the shouts of "Steady, old lady! Whoa, old girl!" from one of the members of her household, Lord Dundonald, who rode just behind her carriage. It was some time before she realized he was addressing his horse, not her!
Her carriage drew up in front of St. Paul’s cathedral, where a brief service was held in front, so that she would not have to leave her carriage and manage the stairs on her tottery legs. Her procession crossed London Bridge and drove through parts of the poverty-stricken East End, then crossed back over Westminster Bridge and eventually down the Mall back to Buckingham Palace. Though it was almost too warm and sunny—the Queen was forced to take cover under a parasol—warmer still was the mood of the crowd, so that Victoria was moved to tears. Afterward, as she wrote in her journal, no one had ever "met with such an ovation as was given me, passing through those six miles of streets. The crowds were quite indescribable, and their enthusiasm truly marvellous and deeply touching. The cheering was quite deafening and every face seemed to be filled with real joy."
Other events followed over the next few weeks, including a military review, an address from Parliament, a couple of garden parties at Buckingham Palace, and a party for schoolchildren in Hyde Park.
Among my collection I have this item pictured above: a commemorative mug celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, labeled "Presented by Henry Ponking, Mayor of Wallingford 1897". It’s fun to have a tiny piece of history; I may need to get myself a Jubilee mug from 2012 to go with it.
Felicitations, Your Majesty!