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A History of Royal Jubilees

Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee

In 2022, Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of service. Only a small group of world leaders have achieved this milestone. In celebration of Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, we look back at the history of royal jubilee celebrations through the ages. 

Header image: Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee 1977 portrait by Peter Grugeon ©Woodmansterne /TopFoto

      

What is a Jubilee?

Jubilees mark a major milestone in the reign of a Monarch, celebrating their life and service. 

The naming of these celebrations follows the traditions of wedding anniversaries: 25 years is called a Silver Jubilee, 50 years a Golden Jubilee, 60 years a Diamond Jubilee, and 70 years a Platinum Jubilee. 

      

History of Jubilees

George III is often credited as the first British monarch to mark a Golden Jubilee (50 years), a tradition followed by Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II, (George V celebrated a Silver Jubilee) but a few early British monarchs had reigns of more than fifty years. 

These included Henry III, Edward III, and James VI and I as King of Scotland. Unfortunately, little is known about how they celebrated their jubilees.

However, the few records that exist reveal some surprising similarities to the present day. Edward III (1327-1377) celebrated his Golden Jubilee in 1376 with a spectacular weeklong joust at London’s Smithfield beginning with a magnificent procession from the Tower of London accompanied by trumpeters. 

      
A portrait of King George III

George III’s Golden Jubilee, 1809

George III (1760-1820) was the first British monarch to mark his Golden Jubilee in a significant way and really began the tradition of national and international celebrations.  

George III celebrated his jubilee on 25 October 1809, the start of the 50th year of his reign, but since the reign of Queen Victoria, Golden Jubilees have been celebrated after the completion of 50 years of service.

The celebrations were a lavish, brilliant, noisy affair with processions, feasts and a 50-gun salute fired from the Tower of London.  A service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral was followed by banquets held in the King’s honour, with food and money provided for the poor so everyone (even those in prison) could partake in the festivities.  

Image: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022 

Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, 1887

Queen Victoria (1837-1901) had largely withdrawn from public life after the death of Prince Albert, her much loved consort, in 1861. Her Golden Jubilee was seen as an important opportunity to reconnect with the nation. 

Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee over the course of two days, starting with a lavish outdoor breakfast near Prince Albert's mausoleum at Windsor on 20 June 1887.  She then travelled by train to London for a banquet at Buckingham Palace.

The following day Victoria processed in an open carriage to Westminster Abbey for a ceremony of thanksgiving. During prayers at the Abbey, a beam of sunlight fell upon her bowed head which observers took as a mark of divine favour. On her return to Buckingham Palace, she appeared on the balcony and was cheered by the crowd. That evening there was another banquet followed by a firework display in the palace garden. 

      

Did you know?

Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years of her reign.

Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, 1897

Ten years later, on 20 June 1897, Queen Victoria became the first British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years of service.  

The day itself was marked privately with a service of thanksgiving at St George's Chapel, Windsor. Two days later, Victoria headed a royal procession through London, beginning at Buckingham Palace.

At St Paul’s Cathedral there was a short service of thanksgiving celebrated outside to spare the 78-year-old Queen, who suffered from arthritis, from having to climb the steps. Crowds of people watched from specially erected stands and thousands more crowded the steps of the Cathedral. 

      

Did you know?

Victoria was Britain's longest reigning monarch until her record was surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015.

George V's Silver Jubilee, 1935

Queen Victoria’s grandson, George V (1865-1936), celebrated his Silver Jubilee (25 years) on 6 May 1935. It was the first ever celebration of a British monarch’s Silver Jubilee.

The day was declared a public holiday and pageants, fetes, and parties were held in glorious May sunshine.

The King and Queen Mary attended a service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral before appearing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to cheering crowds. Throughout May, the king and Queen Mary took carriage rides through north London, including one accompanied by their granddaughters, Princess Margaret, and the future Elizabeth II.

      

Did you know?

Silver Jubilee commemorative mugs were given to every child born on Jubilee Day, 6 May 1935.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, 1977

In 1977 Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Silver Jubilee, marking 25 years of service. The anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s accession, and the death her father King George VI on 6 February 1952, was commemorated with church services.  

The Silver Jubilee was a major national and international event. The Queen and HRH Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh travelled some 56,000 miles on a series of jubilee tours that would take in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, before returning to the United Kingdom to visit a total of 36 counties in Scotland, England and Wales. In Lancashire alone, over a million people turned out to see The Queen.

The UK tour culminated in Northern Ireland, where she hosted a garden party at Hillsborough Castle.

The climax of the celebrations came on Jubilee Day, on the 7 June. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh processed in the Gold State Coach to St Paul's Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving. More than a million people lined the route, many camping overnight to secure a front row spot.

      

Did you know?

An estimated 500 million people watched the Jubilee Day procession on television.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee, 2002 and 2012

In 2002 and 2012 Queen Elizabeth II celebrated 50 and 60 years of service.

On her Golden Jubilee, The Queen and Prince Phillip toured the UK and the Commonwealth and held a concert at Buckingham Palace, followed by a spectacular firework display. 

The focus of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations took place once again in the summer. Highlights included the Thames Diamond Jubilee River Pagent, a spectacular flotilla of 1000 boats which travelled from Chelsea to Tower Bridge, led by The Royal Barge, on which the Queen travelled.  

Big Jubilee Lunches were held throughout the UK and around the world, attended by an estimated 8.5 million people in the UK alone. On 2 June, the anniversary of the Queen’s coronation, a 62-gun salute was fired at the Tower of London and elsewhere.

      
Superbloom at night moat lit up with pink and yellow lighting

Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, 2022

In 2022, Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. In the UK celebrations were inspired by jubilees throughout history. The focal point of the celebrations took place over Jubilee Weekend, an extended bank holiday from Thursday 2 June to Sunday 5 June 2022.

Historic Royal Palaces celebrated this extraordinary achievement with onsite and online experiences. In March, the Life Through a Royal Lens exhibition at Kensington Palace explored 200 years of royal photography.

The centrepiece of our celebrations was Superbloom, a new natural landscape surrounding the Tower of London. Over 20 million flower seeds were sown in the moat in early 2022. Designed to bloom and evolve over the course of the summer in harmony with nature, Superbloom became a new haven for pollinators in London and a space to celebrate the value of nature for wellbeing.

Listen to our Jubilee podcast

In this special podcast episode, we celebrate Her Majesty The Queen's Platinum Jubilee with a rip-roaring tour of the history of Royal Jubilees. Join Curators Charles Farris, Joanna Marschner and Lee Prosser as they find out what it takes to make an iconic Jubilee celebration.

More episodes

Discover more royal history

Test your royal history knowledge

Download the Royal History Quiz App

You may know that the British Royal Family can trace their line back to William the Conqueror. But can you guess which ancestor was known as ‘King Log’? Or which one lost the Crown Jewels? Test your royal knowledge now!

Watch Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Footage (1897)

The spectacular event was staged in London with a processional route lined with troops from all corners of the Empire and millions of the Queen's subjects.

Watch this sequence, which has been preserved in the BFI National Archive and restored with its original tinting.

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