Just in time for the main event, expert and Shire author Judith Millidge takes a look at precisely how popular past jubilees really were ...
The other side of the bunting
While researching Royal Jubilees, I came across a fair bit of sycophantic nonsense regarding the monarch and the monarchy stretching across two centuries. Disraeli famously said that, 'everyone likes flattery and when you come to royalty you should lay it on with a trowel', but even he may have baulked at some of the more extreme examples. One writer referred to George III's jubilee as 'a spontaneus effusion of love', and in 1886 MPs asked whether 'the jubilee year of Her Majesty's accession to the Throne should be appropriately celebrated in some National manner, so as to give pleasure and satisfaction to all loyal subjects'. Obsequious though these sentiments may seem, one has to view them in the context of the language of the time.
IN 1809, not everyone shared the view that George III was ‘beloved by his people, his actions the glory of all his subjects and the veneration of all the world’, as one of the commemorative tokens recorded, and it was actually quite refreshing to find some dissonance amid all that patriotic hyperbole.
In 1810, three months after the spectacularly popular celebrations for the National Jubilee, the radical MP Sir Francis Burdett called the day of national feasting and toasting, 'a clumsy trick to thrust joy down the throats of the people'. Given that a large proportion of the country's poor were amply fed and watered for free, Sir Francis seems to have been utterly out of sympathy with the general feeling of the day and he was roundly booed in the House of Commons.
Even better, in 1887, it was the Queen herself who was initially reluctant to surrender herself to the outpouring of patriotism and national self-congratulation. Queen Victoria pleaded modesty and infirmity at first, and once she had been persuaded to participate, she refused to wear a crown or state robes. Initially unamused by the whole idea, she only really accepted the Golden Jubilee celebrations after she had been tickled by the gift of a Queen Victoria-shaped ink stand from the Prince of Wales.
In 1977 the build up to the Silver Jubilee could best be described as a slow burn, which was enlivened only by the Establishment's fear that the Sex Pistol’s insubordinate ‘God Save the Queen’ would top the charts during jubilee week. The government attitude towards planning events was summed up in the chilly words of guidance from the Home Office:
‘You must not bore the public
You must not kill the Queen.’
Today, as the popularity of the monarchy reaches new heights, the country remains impressed by the stamina of our 86-year-old Queen and her seemingly bottomless capacity to enjoy everything her Diamond Jubilee celebrations produce. On that subject, there has only been one dissenter, the Queen’s redoubtable cousin, Margaret Rhodes, who has said that the Queen slightly dreads ‘the ship thing’ – the Thames River Pageant planned for Sunday.
She may have a point. Republic, the protest group intent on abolishing the monarchy, are planning a jubilee protest on the banks of the Thames at Tower Bridge, no doubt spurred on by the ghost of Sir Francis Burdett. Even they, however, are advertising it as a great day out.