On 20 June 1897, Queen Victoria became the first British monarch in history to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.
She had surpassed her grandfather, King George III, the previous year as the longest-reigning British monarch, but she celebrated that privately. She wrote in her journal, “Today is the day on which I have reigned longer, by a day, than any English sovereign, and the people wished to make all sorts of demonstrations, which I have asked them not do until I had completed the sixty years next June. But notwithstanding that this was made public in the papers, people of all kinds and ranks, from every part of the kingdom, sent congratulatory telegrams, and they kept coming in all day.”1
During the following Diamond Jubilee year, Queen Victoria was celebrated throughout the Empire. However, she was unable to walk up the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, so an open-air service was held so she could remain inside her carriage. The Princess of Wales patted her hand as the Queen wept. Seventeen carriages with other members of the royal family followed her.
As much as the public wanted to celebrate, Victoria did not want any unnecessary expenses, and she ordered that no reigning Kings and Queens were to be invited. Her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was reportedly furious.
The day itself was declared a bank holiday, and there was a procession of troops from the British army and navy, as well as troops from Canada, India and Africa. Thousands took place in street parties, and a chain of beacons was lit across the country. There was also a garden party and a state banquet to mark the occasion.
Queen Victoria wrote in her journal, “A never-to-be-forgotten day. No one ever, I believe, has met with such an ovation as was given to me, passing through those six miles of streets… The crowds were quite indescribable, and their enthusiasm was truly marvellous and deeply touching. The cheering was quite deafening, and every face seemed to be filled with real joy.
“At a quarter-past eleven, the others being seated in their carriages long before, and having preceded me a short distance, I started from the State entrance in an open State landau, drawn by eight creams, dear Alix, looking pretty in lilac, and Lenchen2 sitting opposite me. I felt a good deal agitated and had been so all these days, for fear anything might be forgotten or go wrong.
“Before leaving I touched an electronic button, by which I started a message which was telegraphed throughout the whole Empire. It was the following: ‘From my heart I thank my beloved people, May God bless them!’ At this time the sun burst out. Vicky3 was in the carriage nearest to me, not being able to go in mine, as her rank as Empress prevented her sitting with her back to horses, for I had to sit alone.”4
On her return to Germany, Queen Victoria’s daughter wrote home, “I am so thankful I witnessed the ceremonies of your Jubilee and left you looking so well, in spite of being tired which indeed you must be. It was a never-to-be-forgotten time – enthusiasm and loyalty for you in the very air, and all went off so well, and was so well organised, and on the whole the weather was most favourable. Your guests were all delighted, I am sure, and went away with grateful hearts.”5