Historical Tales: 4—English - Charles Morris

The Royal and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria

In the year 1887 came a great occasion in the life of England's queen, that of the fiftieth anniversary of her reign, a year of holiday and festivity that extended to all quarters of the world, for the broad girdle of British dominion had during her reign extended to embrace the globe. India led the way, the rejoicing over the royal jubilee of its empress extending throughout its vast area, from the snowy passes of the Himalayas on the north to the tropic shores of Cape Comorin on the south. Other colonies joined in the festivities, the loyal Canadians vieing with the free-hearted Australians, the semi-bronzed Africanders and the planters of the West Indies, in the celebration of the joyous anniversary year.

In the history of England there have been only four such jubilees, the earlier ones being those of Henry III., Edward III., and George III. It is a curious coincidence, that of these three sovereigns preceding Victoria whose reigns extended over fifty years, each of them was the third of his name. Victoria broke the rule in this as well as in the breadth and splendor of the jubilee display and rejoicings. To show this a few lines must be devoted to these earlier occasions.

The reign of Henry III. was memorable as being that in which trial by jury was introduced and the first real English Parliament, that summoned by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, was held. It was this that gives eclat to the jubilee year, 1265, for it was in that year that the first Parliament convened. Yet sorrow rather than rejoicing marked the year, for the horrors of civil war rent the land and the bloody battle of Evesham saddened all loyal souls.

The jubilee of Edward III. came in 1376, when that monarch entered the fiftieth year of his reign. This was a year fitted for rejoicing, for the age was one of glory and prosperity. The horrors of the "black death," which had swept the land some twenty years before, were forgotten and men were in a happy mood. We read of tournaments, processions, feasts and pageantry in which all the people participated. Yet sorrow came before the year ended, for the death of the "Black Prince," the most brilliant hero of chivalry, was sorely mourned by his father, the king, and by the subjects of the realm, while the rising clouds of civil war threw a gloom on the end of the jubilee year, as they had on that of Henry.

More than four centuries elapsed before another jubilee year arrived, that of George III., the fiftieth year of whose reign came in 1810. It was a year of festivities that spread widely over the land, the people entering into it with all the Anglo Saxon love of holiday. In addition to the grand state banquets, splendid balls, showy reviews and general illuminations, there were open-air feasts free to all, at which bullocks were roasted whole, while army and navy deserters were pardoned, prisoners of war set free, and a great subscription was made for the release from prison of poor debtors.

Yet there was little in the character of the king or the state of the country to justify these festivities. England was then in the throes of its struggle with Napoleon; the king had lost his reason, the Prince of Wales acting as regent; the only reason for rejoicing was that the inglorious career of George III. seemed nearing its end. Yet he survived for ten years more, not dying until 1820, and surpassing all predecessors in the length of his reign.

When, in the year 1887, Queen Victoria reached the fiftieth year of her reign, there were none of these causes for sorrow in her realm. England was in the height of prosperity, free from the results of blighting pestilence, disastrous wars, desolating famine, or any of the horrors that steep great nations in heart-breaking sorrow. The empire was immense in extent, prosperous in all its parts, and the queen was beloved throughout her wide dominions as no monarch of England had ever been before. Thus it was a year in which the people could rejoice without a shadow to darken their joy and with warm love for their queen to make their hilarity a real instead of a simulated one.

It was in far-off India, of which Victoria had been proclaimed empress ten years before, that the first note of rejoicing was heard. The 16th of February was selected as the date of the imperial festival, which was celebrated all over the land, even in Mandalay, the capital of the newly-conquered state of Upper Burmah. Europeans and natives alike took part in the ceremonies and rejoicings, which embraced banquets, plays, reviews, illuminations, the distribution of honors, the opening in honor of the empress of libraries, colleges and hospitals, and at Gwalior the cancelling of the arrears of the land-tax amounting to five million dollars.

