Time to Party
Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Portrait
Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years and was honored by two great public commemorations of her longevity as ruler of the British Empire.
Her Golden Jubilee, to mark the 50th anniversary of her reign, was observed in June 1887. European heads of state, as well as delegations of officials from throughout the empire, attended lavish events in Britain.
The Golden Jubilee festivities were widely seen not only as a celebration of Queen Victoria, but as an affirmation of Britain's place as a global power. Soldiers from throughout the British Empire marched in processions in London. And in the distant outposts of the empire celebrations were also held.
As the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign approached, the British government felt that a monumental celebration was in order. She had become queen in 1837, at the age of 18, when the monarchy itself had seemed to be coming to an end.
She had successfully restored the monarchy to where it occupied a preeminent place in British society. And by any accounting, her reign had been successful. Britain, by the 1880s, stood astride much of the world. And despite small-scale conflicts in Afghanistan and Africa, Britain had essentially been at peace since the Crimean War three decades earlier.
There was also a feeling that Victoria deserved a great celebration as she had never celebrated her 25th anniversary on the throne. Her husband, Prince Albert, had died young, in December 1861. And the celebrations which likely would have occurred in 1862, which would have been her Silver Jubilee, were simply out of the question. Indeed, Victoria became fairly reclusive after Albert's death, and when she did appear in public, she would be dressed in widow's black.
In early 1887 the British government began making preparations for the Golden Jubilee.
For the next six weeks, the queen participated in a number of public events, including helping to lay the cornerstone for a new hospital. At one point in early May, she expressed curiosity about an American show then touring England, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. She attended a performance, enjoyed it, and later met cast members.
The queen traveled to one of her favorite residences, Balmoral Castle in Scotland, to celebrate her birthday on May 24, but planned to return for London for the major events which would take place close to the anniversary of her accession, June 20.
The actual anniversary of Victoria's accession to the throne, June 20, 1887, began with a private commemoration. Queen Victoria, with her family, had breakfast at Frogmore, near the mausoleum of Prince Albert. She returned to Buckingham Palace, where an enormous banquet was held. Members of various European royal families attended, as did diplomatic representatives.
The following day, June 21, 1887, was marked with lavish public spectacle. The queen traveled by a procession through the streets of London to Westminster Abbey. According to a book published the following year, the queen's carriage was accompanied by "a bodyguard of seventeen princes in military uniform, superbly mounted and wearing their jewels and orders." The princes were from Russia, Britain, Prussia, and other European nations. The role of India in the British Empire was emphasized by having a troop of Indian cavalry in the procession close to the queen's carriage.
Ancient Westminster Abbey had been prepared, as galleries of seats had been built to accommodate 10,000 invited guests. The service of thanksgiving was marked by prayers and music performed by the abbey's choir. During prayers for the Queen at the Abbey, a beam of sunlight fell upon her bowed head, which the future Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii observing noted as a mark of divine favor.
On her return to the Palace, she went to her balcony and was cheered by the crowd. In the ballroom she distributed brooches made for the Jubilee to her family. In the evening, she put on a gown embroidered with silver roses, thistles and shamrocks and attended a banquet. Afterwards she received a procession of diplomats and Indian princes. She was then wheeled in her chair to sit and watch fireworks in the palace garden. That night, "illuminations" lit the skies of England. According to one account, "On rugged cliffs and beacon hills, on mountain peaks and lofty heaths and commons, great bonfires blazed."
The next day a celebration for 27,000 children was held in London's Hyde Park. Queen Victoria paid a visit to the "Children's Jubilee." All the children attending were given a "Jubilee Mug" designed by the Doulton company.
McNamara, Robert. “Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.” thoughtco.com, Dotdash Publishing, 20 October 2017, www.thoughtco.com/queen-victorias-golden-jubilee-celebrations-1774008.