Well Queen Elizabeth will be celebrating (along with many of her subjects no doubt!) the 60th anniversary of the accession of her good self to the throne of the British Empire as did Queen Victoria’s back in 1897.
Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth have a certain amount in common really, obviously both Queen but the only two to have reigned for 60 years and both enjoy a level of ‘esteem’ I suppose you could call it which has not always been for the monarchy of the united Kingdom
In 1887 the British Empire was at its peak with Queen Victoria the head of a realm of 450 million people that covered all four corners of the earth, she the head of an empire that ruled a quarter of the world’s population.
Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee was huge with many nationwide festivities taking place and even modern-style royal walkabouts for the elderly and less the robust monarch. Nevertheless the idea of staging celebrations from one end of the nation to the other was really rather novel, quite simply we hadn’t done it before and didn;t really see ourselves as the party nation.
Historian Prof Walter Arnstein writes:
Britons hadn’t seen themselves as very good at such things. It was the sort of thing that people in Napoleonic France or Russia had been associated with. Queen Victoria herself didn’t much care for the idea. She thought it was not altogether appropriate and had to be talked into it.
However she found it was much more than she had expected.
She enjoyed it in retrospect, but beforehand had made things quite difficult for [prime minister] Lord Salisbury at the planning stage.
In fact Queen Victoria went on to say:
The crowds were quite indescribable and their enthusiasm truly marvellous and deeply touching.
So on Tuesday 22 June, named as Jubilee Day was celebrated across the globe. Like today it was a bank holiday, not just here but in India and Ireland.
This year we have the Royal Flotilla as the highlight, in contrast Queen Victoria’s was a procession along six miles of London streets of the extended Royal Family and the leaders of the self-governing dominions and Indian states, that must’ve been quite a sight!
The Army, Navy (of course there was no air force for sometime to come) was accompanied by colonial forces from Canada, India, Africa and the Antipodes dolled up their most colourful dress uniforms, unfortunately the Queen (still dressed in black) had painful arthritis and couldn’t get out of the state coach.
The parade started at Buckingham Palace went via Mansion House along past The Houses of Parliament, across Westminster Bridge and then headed up to St Paul’s Cathedral for a special service. This surely was “Queen of earthly Queens” day as it was said at the time.
The Queen at 78 wrote:
No-one ever, I believe, has met with such an ovation as was given to 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 joy.
Street parties were laid on for 400,000 of London’s poorest residents and 100,000 of Manchester’s. Sir Thomas Lipton of tea fame, sponsored and supplied free bottles of ale and pipe tobacco. These continued into the late evening with a chain of beacons lit across Britain.
All the celebrations were very much focused on the empire, its success, its expansiveness and its seeming invincibility not something we can celebrate today as we have slipped to be one of the smaller players on the world stage.