The Diamond Jubilee Book Reviews 8: The Diamond Queen by Andrew Marr

The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People was one of the first books published in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Andrew Marr, a British journalist and political commentator, wrote it as a companion to a landmark BBC documentary series about the Queen’s life and reign. Marr is also the author of The Making Of Modern Britain and other works about the recent history of the British Isles. The Diamond Queen is therefore steeped in the historical context of both the twentieth century monarchy and broader political and social change in the United Kingdom and the rest of the commonwealth. Marr’s work complements the other Diamond Jubilee books about the Queen, providing a fresh perspective on Elizabeth II’s sixty year reign.

While Robert Hardman focuses on the Queen’s household and duties, Sally Bedell Smith looks at the Queen’s personality, and Ian Bradley analyzes her role within the Church of England, Marr looks at the people and broader historical trends who have shaped Elizabeth II’s approach to her reign. The first hundred pages are the story of her parents, paternal grandparents and other relatives who made their mark on the twentieth century monarchy and the education of the young princess and queen.

Marr’s analysis of Queen Mary’s influence over the first twenty-five years of Elizabeth’s life is particularly fascinating as George V’s consort is often portrayed by her biographers as a pillar of tradition rather than an influence over an evolving twentieth century monarchy. Elizabeth II’s paternal grandmother broadened her education by taking the young princess to museums and art galleries, contributed to the development of the philanthropic monarchy, and, in the last years of her life, influenced the debate concerning Prince Philip’s role within the royal family.

I would have been interested to see Marr extend his discussion of Queen Elizabeth II’s family to include the influence of her Bowes-Lyon relatives. As the correspondence reprinted in William Shawcross’s Queen Elizabeth: The Official Biography Of The Queen Mother demonstrates, the young princess spent time with her mother’s parents while George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the commonwealth and her Bowes-Lyon cousins remain among her closest friends.

When Elizabeth II ascended to the thrones of Great Britain and fifteen other Commonwealth realms in 1952, her relationships with her Prime Ministers defined the political climate of her reign. In contrast to biographers who often present the Queen’s interest in the commonwealth through the chronology of her royal tours, Marr looks at her interactions with political figures throughout the commonwealth, devoting a chapter to the monarchy’s role in the decolonization of Africa. In her role as Head of Commonwealth, the Queen continues to exert quiet political influence, encouraging dialogue between the world’s English speaking nations. Canadian readers will be particularly interested in Marr’s analysis of the Queen’s rapport with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and her role in the repatriation of the constitution.

One of the fascinating themes of The Diamond Queen is the relationship between the monarchy and the social and cultural changes that have occurred during the six decades of the Queen’s reign. In different decades, various members of the royal family appeared to reflect the ideals of the times from the Queen herself to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the 21st century. In the 1950s, the Queen and Prince Philip appeared to be the most modern members of the royal family, agreeing to televise the coronation and traveling across the Atlantic by airplane.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Princess Margaret seemed to capture the mood of the times, with her vibrant social life and unconventional marriage to society photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Marr presents a sympathetic account of the Princess’s difficulties living in the shadow of her reigning elder sister and is deeply critical of what he describes as the “archaic” Royal Marriages Act, and its role in preventing her from marrying her first love, Group Captain Peter Townsend.

In my review of Penny Junor’s recent biography of Prince William, I observed that any biography of a living person is necessarily a work in progress. This conclusion applies as much to the Queen at 86 as it does to Prince William at 30. Since The Diamond Queenwas published in 2011 and Marr concludes his narrative with the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, he predicts a bleak future for the monarchy in Canada. If an updated version of the book were published today, Marr’s ideas on this subject might be different as the Diamond Jubilee and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s successful  tour have contributed to a revival of interest in the Canadian crown.

Andrew Marr’s The Diamond Queen was the original account of Elizabeth II’s six decade reign and remains a vital component of any Diamond Jubilee library. Marr places the Queen within the political and social context of her times, analyzing the people and events that shaped her character and reign.

