Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee

Queen Victoria, 1861
John Jabez Edwin Mayall/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

Not everyone was inclined to celebrate the longevity of Queen Victoria or the supremacy of Britain. In Ireland, there were public expressions of protest against British rule. And Irish Americans held their own public gatherings to denounce British oppression in their homeland.

Ten years later, Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations were held to mark Victoria's 60th anniversary on the throne. The 1897 events were distinctive as they seemed to mark the end of an era, as they were the last great assemblage of European royalty.

Preparations for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee

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.

Many Events Preceded Jubilee Day in 1887

The date of large public events was to be June 21, 1887, which would be the first day of the 51st year of her reign. But a number of associated events began in early May. Delegates from British colonies, including Canada and Australia, gathered and met with Queen Victoria on May 5, 1887, at Windsor Castle.

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 Golden Jubilee Celebrations

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.

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.

Some Protested the Celebrations of Queen Victoria's Reign

Not everyone was favorably impressed by the lavish celebrations honoring Queen Victoria. The New York Times reported that a large gathering of Irish men and women in Boston had protested the plan to hold a celebration of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee at Faneuil Hall.

The celebration at Faneuil Hall in Boston was held on June 21, 1887, despite pleas to the city government to block it. And celebrations were also held in New York City and other American cities and towns.

In New York, the Irish community held its own large meeting at Cooper Institute on June 21, 1887. A detailed account in The New York Times was headlined: "Ireland's Sad Jubilee: Celebrating in Mourning and Bitter Memories."

The New York Times story described how the capacity crowd of 2,500, in a hall decorated with black crepe, listened attentively to speeches denouncing British rule in Ireland and the actions of the British government during the Great Famine of the 1840s. Queen Victoria was criticized by one speaker as "Ireland's tyrant."

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McNamara, Robert. "Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/queen-victorias-golden-jubilee-celebrations-1774008. McNamara, Robert. (2023, April 5). Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/queen-victorias-golden-jubilee-celebrations-1774008 McNamara, Robert. "Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/queen-victorias-golden-jubilee-celebrations-1774008 (accessed June 10, 2023).