The fiftieth year of the queen's reign would be completed on the 20th of June, but in the preceding months of the year many preliminary ceremonies took place in England. Among these was a splendid reception of the queen at Birmingham, which city she visited on the 23rd of March. The streets were richly decorated with flags, festoons, triumphal arches, banks of flowers, and trophies illustrating the industries of that metropolis of manufacture, while the streets were thronged with half a million of rejoicing people. A striking feature of the occasion was a semi-circle of fifteen thousand school-children, a mile long, the teachers standing behind each school-group, and a continuous strain of "God Save the Queen "hailing the royal progress along the line.

On the 4th of May the queen received at Windsor Castle of the colonial governments, whose addresses showed that during her reign the colonial subjects of the empire had increased from less than 2,000,000 to more than 9,000,000 souls, the Indian subjects from 96,000,000 to 254,000,000, and those of minor dependencies from 2,000,000 to 7,000,000.

There were various other incidents connected with the Jubilee during May, one being a visit of the queen to the American "Wild West Show," and another the opening of the "People's Palace" at Whitechapel, in which fifteen thousand troops were ranged along seven miles of splendidly decorated streets, while the testimony of the people to their affection for their queen was as enthusiastic as it had been at Birmingham. Day after day other ceremonial occasions arrived, including banquets, balls, assemblies and public festivities of many kinds, from the feeding of four thousand of poor at Glasgow to a yacht race around the British Islands.

The great Jubilee celebration, however, was reserved for the 21st of June, the chief streets of London being given over to a host of decorators, who transformed them into a glowing bower of beauty. The route set aside for the imposing procession was one long array of brilliant color and shifting brightness almost impossible to describe and surpassing all former festive demonstrations.

Windsor Castle


The line of the royal procession extended from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, along which route windows and seats had been secured at fabulous prices, while the throng of sightseers that densely crowded the streets was in the best of good humor.

As the procession moved slowly along from Buckingham Palace a strange silence fell upon the gossiping crowd as they awaited the coming of the aged queen, on her way to the old Abbey to celebrate in state the fiftieth year of her reign. When the head of the procession moved onward and the royal carriages came within sight, the awed feeling that had prevailed was followed by one of tumultuous enthusiasm, volley after volley of cheers rending the air as the carriage bearing the royal lady passed between the two dense lines of loyal spectators.

With a face tremulous with emotion the queen bowed from side to side in grateful courtesy to her acclaiming subjects, as did her companions, the Princess of Wales and the German Crown Princess, who had returned to her native land to take part in its holiday of patriotism.

Six cream-colored horses drew the stately carriage in which the royal party rode, the Duke of Cambridge and an escort accompanying it, while a body-guard of princes followed, the Prince of Wales being mounted on a golden chestnut horse and sharing with his mother the cheers of the throng. Preceding this escort and the queen's carriage was a series of carriages in which were seated the sumptuously appareled Indian princes, clothed in cloth of gold and wearing turbans glittering with diamonds and other precious gems. Prominent in the group of mounted princes was the German Crown Prince Frederick, who succeeded to the throne as Emperor Frederick III. in the following March and died in the following June, in less than a year from his appearance in the Jubilee. But there was no presage of his quick-coming death in his present appearance, his white uniform and plumed silver helmet attracting general admiration, while he sat his horse as proudly as a knight of old and was covered with medals and decorations significant of his prowess in battle. A gorgeous cavalcade of natives of India completed the procession, than which none of greater brilliance had ever been seen in London streets.

In the Abbey were gathered from nine to ten thousand spectators, of the noblest families of the land, and dressed in their most effective attire, while the lights brought out the glitter of thousands of gleaming gems. The queen herself, while dressed in rich black, wore a bonnet of white Spanish lace that glittered with diamonds.

As she entered the Abbey the organ pealed forth the strains of a triumphal march. There followed a Jubilee Thanksgiving Service, brief and simple, and special prayers by the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a finale to the impressive scene the queen, moved to deep emotion, embraced with warm affection the princes and princesses of her house, and, with a deep bow to her foreign guests, with- drew from the scene, to return to the palace over the same route and through similar demonstrations of enthusiastic loyalty.