The Diamond Jubilee Book Reviews 7: God Save the Queen: The Spiritual Heart of the Monarchy by Ian Bradley

During my Masters and Doctoral studies in history at Queen’s University at Kingston, one of the Professors on my thesis committee advised me to read the entire King James Bible from beginning to end. A full understanding of the various periods I was studying, including Early Modern Europe (1500-1800), Ireland from 1798 to the present, the expansion of the Early Modern Atlantic World, would not be possible without familiarity with this key aspect of the worldview of the period. And so I bought myself an impressive looking copy of the King James, found a comfortable chair in the reading room at the top of Douglas Library with the stained glass windows and settled in for a long and interesting read. By the time I finished reading the King James Bible, I had gained a great deal of insight into historical change, literature, Renaissance Art and the English language.

In God Save the Queen: The Spiritual Heart of the Monarchy, which has been fully updated and revised on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, Ian Bradley similarly argues that it is impossible to understand the true significance of the monarchy without a knowledge of its religious history. Bradley, a Reader in Practical History and Theology at the University of St. Andrews, a minister in the Church of England and an author and broadcaster, provides a sweeping history of the relationship between the monarchy and the church, providing a counterpoint to recent conceptions of the royal family as mere celebrities. Bradley’s work is part of a recent revival of interest in the monarchy’s religious role, which includes the writing of John Hall, Dean of Westminster, Queen Elizabeth II and Her Church: Royal Service at Westminster Abbey.

Canterbury Cathedral, seat of the Church of England

Bradley provides the full historical context for debates concerning the religious role of the monarchy including proposed changes to the Act of Settlement to allow dynasts to marry Roman Catholics, and whether the coronation of the next monarch should include representatives from a broad range of faiths. While many books published in honour of the Diamond Jubilee focus exclusively on the current monarch and her immediate predecessors, Bradley looks at portrayals of kingship in the Old and New Testaments then analyzes the full sweep of British religious history from the Arthurian legends to the present day.

Westminster Abbey

During the course of God Save the Queen, Bradley discusses the conversion of the Saxon monarchs, the conflict between King Henry II and his “turbulent priest” Thomas Becket, King Henry VIII’s break with the Church of Rome, King James I’s comission of a new translation of the Bible, Queen Victoria’s affinity for the low church rituals of the Church of Scotland, and Queen Elizabeth II’s personal piety and devotion to her duties.

One fascinating theme that appears throughout God Save the Queen is the involvement of royal women in religious change throughout British history. Saxon Queens patronized Christian missionaries and exerted political and spiritual influence by persuading their husbands to convert. Medieval Queens and princesses founded religious houses. Queen Elizabeth I reformed the Book of Common Prayer and Queen Victoria was instrumental to the development of the philanthropic monarchy that exists today.

The changes wrought by successive monarchs and their consorts had a profound effect on the current relationship between the monarch and the Church of England. The most significant public occasions involving the royal family have emerged from this religious history including royal coronations, weddings, funerals, and the Queen’s Christmas message. Bradley makes a compelling case for maintaining the monarchy’s religious traditions, which have evolved over hundreds of years instead of dismissing them as  irrelevant in the twenty first century.

God Save the Queen is a fascinating history of the monarchy and the church. Bradley writes in an accessible and engaging style that will appeal to a broad range of readers from specialists in the field of British religious history to general readers curious to know why the Queen addresses the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth every Christmas Day.


The Queen Concludes Her Jubilee Tour of the UK in the New Forest and Isle of Wight

Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in 1910, after the former royal residence had been converted into a Naval College.

With the 2012 Summer Olympics beginning opening today in London, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations ended yesterday in the United Kingdom with visits by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh to the New Forest and Isle of Wight.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh arrived in Cowes, the site of the world’s oldest Regatta, and former holiday destination of nineteenth and twentieth century royalty, through a “Parade of Sail,” and were greeted by a 21 gun salute fired by the Royal Yacht Squadron. The royal party walked along the seafront, unveiling a plaque commemorating their visit and opening a new lifeboat station. After returning to Hampshire, the royal party toured the New Forest Agricultural Showground.

