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Queen Elizabeth’s First Jubilee

This 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrates the 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth. But the Queen also celebrated a Silver Jubilee (25 years) and a Golden Jubilee (50 years).

The Queen’s first Jubilee, the silver variety, occurred in 1977, and Elizabeth II had been queen for 25 years. Throughout those 25 years, she had slowly developed her approach to the monarchy, honing her media skills, supporting good causes, and supporting her beloved Commonwealth family of nations.

The queen was a generally popular figure and the authorities decided to celebrate her 25-year stint on the throne with a Silver Jubilee like the one that marked 25 years of George V’s reign (the Queens grandfather) in 1935.

Many Britons felt that there wasn’t much to celebrate. Inflation, an industrial slump, and high unemployment had made the 1970s a tough time for many. Some were doubtful about holding a royal celebration given these challenges, and objection that has again been raised by a vocal minority as the U.K. faces “The Age of Austerity.” The reasons behind the doubts in 1977 ranged widely:

  • What was it for anyway? Many people were unsure what a Jubilee was and thought it was meant to mark 25 years of the royal marriage — or some other event.

  • Was it too extravagant? With many people unemployed, spending lots of money on a gigantic party seemed frivolous or even immoral. Couldn’t the money be spent some other way?

  • What about democracy? Left-wing groups, such as the Socialist Workers’ Party, campaigned against the Jubilee, and even moderates doubted whether the monarchy should be celebrated so extravagantly in a country that was meant to be a democracy.

  • Did anyone really care? In the face of the arguments for and against the Silver Jubilee, some simply didn’t care whether it was held or not.

In spite of all the misgivings, the Jubilee was a popular success! The Queen and Prince Phillip embarked on a tour of the U.K. in the summer of 1977 visiting 36 counties, followed by a Commonwealth tour with tops in Fiji, Tonga, Australia, New Zealand, Papau New Guinea, the West Indies, and Canada. Festivities in June of that year included some events similar to those held in 2012 — a Service of Thanksgiving at St. Pauls, the lighting of a chain of beacons across the UK, and of course, street parties.

The monarchy owed its triumph to several different factors:

  • Support on the ground: Support for the queen at a grass-roots level emerged in a series of 12,000 or so street parties held up and down the country to celebrate 25 years of the reign. These parties, organised by bodies such as local Women’s Institutes, brought communities together. As a result, when people felt good about their communities, they felt good about the monarchy, too.

  • Personal respect for the queen: Britons are very good at distinguishing between the monarch and the monarchy. Even many republicans have enormous personal respect for Elizabeth II, because they admire her dedication and hard work. They may not like the job she does, but they can see that she does it well.

  • Royal accessibility: After the Jubilee service in St Paul’s Cathedral, the queen walked to the celebration in the Mansion House. It was her first London walkabout, in which she chatted with many of the people who had come to watch. The walkabout, which was widely reported, gave people real, tangible contact with the sovereign, showing her to be accessible and friendly.

Despite all the anti-royal murmurings, the Jubilee came off well and confirmed the personal popularity of the queen. The monarchy prepared to enter the 1980s on a high.

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