Victorias Diamond Jubilee
Queen Victoria had already become the longest reigning British monarch the previous September, but it was decided to await the Diamond Jubilee of her accession on June 20 1837 to mount a massive celebration of her reign and thus of her Empire.
During those 60 years the British Empire had expanded in area more than fivefold; by 1897 one quarter of the world’s surface and population was under British control. It was a brave man indeed who then dared to voice doubts about the rightness of this state of affairs.
Prime Minister Lord Salisbury and Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain seized the chance for political gain: the Conservative Salisbury had in the 1895 general election stood on a very pro-Empire ticket; his coalition partner the Liberal Unionist Chamberlain had chosen his post seeing the reforms required and the power such an office held. The Diamond Jubilee thus became an extravaganza: on June 22 1897 troops from every nation in the empire were in a great parade through London; 11 colonial premiers gathered at St Paul’s for the service of thanksgiving, though this had to be held outside as the 78-year-old Queen Victoria , lame with rheumatism, could not manage the steps. Her son Albert Edward, the future Edward VII , was mounted on a charger to greet the arrival of her coach (which she did not leave); the two greatest military men of the Empire, Lord ‘Bob’ Roberts of Kandahar and Lord Wolseley of Cairo led the guard of honour at the Cathedral.
The military theme through the great day was a constant: guns fired in Hyde Park to mark its opening; survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade had been assembled to witness the royal progress. And the message continued to sound: at Spithead a Diamond Jubilee Review of the fleet displayed Britain’s naval might to the world, 21 of the Navy’s battleships and 56 cruisers brought there to emphasise the power protecting the Empire.
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