The Isle of Wight and the New Forest are an appropriate place to end the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in the United Kingdom as both regions have a rich royal history. Osborne House on the Isle of Wight was a favourite residence of Queen Victoria while the New Forest was the setting of pivotal events in the history of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Seventeenth century image of Cerdic, the earliest Saxon King and the first named ancestor of the current Queen.

According to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, Queen Elizabeth II’s earliest recorded ancestor, Cerdic, invaded and conquered the Isle of Wight in 530, leaving it to his nephews, whose descendants ruled the island until its absorption into the Kingdom of Wessex in 685. The last Saxon King of England, Harold II and his brother Tostig had estates on the island and used their lands there to supply their rebellion against King Edward the Confessor and eventual showdown against each other at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought immense changes to both the New Forest and the Island, which is described as “Wit” in the Domesday Book. William the Conqueror enclosed the New Forest as a royal park for deer hunting, reputedly evicting the Saxon families who resided in the region. Edward Rutherfurd’s novel, The Forest, contains a dramatic scene of a Norman deer hunt with beaters driving the animals toward the noble hunting party.

Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight

The deaths of two of William I’s sons, Prince Richard and William II, in hunting accidents in the New Forest were interpreted during the eleventh century as divine judgement against the enclosure of these lands and removal of the original residents. In contrast, the Isle of Wight was awarded to the Norman FitzOsburn family, who commissioned the original Carisbrooke castle. The Island did not return to the crown’s control until 1293, when Edward I purchased the land as part of his attempted consolidation of authority over the British Isles.

The ruins of the cloister at Beaulieu Abbey in the New Forest

The comparatively remote locations of the New Forest and the Isle of Wight made these regions attractive to royalty or nobility seeking sanctuary during the Wars of the Roses and English Civil Wars. Beaulieu Abbey in the New Forest sheltered a diverse range of important personages including Richard III’s future wife Anne Neville and her mother, the Countess of Warwick, Henry VI’s consort Margaret of Anjou and Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be one of the lost Princes in the Tower. The Abbey was dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII.

In 1647, King Charles I escaped from parliamentary custody at Hampton Court, intending to flee to the Isle of Jersey. The King and his companions reputedly became lost in the New Forest and missed their intended ship, ultimately fleeing to the Isle of Wight. The Island’s Governor, Robert Hammond, supported the parliamentary cause and held the King prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle.

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their nine children on the terrace at Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

The Isle of Wight had much happier associations for Queen Victoria who envisioned the Island as a place where her family could holiday by the seaside. Prince Albert designed Osborne House in the style of a Renaissance Italian villa and oversaw its construction between 1845 and 1851. Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to go on holidays with her children and there was immense public interest in the comparatively informal lives of the royal family on the Isle of Wight. Thousands of prints and photographs of the royal family were sold to the public, prompting Queen Victoria to remark, “No Sovereign was ever more loved than I am (I am bold enough to say).” The cheerful atmosphere at Osborne changed when Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria preserved his rooms as they were during his life.

Queen Victoria’s children had very different memories of their holidays on the Isle of Wight. Her eldest son dismissed Osborne House as “a mausoleum” and “surplus to our requirements,” ultimately selling the building to the Naval College. In contrast, his sisters Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice retained property on the Isle of Wight. Beatrice was Governor of the Island from 1896 to her death in 1944 and resided at Carisbrooke Castle. According to her biographer, Matthew Dennison in The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria’s Youngest Daughter, “The position provided her with a fixed purpose and an enduring interest when, after the Queen’s death, she found herself increasingly marginalized from the centre of royal affairs (209).” Beatrice considered the Isle of Wight her home and gained the admiration and respect of its residents.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee tour of the United Kingdom ended in regions that have been associated with the monarchy for more than a thousand years. The New Forest provided hunting grounds for the Norman Kings and a place of sanctuary during the Wars of the Roses. The Isle of Wight has been a Saxon Stronghold, a Norman estate, Charles I’s place of imprisonment and Queen Victoria’s seaside retreat. The Jubilee tour is the latest event in the colourful royal history of the New Forest and Isle of Wight.


