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Sunday, 19 June 2011

“ I Have Never Seen So Many People; Certainly Never So Many Drunken Ones.” Or: 124 Years Today: The Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

This is more an “I mention in passing…” post than an actual blog post, but in June 2012, Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate 60 years as queen with her diamond jubilee celebrations, which will see her move to within three years of eclipsing Victoria as our longest serving monarch. Monday the 4th and Tuesday 5th of June will be bank holidays, and Greenwich in London will become a Royal Borough as part of the celebrations.
But, as you may have guessed, I wont be concentrating on our current Queen’s jubilee celebrations with this post, but rather looking back at the penultimate jubilee of Victoria’s life; her Golden jubilee, celebrating fifty years as Queen, which began 124 days ago today, and lasted two days from the 20th to the 21st June1887.

The official website of the British Monarchy, contains this great description of events over the two days: 

On 20 June the day began quietly with breakfast under the trees at Frogmore, the resting place of her beloved late husband, Prince Albert.
She then travelled by train from Windsor to Paddington and across the parks to Buckingham Palace for a royal banquet in the evening. Fifty foreign kings and princes, along with the governing heads of Britain's overseas colonies and dominions, attended the feast. 

She wrote in her diary of the event: "Had a large family dinner. All the Royalties assembled in the Bow Room, and we dined in the Supper-room, which looked splendid with the buffet covered with the gold plate. The table was a large horseshoe one, with many lights on it."
"The King of Denmark took me in, and Willy of Greece sat on my other side. The Princes were all in uniform, and the Princesses were all beautifully dressed. Afterwards we went into the Ballroom, where my band played

On the following day, Queen Victoria travelled in an open landau to Westminster Abbey, escorted by Indian cavalry. The procession through London, according to Mark Twain, "stretched to the limit of sight in both directions".

Bodies of soldiers in one colour, then another, marched past the spectators, who were accommodated on terraced benches along 10 miles of scaffolding erected for the purpose. Queen Victoria rode in the procession in her gilded State landau, drawn by six cream-coloured horses She refused to wear a crown, wearing instead a bonnet and a long dress.

The Queen took a keen interest in her Empire, and many representatives of the colonies attended the celebrations. The number of Indian princes - "men of stately build and princely carriage", noted Mark Twain - in splendid ceremonial dress, who attended to pay their respects, and the Indian cavalry which escorted the Queen to Westminster Abbey, attracted much attention.

On return to the Palace, she appeared on the balcony, where she was cheered by huge crowds. In the Ballroom she distributed Jubilee brooches to her family. In the evening, she put on a splendid gown embroidered with silver roses, thistles and shamrocks for a banquet. Afterwards she received a long procession of diplomats and Indian princes. She was then wheeled in her chair to sit and watch the fireworks in the garden.

According to the 24th June 1887 edition of ‘The Times’, celebrations took place in Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt, Philadelphia in the USA, Paris and Dieppe in France, Vienna in Austria, Berlin in Germany, Constantinople (now Istanbul) in Turkey, Oporto in Portugal, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia, and Santiago in Chile. Fete’s, processions, singing services, feasts and fireworks all took place as the empire celebrated the fiftieth year of Victoria’s reign.

In London the streets were thronged, and over 10 miles of scaffolding was used to line the route of her procession as the Queen headed for Westminster Abbey, as we have already seen. American writer, journalist and diarist R.D Blumenfeld described the day in his diary: 

Tuesday, June 21, 1887.
Wonderful day for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee celebration. I spent most of last night wandering through the streets to observe the decorations and preliminary illuminations. The gas-lit streets looked brilliant. Holborn, which with great enterprise, has electric street lighting, particularly attractive; walked from the Inns of Court Hotel in Holborn at eight o'clock this morning in order to take up my place in the window at the foot of Haymarket, opposite Her Majesty's Opera House [now Carlton Hotel], but the crowd was so dense that I could get no further than Waterloo Place, facing my window, and there I was stuck in the heat until long beyond noon after the procession had passed. I climbed up the statue of King George, but could not maintain myself and came down. But I got a good view of most of the procession. The Queen's face was hidden from me by a sun-shade. The crowd round me seemed to be much interested in a dour-faced, heavily-kilted royal gillie, who sat behind. He looked unperturbed and rather grim. A good many onlookers mistook him for the famous John Brown, but he died some years ago.

A View of The Procession
I thought the German Crown Prince [Emperor Frederick], in his silver helmet and shining cuirass, the most striking figure in the procession. The young Princes, Edward [Duke of Clarence] and George [King George V.] were a popular feature in their naval uniforms. It was my first glimpse of some of the Ministers. I had never seen Lord Herschell, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Randolph Churchill, Lord Knutsford, Mr. Matthews, the Home Secretary, nor Lord Spencer, who is generally known as the Red Earl by virtue of his enormous red beard.

In the crowd beside me stood George Giddens, an actor who is appearing at the Criterion Theatre with Mr. Charles Wyndham in David Garrick. He knew every one in the procession, and I was not obliged to refer to my programme sheet. Giddens had been invited to sit in a window of the Opera House, but could not reach it. I recognized one of the lucky ones in a window of the steamship office where I had also taken a place. This fortunate one who had come earlier was Mr. James G. Blaine, the American Secretary of State, the famous " plumed knight," who would have been President but for the disastrous phrase: "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion," which an ardent supporter of his launched against the Democratic Party, and so lost the Roman Catholic vote to Mr. Blaine.

I drove round London to-night in a curricle with Walter Winans inspecting the fireworks. I have never seen so many people; certainly never so many drunken ones.

Another Victorian event I would love to have attended. Many things have changed in this country since 1887, but Blumenfeld’s last line suggests that some things remain the same…

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