All over England and Ireland and in the colonies the day was celebrated by joyous celebrations, and in foreign lands, especially in the United States, the British residents fittingly honored the festive occasion.

On the following day, in Hyde Park, London, the queen drove in state down a long and happy line of twenty-seven thousand school-children, who had been made happy by a banquet and various amusements, besides being given a multitude of toys. The special feature of the occasion was the presentation by the queen of a specially manufactured jubilee-ring, which she gave with a kind speech to a very happy twelve-year-old girl who had attended school for several years without missing a session.

There was also a review of fifty-six thousand volunteers at Aldershot, a grand review of one hundred and thirty-five warships at Spithead, and other ceremonies, one of the chief of which was the laying by the queen, on the 4th of July, of the foundation stone of the Imperial Institute in the Albert Hall, this Institute being intended to stand as a sign of the essential unity of the British Empire.

The well-loved queen of the British nation was to live to celebrate in health and strength another jubilee year, that of the sixtieth anniversary of her reign, a distinction in which she stands alone in the history of the island kingdom. George III., who came nearest, died a few months before the completion of his sixty years' period. Had he lived to fulfil it there would have been no celebration, for he had become a broken wreck, blind and hopelessly insane, a man who lived despised and died unmourned.

But Victoria, though nearly eighty years of age, had still several years to live and was fully capable of performing the duties of her position. No monarch of England had reigned so long, none had enjoyed to so great an extent the love and respect of the people, in no previous reign had there been an equal progress in all that conduces to happiness and prosperity, in none had the dominion of the throne of Great Britain so widely extended, and it was felt for many reasons desirable to make the Diamond Jubilee, as it was termed, the occasion for the most magnificent demonstration that either England or the world had ever yet seen.

In all its features the observance lasted a month. It was not confined to the British Isles, but extended to the dominions of the queen throughout the world, in all of which some form of festive celebration took place. But the chief and great event of the occasion was the unrivalled procession in London on the 22nd of June, 1897, an affair in which all the world took part, not only representatives of the wide-sweeping possessions of the British crown, but dignitaries from most of the other nations of the world being present to add grandeur and completeness to the splendid display.

To describe it in full would need far more space than we have at command, and we must confine ourselves to its salient features. It began at midnight of the 21st, at which hour, under a clear, star-lit sky, the streets were already thronged with people in patient waiting and the bells of all London in tumultuous peal announced the advent of the jubilee day, while from the vast throng ringing cheers and the singing of "God Save the Queen" hailed the happy occasion.

When the new day dawned and the auspicious sunlight brightened the scene, the streets devoted to the procession, more than six miles in length, appeared one vast blaze of color and display of decorations, the jubilee colors, red, white and blue, being everywhere seen, while the medley of wreaths, festoons, banners, colored globes and balloons, pennons, shields, fir and laurel evergreens, and other emblems of festivity, were innumerable and bewildering in their variety.

The march began at 9:45, and came as a welcome relief to the vast throng that for hours had been wearily waiting. Its first contingent was the colonial military procession, in which representatives of the whole world seemed present in distinctive attire. It was a moving picture of soldiers from every continent and many of the great isles of the sea, massed in a complex and extraordinary display.

Chief in command, following a squadron of the Royal Horse Guards, rode Lord Roberts, the famed and popular general, who was hailed with an uproar of shouts of "Hurrah for Bobs!" Close behind him came a troop of the Canadian Hussars and the Northwest mounted police, escorting Sir Wilfred Laurier, the premier of Canada. Premier Reid, of New South Wales, followed, escorted by the New South Wales Lancers and the Mounted Rifles, with their gray sombreros and black cocks' plumes.

