What Is a Jubilee? Recalling Queen Elizabeth’s Earlier Celebrations

Although Queen Elizabeth II is joining just a few other monarchs who have made it to the 70-year Platinum anniversary of their reign — and is the first British ruler to do so — she is no stranger to a jubilee celebration.

Nationwide festivities filled with pomp and ceremony have also honored her Silver Jubilee, marking 25 years on the throne; her Golden Jubilee, marking 50 years; and her Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years. The queen also celebrated her Ruby Jubilee at 40 years of service and Sapphire Jubilee at 65 years, though neither included official national celebrations.

Few British monarchs have reached even five decades on the throne, let alone seven. But the history of celebrating that milestone dates to King George III, who in 1809 celebrated his jubilee at the start of his 50th year at the helm.

Since the reign of Queen Victoria, the Golden Jubilee is celebrated after a monarch completes a 50th year of service. Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II’s great-great-grandmother, was also the first British monarch to celebrate 60 years on the throne with her Diamond jubilee.

Queen Elizabeth’s own jubilees have been national moments of reflection and celebration, and the 2022 event nods to some of her own personal history.

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In 1977, crowds gathered in London for a glimpse of the queen as she and her husband, Prince Philip, took a ceremonial ride through the city in a gilded carriage that carried them to a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The carriage, known as the Gold State Coach, is 260 years old, and also transported the queen to her coronation in 1953.

It is featuring in the celebrations this week after having been off London’s streets since her Golden Jubilee — although this time it will not carry the queen but will be used to showcase footage recorded on her Coronation Day on screens in the coach windows.

Pool photo by Stefan Rosseau

In 2002, the Golden Jubilee marked the 50th anniversary of Elizabeth’s reign with street parties, concerts and the ever-iconic wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

The queen also walked through the streets of London, where, as The New York Times wrote, she “displayed her traditional ease with crowds.” The public perception of the queen and the broader royal family were still recovering from the fallout over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when they were accused of being unmoved by the enormous public response to her death.

But as The Times reported of her Golden Jubilee: “It was a long weekend that put the country on show for the 76-year-old woman who has presided over Britain’s change from a rigidly class-ridden country of extensive empire to a nation that still revels in that past glory but has become a more multiethnic, less snobbish sort of place.”

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Historians at the time considered the queen’s Diamond Jubilee, in 2012, the greatest public spectacle of her reign, with public events held over an extended holiday weekend, much like the schedule for the Platinum Jubilee. Concerts, picnics and street parties were held across Britain.

Central to the festivities was a jubilee flotilla in which 1,000 vessels cruised along the River Thames in the largest flotilla on the river in 350 years. Despite chilly and rainy weather, the queen and Prince Philip waved to crowds from the deck of the royal barge for hours as it made its way down a seven-mile stretch of the river.

Now 10 years older, experiencing mobility issues and no longer accompanied by her husband, who died last year, the queen is expected to make more limited public appearances at the Platinum celebration.

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