The Diamond Jubilee Book Reviews 6: Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King by Penny Junor

Any biography of a living person, particularly one who has just turned thirty, is a work in progress. Longtime royal commentator and biographer Penny Junor frames her snapshot of Prince William at thirty, Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King as a study of the making of the future King. Junor argues that the Prince and Princess of Wales’s unhappy marriage and the relationship between the modern monarchy and the press shaped William’s personality, encouraging him to cautious and guarded in his dealings with others. She blames the uncertainty he experienced as a child for his long relationship with Catherine Middleton prior to their engagement. The Duke of Cambridge also emerged from his upbringing with a strong attention to duty and ability to relate to people of all backgrounds, qualities that Junor predicts will shape a successful reign as King.

Since William and Catherine announced their engagement in 2010, there have been numerous biographies written about them as individuals and as a couple. Many of these works repeat the same basic facts about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s education, travels, families and charity work. Junor’s book stands out for its details of just what it meant to be educated at Eton or volunteer for the Raleigh International program in Chile. Junor also attended the St. Andrews, where William first met Catherine, and is able to describe how the Prince’s time at the university gave him greater confidence and a much needed respite from constant media attention. Although the author did not receive permission to interview William himself, she was allowed to speak to numerous members of his household and social circle while researching the biography. This wealth of source material provides a compelling portrait of the Prince’s childhood and youth.

A large number of Junor’s sources are palace press officers or members of the media who have followed the royal family’s activities for decades. (The inclusion of footnotes and a full bibliography of interview subjects would have been useful to keep track of the various sources quoted throughout the book.) The complicated relationship between Prince William and the media is therefore a central theme of this book. In contrast to most people who become celebrities, William was born a public figure. There were photographers at his first school Christmas pageant urging him to look in their direction. The breakdown of his parents’ marriage was chronicled in the media with both Charles and Diana breaking with tradition to tell their sides of story to journalists. William’s relationship with Catherine was eventually made public knowledge on the grounds that the identity of a possible future Queen is a matter of public interest.

Junor provides unique examples of how this life in the public eye both expanded and limited William’s experiences. While the publicity surrounding William’s wedding and subsequent tour of Canada have been credited with revitalizing the monarchy, the Prince had difficulty with a university art history assignment that required a visit to the National Gallery to compare two paintings. By the time he reached St. Andrews, William had traveled worldwide for both royal tours and his gap year abroad but had never visited the National Gallery in the heart of London, where he would have been instantly recognized and surrounded by journalists and other observers.

The strongest sections of Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King focus on William himself during his education, military training, relationship with Catherine and royal duties. Unfortunately, Junor devotes much of the first quarter of the book to the breakdown of Charles’s and Diana’s marriage. This material has been discussed extensively in the author’s previous works and she adds little new material here. Junor’s sympathies are clearly with Prince Charles, who she argues was unfairly maligned as an absentee father by the press.

Junor’s defence of the Prince is part of a broader trend in recent works on the monarchy, such as John Fraser’s The Secret Of The Crown: Canada’s Affair With Royalty, which highlight the heir’s accomplishments as a parent and charitable patron. While Fraser provides an eloquent rebuttal to the negative portrayals of Prince Charles in the media with little mention of Diana, Junor blames the Princess for the breakdown of her marriage. In the first quarter of Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King, Junor constantly criticizes Diana, an approach that seems out of place in a biography of Prince William, who clearly cherishes his mother’s memory.

