Royal Jubilees and the English Diaspora

By Tanja Bueltmann

This year’s Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne marks an important moment not only in the history of the United Kingdom, but also in that of the many countries overseas where, whether officially or unofficially, the Queen is an important public symbol. Republican tendencies there may be in many a place, but the monarchy remains one of the strongest icons of identity in the wider British World to this day.

It was in the latter half of the nineteenth century that forms of monarchical ceremonialism were turned into imperial events. On a larger scale this first occurred when Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli orchestrated the 40th anniversary celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign.  By the 1890s, royal jubilees, coronations, funerals, and royal visits had become inherently imperial occasions. When Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, even the republican United States were part of the celebrations, joining the ‘Wave of Song’ that had been organised by the Sons of England Society from Canada. Designed to traverse the globe as a ‘Jubilee Service of a continuous anthem around the world’, the ‘Wave of Song’ could be heard from the Antipodes to the Canadian prairies. In North America, and as was explained by the Sons of England, ‘our own brethren in Newfoundland and Canada and patriots in the United States took the service up with energy and enthusiasm’. British Americans in Milwaukee followed suit, as did British subjects in Galveston, who accompanied the anthem with cricket and other sports. In Charleston, South Carolina, the anthem was sung in the afternoon, and a dinner, jointly organized by the St Andrew’s and St George’s societies, was held in the evening. As the Rev Dr Milburn, Chaplain of the Senate, had noted in an invocation in Congress earlier in the year, ‘the long and illustrious reign of the gracious lady, Victoria, … have shrined her into the hearts and reverence of true-hearted mean and women around the world.’ [To learn more about the Sons of England and the ‘Wave of Song’, read ‘Globalizing St George’].

While no similar ‘Wave of Song’ is planned to mark this year’s diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the jubilee will be celebrated throughout the world. In Australia, Royal Australian Mint has released a 50c uncirculated coin to mark the Jubilee, and a beacon will be lit on Parliament House on 4 June. On Barbados HRH the Earl of Wessex unveiled a commemorative plaque on his recent royal visit, while New Zealand released a special Jubilee emblem. An emblem was also created in Canada, as was a commemorative medal. The medal will be awarded to 60,000  Canadians during the year of celebrations, highlighting that the most extensive celebrations outside of the United Kingdom are taking place in Canada.

But activities in the English diaspora are by no means restricted to official events and material commemorations. St George’s societies throughout the world are also actively celebrating the Jubilee. In Toronto, the city’s English will gather for a cocktail party, while the New York St George’s Society lives up to its philanthropic heritage, having designated its annual fundraiser as a Diamond Jubilee Bash. As the New York Society explains on its website, ‘the Diamond Jubilee is a source of immense pride and historical relevance’. Elsewhere in the English Diaspora, however, the Jubilee celebrations are complicated by political undercurrents, for instance in Gibraltar.

At home in the UK, the Jubilee appears to have contributed to a surge in support for the monarchy. As a recent Guardian/ICM poll reveals, nearly 70% or the respondents feel that Britain would be worse off without the monarchy. The number of Jubilee events over the Bank Holiday weekend is also staggering, with tens of thousands of events planned, including ‘funfairs, tea dances and even frozen-sausage tossing’.

What does Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee mean to you? What did you do for it? We would love to hear your story here or via Twitter – find us @englishdiaspora and use #EnglishDiasporaJubilee.

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