On 2nd June 2022, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth marked the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. It is the first time that a British monarch has reached this milestone. Elizabeth II has the distinction of being both the longest reigning monarch in British history and the longest reigning queen regnant in global history. These accolades were once held by her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
Victoria was the first regnant queen to reach fifty years on the throne, an achievement which was marked by her Golden Jubilee in June 1887. This was only the second Golden Jubilee ever to be held—the first having taken place in 1809 in the reign of George III—and the first to be held for a regnant queen. In 1897, Victoria reached an even more impressive milestone. The Diamond Jubilee of that year marked sixty years of Victoria’s reign. It was a reign of unprecedented length, one that would ultimately be superseded by that of Elizabeth II but at the time it would have seemed unlikely that another monarch would reign as long as Victoria had. Then, as now, there were many people who could not recall ever having another monarch on the throne—both women had become mainstays within the fabric of British culture. Indeed, it would not be until Elizabeth II’s reign that another Golden and Diamond Jubilee would be held, in 2002 and 2012 respectively. To celebrate this Platinum Jubilee year, then, we will take a brief look at the jubilees held for Queen Victoria in the last decades of the 19th century.
Jubilees were not an established tradition by the time of Victoria’s reign and there was little coordination between the Crown and the Government to see the Golden Jubilee marked with celebrations. Neither Gladstone nor his Prime Ministerial successor, Lord Salisbury, were keen to use public funds to hold events on Victoria’s behalf.[i] This may have been, in part, because state occasions in Queen Victoria’s tended to be unimpressive. The Golden Jubilee procession on 21st June 1887 was noted for its poise, elegance, and unflappable composure—all things we would expect from royal processions today, but it was not, as historian Thomas Richards argued, the norm for Victoria’s reign. Victoria’s public appearances had, hitherto, been ‘completely unrehearsed’ and were noted for their ‘shabbiness.’[ii] This had been the case for her coronation in 1837, when ‘the clergy lost their place in the order of service while the trailbearers talked throughout the ceremony.’[iii] Similar disappointment had been found in the wedding of the Prince of Wales in 1863 and in Queen Victoria’s appearance at the opening of Parliament in 1886, only a year before the Jubilee took place. This is completely contrary to the closely choreographed royal appearances, processions, and Jubilees of Elizabeth II’s reign, yet entirely usual for the Georgian kings whom Victoria had succeeded. Numerous state occasions, particularly royal funerals such as that of Queen Caroline in 1737, were badly managed by the Crown, with both members of the royal family and the nobility often noted for their curious or bad behaviour. In that respect, then, the elegant procession of carriages that left Buckingham Palace for Westminster Abbey was a departure from the past and a step towards the visuals that we expect to see from the royal family now.
The Queen rode in an open landau, a soft-top carriage with the roof down, that was pulled by six cream horses. The Queen’s coach was preceded by an Indian cavalry escort and was followed by nine state coaches carrying her numerous European relations, who had flocked to London for the celebrations. In his book, The Victorians, A.N Wilson wrote that the ‘crowds gave rousing cheers to the brilliantly dressed Indian princes’ and commented that these princes and ‘the majestic figures of Queen Kapiolani and her daughter Princess Liluokalani of Hawaii, rather outshone the visiting European royalties – the men whiskery and uniformed, the women for the most part plain and long-suffering – who must have been more or less indistinguishable as they trotted by.’[iv] The procession was captured by both photographers and painters alike and these images hint at the splendour of the occasion. Upon Victoria’s return to Buckingham Palace, she appeared on the balcony to the delight of the crowds—a royal practice which has become a familiar sight today.
The Diamond Jubilee, which took place a decade later, was also celebrated with a procession, this time from Buckingham Palace to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Victoria’s frailty meant that there were no plans for her to enter the abbey for the service of thanksgiving, as she had done in 1887 at Westminster Abbey—a scene captured in paint by William Ewart Lockhart. Instead, the service was held on the steps so that the Queen could remain in her carriage and listen there. The people of London were out in force to catch a glimpse of the proceedings—a small sense of the crowds can be seen in the film footage taken of the procession. Street parties were held, and beacons were lit across the country, two things which are very familiar to us today. Medals to commemorate both Jubilees were also made, a tradition which has survived into the 21st century as well.
To date, Elizabeth II has celebrated six Jubilees—from Silver to Platinum—which is the most any monarch has ever celebrated. Despite the time that has elapsed, there are many similarities between Victoria’s and Elizabeth’s Jubilees, as this blogpost has highlighted. This reflects how imbedded the tradition of the Jubilee has become in Britain. It also highlights the importance of continuity, which both monarchs, and the patterns of the celebrations, came to represent. After Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, Britain had to wait over a century for another monarch to reach that milestone—we may have to wait just as long, if not longer, for another monarch to do the same again.
Millidge, Judith. Royal Jubilees (London: Bloomsbury, 2012).
Richards, Thomas. “The Image of Victoria in the Year of the Jubilee.” Victorian Studies 31 (1987): 7-32.
Wilson, A. N. The Victorians (London: Arrow Books, 2002).
Further Reading and Links
“Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1897).” YouTube. 0.38. Posted by British Pathé, April 13 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcXzrQFPfuk.
“Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, full version.” YouTube. 4.27. Posted by The Royal Family, September 22 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTG9NJTZFKk.
Royal.uk. “A History of Jubilees.” Date accessed 20June 2022. https://www.royal.uk/history-jubilees.
The Young Victoria. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. Momentum Pictures, 2009. Feature Film – Available on Disney+ as of June 2022.
Queen Victoria’s Children. Episodes 1-3. BBC, January 2013. Available on BBC iPlayer – https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01pp965/queen-victorias-children-1-the-best-laid-plans.
Basu, Shrabani. Victoria & Abdul: The Extraordinary Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidante (London: The History Press, 2010).
Wilson, A.N. Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy (London: Atlantic Books, 2019).
Wilson, A.N. Victoria: A Life (London: Atlantic Books, 2014).
Worsley, Lucy. Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2018).
[i] Judith Millidge, Royal Jubilees (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), 21.
[ii] Thomas Richards, “The Image of Victoria in the Year of the Jubilee,” Victorian Studies 31 (1987), 7-9.
[iii] Richards, “The Image,” 7.
[iv] A.N. Wilson, The Victorians (London: Arrow Books, 2002), 502.