Since the current line of succession indicates that William will be the 42nd monarch since the Norman Conquest, greater attention to historical context would have enhanced Junor’s analysis of William’s significance within the monarchy of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms. Her claim that charity work was not part of the daily life of the royal family until the current Queen’s reign ignores the extensive philanthrophic acitivities of Queen Victoria’s daughters and granddaughters, particularly in the fields of nursing and maternal health. The section on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s tour of Canada contains few comparisons to previous visits beyond the erroneous claim that Queen never visited the province of Quebec again after she was booed by French-Canadian seperatists in 1964. (Her Majesty opened Expo 67 in Montreal, three years later). In a biography of a future King of a thousand year old monarchy, there should be greater attention to William’s place in history.

Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King is a fascinating snapshot of Prince William at thirty. Penny Junor provides rich detail about the influence of his family, relationships, education and celebrity on his character. She predicts William will be a successful King and his grandchildren will speak as highly of him as he did of Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.

Prince Philip at 91 and the Historical Role of a Reigning Queen’s Consort

Prince Philip in 2008.

“When King George died, [biographer Giles Brandreth] asked Prince Philip, “did you know what to expect?”

“No,” he said, laughing a little bleakly. “There were plenty of people telling me what not to do. ‘You mustn’t interfere with this.’ ‘Keep out.’ I had to try to support the Queen as best as I could without getting in the way. The difficulty was to find things that might be useful.”

“But there was the example of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort. [Brandreth] suggested, “You’d read biographies . . .”

“Oh yes,” An exasperated sigh. “The Prince Consort . . .” A pause. “The Prince Consort’s position was quite different. Queen Victoria was an executive sovereign, following in a long line of executive sovereigns. The Prince Consort was effectively Victoria’s private secretary. But after Victoria the monarchy changed. It became an institution. I had to fit in with the institution.” — Giles Brandreth, Philip And Elizabeth: Portrait of a Royal Marriagep. 215.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, turned 91 yesterday. Queen Elizabeth II’s consort participated in last Sunday’s Diamond Jubilee flotilla on the Thames but was hospitalized the next day with a bladder infection, and continues to convalesce at home as the Queen continues her jubilee travels around the United Kingdom. The Queen and Prince Philip have been married for sixty-five years, the longest marriage between monarch and consort in British history. Philip’s long tenure as a royal consort has given him the opportunity to revitalize the office over the course of Elizabeth II’s sixty year reign. He has engaged in extensive, innovative charity work, supported the Queen in her duties and contributed to the modernization of the monarchy. (I discussed his role with last week). As demonstrated by the above interview with Brandreth, he believed the example set by Prince Albert had little relevance in the twentieth century.

There have only been six undisputed reigning queens in British history and only five of those monarchs were married women. Every time a married queen regnant occupied the throne, the role of her husband in the monarchy became a topic of debate at court, in parliament and among the wider population. In every century, there was little consensus regarding the appropriate role of a consort of a female sovereign. While the wife of a King might compare herself to her predecessors and emulate those Queens Consort whom she particularly admired, male royal consorts expressed similar sentiments to Prince Philip. In every reign where the monarch was a married queen, her husband sought to remake his position to suit the unique circumstances of his marriage and the political culture of his time.

The wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840

When Prince Philip described Prince Albert to Brandreth as Queen Victoria’s secretary, he was referring to the later period of Albert’s tenure as consort, when he was known as the architect of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and virtual co-ruler of Great Britain.

At the time of Victoria and Albert’s wedding in 1840, parliament and public opinion alike were determined to curtail any potential authority he might attain through his marriage. Just as Prince Philip was critiqued by senior British courtiers in the 1940s as a member of the comparatively impecunious Greek royal family, Prince Albert was caricatured as a penniless German prince, seeking his fortune as the Queen’s husband. One broadsheet of the period declared “Here comes the bridegroom of Victoria’s choice,/The nominee of [Governess] Lehzen’s vulgar voice;/He comes to take “for better or for worse”/England’s fat Queen and England’s fatter purse. (See Stanley Weintraub’s Victoria, p. 133.)

