We all know that jubilees mark special anniversaries or events.
What might not be so well known is that the word ‘jubilee’ derives from the Hebrew yobel, which means ‘ram’s horn’. The yobel was blown to signal the beginning of the Year of Release, which happens every fiftieth year.
Let’s blow our own trumpet for some right-royal jubilees.
Roast Beef and Plum Pudding: George III’s Golden Jubilee, 1809
The first British monarch to celebrate a jubilee was George III: on 25 October 1809 a celebration was held to mark the beginning of the fiftieth year of his reign. As we might expect, in villages, towns and cities throughout the country prayers were read, public buildings were decorated, celebratory dinners eaten and fireworks sent shooting into the night sky.
The day was also marked by some surprising acts of benevolence. The King granted the release of ‘all persons confined for military offences’, and in Newcastle upon Tyne, ten prisoners were released from the city gaol, and given half-a-guinea for a good dinner and to drink George’s health.
This Brilliant Year: Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, 1887
The death of Prince Albert quashed any thoughts of a Silver Jubilee for Queen Victoria. However, her Golden Jubilee was celebrated over two days, on 20 and 21 June 1887. The first day included a breakfast at Frogmore, where the Prince was buried, and a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace. The following day, escorted by Indian cavalry, Victoria processed through crowded streets to attend a Thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey.
In a similar fashion to George III’s Golden Jubilee, prisoners throughout the Empire were released, although those imprisoned for cruelty to animals were not shown leniency.
At the end of the year, Victoria wrote in her diary: ‘never, never can I forget this brilliant year, so full of the marvellous kindness, loyalty, and devotion of so many millions, which really I could hardly have expected.’
A Never to be Forgotten Day: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 1897
Ten years after her ‘brilliant year’, Queen Victoria became the first British monarch to enjoy a Diamond Jubilee. It was celebrated as a festival of the British Empire and all the prime ministers of the self-governing Dominions were invited to London.
On 22 June, troops from the Empire took part in a six-mile procession of seventeen carriages through London, from Buckingham Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral. Victoria’s painful arthritis prevented her from climbing the steps into the cathedral and so a short service was conducted outside while the queen remained in her carriage.
Around the country, bonfires were lit and pubs were permitted to stay open until 2.30 am. In her journal Victoria wrote that it was ‘a never to be forgotten day.’
Blowing a Fuse: King George V’s Silver Jubilee, 1935
King George V’s Silver Jubilee was marked with a number of official events throughout May, June and July 1935, the first of which was a Thanksgiving service held at St Paul’s Cathedral on 6 May. Later in the summer he would review the Royal Air Force at Duxford and Mildenhall, the Army at Aldershot and the Royal Navy at Spithead.
On the evening of 6 May, a chain of bonfires was lit. Organised by the Boy Scout Association, bonfires were built in Hyde Park, Primrose Hill, Greenwich Park, Richmond Park, Hampton Court Park and Bushy Park. At 9.55 pm, the King pressed a button in his study, activating a relay circuit that connected with a telephone box in Hyde Park. This then blew a fuse inserted in the nearby bonfire, setting off the chain.
Never Mind the Sex Pistols: Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, 1977
Many of us can remember the local celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. For some the abiding memory is of the cold weather and street parties, homemade flags, fancy dress competitions and piles of ice cream.
During the year of the Jubilee, the Queen travelled extensively throughout the UK and Commonwealth but the main celebrations at home happened at the Bank Holiday weekend in June, coinciding with the Queen’s official birthday.
In an act mocking the Queen’s planned river procession, punk outfit the Sex Pistols performed on a boat on the River Thames, promoting their recent release God Save the Queen. The single reached number two in the official UK charts. While the band has denied the song was made for the Silver Jubilee, it was re-released in 2002 and 2012 to coincide with Queen Elizabeth’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees.