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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee will be celebrated throughout the United Kingdom, Crown Dependencies, Overseas Territories and the Commonwealth between 2 and 5 June.
This Insight examines the origins of jubilee events in the UK and looks at what took place for previous monarchs.
What is a jubilee?
The concept of a jubilee has religious origins. In the Old Testament, a jubilee was marked every seven years and provided a structure for land management. In the Roman Catholic Church, jubilees are celebrated every 25 years, most recently in 2000.
Over time, jubilees took on a broader significance. In the UK, royal jubilees have become an opportunity to celebrate the life and long reign of a monarch. They mark the anniversary of King or Queen’s accession to the Throne rather than their coronation.
The first royal jubilee, which marked King George III’s 50th anniversary in 1809, was celebrated in the UK and its then colonies. This combined public and private events which became a feature of subsequent jubilees over the next two centuries.
Queen Victoria’s jubilees
Celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee began on 20 June 1887, exactly 50 years after she succeeded to the Throne in 1837.
That day began with a quiet breakfast under the trees at Frogmore, close to mausoleum of Prince Albert, who had died in 1861.
Victoria then travelled to Buckingham Palace for a banquet at which 50 foreign kings and princes were present. The following day she processed through London to Westminster Abbey. Victoria refused to wear a crown, instead wearing a bonnet and a long dress.
On returning to the Palace, Victoria made a balcony appearance and then changed into a gown embroidered with silver roses, thistles and shamrocks (symbolising England, Scotland and Ireland) for another banquet. Afterwards, she received diplomats and Indian princes before watching a fireworks display.
Ten years later, Victoria processed to St Paul’s Cathedral for a short service of thanksgiving to mark her Diamond Jubilee (this was held outside as she was too frail to manage the steps). The Queen then travelled several miles through the streets of London to ovations from the crowds.
King George V
The first Silver Jubilee was that of King George V. This took place on 6 May 1935, exactly 25 years after his accession to the Throne in 1910.
Celebrations began with a carriage procession to St Paul’s Cathedral for a Thanksgiving Service. This was followed by another procession to Buckingham Palace, where the King and Queen appeared on the balcony, something they repeated several times later that week.
6 May was declared a bank holiday, and across the UK there were garden parties, pageants and sporting events. Later that month, 2,000 guests attended a ball at Buckingham Palace, while the Lord Mayor of London hosted a reception in honour of the King and Queen Mary.
Queen Elizabeth II’s past jubilees
This year’s Platinum Jubilee is Queen Elizabeth II’s fourth, having previously marked her Silver in 1977, Golden in 2002 and Diamond in 2012.
For the Silver Jubilee, the actual anniversary of the Queen’s accession on 6 February 1952 was commemorated with church services, although the full celebrations took place in May and June 1977.
The Queen embarked on an extensive tour of the UK, and in early June she lit a bonfire beacon at Windsor which started a chain across the country. On 7 June the monarch arrived at St Paul’s for a Thanksgiving Service, attended a lunch at the Guildhall and made several balcony appearances at Buckingham Palace. There were thousands of street parties and on 9 June a barge procession took place on the River Thames.
Golden and Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2002 and 2012 continued this tradition by taking place in June, when there is “a greater likelihood of good weather”, rather than in February.
Both those jubilees echoed that of 1977 by including extensive tours of the UK, beacon lighting, services at St Paul’s and balcony appearances. An innovation in 2002 was the addition of a concert at Buckingham Palace, which was repeated in 2012. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations also revived the Thames barge procession of 1977.
What is planned for the Platinum Jubilee?
This month’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations include Trooping the Colour, beacon lighting, a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s, a concert at Buckingham Palace and a pageant. Thursday and Friday are bank holidays.
Due to “episodic mobility problems”, the Queen’s involvement will be more limited than in the past, with her attendance at certain events only likely to be confirmed on the day.
About the author: Dr David Torrance is the monarchy specialist the House of Commons Library.
Image: View of Buckingham Palace and the Mall SAC Matthew ‘Gerry’ Gerrard RAF/© MoD Crown Copyright 2016, OGL v1.0OGL v1.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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