Although Albert naively expressed hope in a letter to Victoria that “It needs but the stroke of your pen to make me a peer and to give me an English name,” the Queen was powerless to oppose parliament’s decision that he would not be admitted to the peerage or hold military rank in Great Britain. In her journals, which have recently been made available online, Victoria blamed the “abominable, infamous Tories,” and, in a marked contrast to the current Queen’s strict political impartiality, wrote, “Monsters! You Tories shall be punished. Revenge! Revenge!” She asked Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne why Albert was considered to be worth less than “[Queen Anne’s consort], stupid old George of Denmark.”

Portrait of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Queen Anne in 1705.

In the late seventeenth century, the future Queen Anne was equally indignant about the treatment of her husband by her father, King James II and her brother-in-law, King William III. Although George experienced few of the political difficulties encountered by Albert, receiving English citizenship and a place on the Privy Council and House of Lords at the time of his marriage, he was politically sidelined by Anne’s predecessors, who treated him with the same contempt expressed by Queen Victoria.

George had few political ambitions on his own behalf and was content to act as Anne’s proxy in the male realm of parliament. He wrote to a friend soon after his marriage in 1683, “We talk here of going to tea, of going to Winchester, and everything else except sitting still all summer, which was the height of my ambition. God send me a quiet life somewhere, for I shall not be long able to bear this perpetual motion.” (See R. O. Bucholz, The Augustan Court: Queen Anne and the Decline of Court Culture, p. 17.)

Enamel Portrait of Queen Anne and her husband Prince George of Denmark in 1706.

Although George’s transfer of loyalties from James II to William III in 1688 was important to the legitimacy of the Glorious Revolution, James supposedly sneered “So ‘Est il possible’ is gone too,” referring to his son-in-law’s habit of reacting to each previous defection by saying, “Is it possible?” William accepted George’s loyalty, and much needed income from his Danish properties, but made him unwelcome in his military activities.

During the 1690 Irish campaign, George traveled with the regular officers instead of the King’s suite, and he was prevented from volunteering for the navy during the 1691 Flanders expedition. Anne railed against William in her correspondence, referring to him as “Caliban” and “the Dutch Abortion” but she could do little to improve George’s status until she succeeded to the throne in 1702. As the Queen’s consort, George received the titles of Generalissimo and Lord High Admiral of the Navy but Anne shrewdly left the  actual administration of these offices to John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough and his brother, George Churchill.

Prince Philip’s determination to reinvent the role of royal consort to reflect his own abilities and circumstances was shared by his predecessors. Prince George lacked the ambition of Philip of Spain and William of Orange, who already wielded sovereign authority at the time of their marriages and received the title of King in England. Prince Albert aspired to a more active role than George and gradually increased his influence over the monarchy during his marriage. Prince Philip recognized the differences between the nineteenth and twentieth century monarchical systems and adapted his role accordingly. Prince Philip’s long and successful tenure as a royal consort may break this trend as future consorts to reigning Queens may follow his example instead of seeking to reinvent the position.

The Diamond Jubilee Series 4: The Jubilee Queen of Canada

The fourth and final article of my four part series about Queen Elizabeth II in Canada was published today in the Kingston Whig Standard. Click here to read The Jubilee Queen of Canada about the recent revival of interest in the monarchy in Canada with the 2010 Canada Day visit of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, the 2011 tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the 2012 Jubilee visit by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Diamond Jubilee Series 3: The Celebrity Queen of Canada

The third article in my four part series about Queen Elizabeth II in Canada was published today. Click here to read “The Celebrity Queen of Canada” about the visits of the Queen and her children to Canada during the 1980s and 1990s and the intense media interest in the personal lives of the royal family.

Also, see my recent interview with comparing the Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.

The Diamond Jubilee Series 1: The Young Queen of Canada

The first of the four part series I wrote for the Kingston Whig-Standard about the Queen’s role in Canada during her sixty year reign was published today. Click here to read “The Young Queen of Canada.”

In the past few days, I have also been interviewed for the Hamilton Spectator and Le Figaro.