In rapid succession, escorting the premiers of the several colonies, came other contingents of troops, each wearing some distinctive uniform, including those of Victoria, New Zealand, Queensland, Cape Colony, South Australia, Newfoundland, Tasmania, Natal and West Australia. Then came mounted troops from many other localities of the British empire, reaching from Hong Kong in the East to Jamaica in the West, and fairly girdling the globe in their wide variety.

Among the oddities of this complex multitude we may name the Zaptiehs from Cyprus, wearing the Turkish fez and bonnet; the olive-faced Borneo Dyaks; the Chinese police from Hong Kong, with saucepan-like hats shading their yellow faces; the Royal Niger Hausses, with their shaved heads and shining black skins; and other picturesquely attired examples of the men of varied climes.

Such was the colonial parade, a marvellous display from the "far-thrown" British realm. It was followed by the home military parade, which formed a carnival of gorgeous costume and color; scarlet and blue, gold, white and yellow; shining cuirasses and polished helmets, waving plumes and glittering tassels; splendid trappings for horses and more splendid ones for men; horse and foot and batteries of artillery; death-dealing weapons of every kind; all marching to the stirring music of richly accoutred bands and under treasured banners for which the men in the ranks were ready to die.

Led by Captain Ames, the tallest man in the British army, followed by four of the tallest troopers of the Life Guards,—a regiment of very tall men—the soldierly procession, as it wound onward under the propitious sun, seemed like nothing so much as some bright stream of burnished gold flowing between dark banks of human beings.

The colonial and military parade having passed, there followed that part of the display to which all this was preliminary, the royal procession, in which her Majesty the Queen was once more to show her venerable form to her assembled people. Preceding the gorgeous chariot of the queen, with its famous eight cream colored Hanoverian horses, appeared its military escort, a glittering cavalcade of splendidly uniformed officers, its chief figures being Lord Wolseley, Commander-in-chief of the Army, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Connaught, the Duke of Westminster, and the Lord Lieutenant of London.

In the escort were also included foreign military and naval dignitaries, in alphabetical order, beginning with Austria and ending with the United States, the latter represented by General Nelson A. Miles, in full uniform and riding a splendid horse. The whole was bewildering in its variety. From Germany came a deputation of the First Prussian Dragoon Guards, splendid looking soldiers, sent as a special compliment from the Kaiser. But most brilliant of all was a group of officers of the Imperial Service Troops of India, in the most gorgeous of uniforms. Behind these came in two-horse landaus the special envoys from the various American and European nations.

The escort of princes included the Marquis of Lorne, son-in-law of the queen, the Duke of York, the Duke of Fife, and among notable foreign princes, the Grand Duke Servius of Russia, the Crown Prince Dando of Montenegro, and Mohammed Ali Khan, brother of the Khedive of Egypt, who rode a pure white Arabian charger.

The hour of eleven had passed when Queen Victoria descended the steps of the palace and entered the awaiting carriage, each of whose horses was led by a "walking man" in the royal livery and a huntsman's black-velvet cap, while the postilions were dressed in scarlet and gold coats, white trousers and riding boots, each livery having cost $600.

Through miles of wildly enthusiastic people the carriage wound, the chief feature of its progress being the formal crossing of the boundary of ancient London at Temple Bar, where the old ceremony of the submission of the city to the sovereign was performed, the Lord Mayor presenting the hilt of the city sword—"Queen Elizabeth's pearl sword,"—presented by the queen to the corporation during a ceremony in 1570. The touching of the hilt by the queen, in acceptance of submission, completed this ceremony, and the carriage rolled on to St. Paul's Cathedral, where a brief service was performed.

The next stop was at the Mansion House, where the Lord Mayor presented the Lord Mayoress and the attendant maids of honor handed the queen a beautiful silver basket filled with gorgeous orchids. The palace was finally reached at 1:45, when a gun in Hyde Park announced that the procession was over, and the great event had passed into history. An outburst of cheers followed this final salute and the vast throng, millions in number, broke and vanished, carrying to their homes vivid memories of the most brilliant affair the great metropolis of London had ever seen.