Enjoy the Diamond Jubilee Coverage!

Canada and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

The Official Photograph of Queen Victoria for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897

This weekend, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II that have been taking place in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth throughout 2012 will culminate in a magnificent river pageant on the Thames. The festivities mark the Queen’s six decade reign and the United Kingdom’s history as a naval power. The opulence of the planned flotilla also underscores the rarity of Diamond Jubilees.

There has only been one other comparable occasion in the history of the British Isles: The Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II’s great-great grandmother Queen Victoria in 1897. Victoria succeeded to the throne in 1837 at the age of eighteen and enjoyed the longest reign in British history. When she died in 1901, after nearly sixty-four years on the throne, the nineteenth century was already being described as the Victorian Era.

A Victoria Day celebration at First Government House in Toronto, 1854. The public holiday was originally a celebration of the Queen’s birthday before becoming a commemoration of a “Mother of Confederation” after her death in 1901.

The current Queen is the most well traveled monarch in history and takes her role as Head of the Commonwealth seriously. The modern royal family is therefore celebrating Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee on an international scale with representatives visiting all the commonwealth realms. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall joined the Canadian celebrations, significantly visiting Canada over the Victoria Day holiday weekend. The international celebrations in 2012 highlight the Queen’s role as Head of a Commonwealth of equal nations.

Canadian involvement in the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was very different in 1897. The Queen had a personal connection to Canada. Her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, did military service in British North America, overseeing the defenses surrounding the royal naval base in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Prince was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in North America in 1799 and gave his name to the future province of Prince Edward Island. Although there is no direct evidence that Prince Edward and his mistress Madame de St. Laurent had children during their time in British North America, there are Canadian families who claim descent from the couple.

Portrait of Queen Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn by Sir William Beechey

In contrast to her father, Queen Victoria did not travel widely, leaving the British Isles on rare occasions such as a state visit to Napoleon III in France and family weddings in Germany. By the time of her Diamond Jubilee, the seventy eight year old Queen suffered increasing difficulties walking. The Thanksgiving service for her sixty year reign was held outside St. Paul’s cathedral because she could not climb to steps to go inside. For the British Empire to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee with Queen Victoria, representatives had to travel to London.

The presence of colonial premiers, diplomats and military regiments in London in 1897 made the Diamond Jubilee distinct from all previous celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign. The Golden Jubilee of 1887 celebrated the Queen’s role as grandmother of Europe with the parade comprising of her illustrious children and grandchildren from across Europe. In contrast, the Diamond Jubilee celebrated Queen Victoria as the matriarch of a global Empire.

John Hamilton-Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen and Governor General of Canada at the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

On June 22, 1897, the Diamond Jubilee Parade in London began with the Colonial Procession, headed by the Canadian delegation. Although Canada had been a self-governing Dominion since 1867, the country’s foreign affairs were managed by Great Britain and Canadians viewed themselves as part of the British Empire. When Lord Aberdeen, Governor General of Canada received the Queen’s Jubilee message that morning, “From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them,” he responded, “The Queen’s most gracious and touching message, this moment received, shall be immediately made known to all your Majesty’s people throughout the Dominion and will stir afresh the hearts already full on this memorable day. We offer the glad tribute of loyal devotion and affectionate homage. God save and bless the Queen.”

In London, the Canadian cavalry rode five abreast at the Head of the Colonial Procession. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, an ardent monarchist who had received his knighthood from the Queen that morning, followed in a carriage. After the Prime Minister came a
detachment of the Toronto Grenadiers and Royal Canadian Highlanders. Representatives from the other regions of the British Empire, British and foreign royalty and finally, the Queen herself completed the parade. The festivities took place in London but Canada was well represented by the Prime Minister and the military.

Canada participated in the celebrations for both Queen Victoria’s and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilees. While the Empire gathered in London to celebrate Victoria in 1897, members of the royal family are traveling throughout the commonwealth in 2012 to join the worldwide festivities in honour of Elizabeth II.