As we edge ever nearer to the celebrations for Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, I thought you might like to read about a Jubilee that Jane Austen experienced. I’m in the middle of preparations for my family’s celebrations this weekend, so instead of a few posts, published over a few days I thought you wouldn’t object to me posting one long post about the topic.
George III from “The Life of Princess Charlotte” ©Austenonly
The celebrations for George III’s Golden Jubilee became the template for all our other jubilees, and it is interesting to see just how similar our experiences are. George III’s jubilee was the first time since James I’s reign that a Jubilee had been celebrated. The Jubilee has religious origins, and the celebrations are based on this passage from the Bible:
A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.
King George came to the throne on 25th October 1760. Not many English monarchs had celebrated 50 years on the throne, and we have no records of how theKings up to this date- Henry III, Edward III and James I had celebrated this rare event. George III’s celebrations appear to be the first to be celebrated on a nation-wide basis, and set a pattern that has been followed in British Jubilee celebrations ever since. We know a lot about the early 19th century celebrations because they are recorded, in greater detail, in a book:
“An Account of the Celebration of the Jubilee on the 25th October 1809 for the Forty-Ninth Anniversary of the Reign of George III” The Father of his People, Collected and Published by A Lady (The Wife of a Naval Officer)
This is a fascinating volume and was reprinted in a second edition in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, giving those who wanted to organise celebratory events then a good idea of what had gone on 70 years before. Go here to read it on Google Books. The Entry for Basingstoke in Hampshire is interesting. It gives a glimpse of what was going on in that area on the 25th Octiber, and many of the name s mentioned will be familiar to you:
Not less than one thousand persons (comprehending the indigent of both sexes and all ages) were liberally treated with an amplitude of wholesome viands, accompanied with ten hogsheads of strong beer, at Lord Bolton’s seat at Hackwood . Mr Chute, COl Jervoise,Mr Wither, Mr Blackburn, Mr Harwood and other neighbouring gentlemen,emulated each other on the joyful occasion, in similar acts of liberality. The day was introduced by a ball and cold collation on the preceding night,at which all the neighbouring gentry were present. The religious service of the day was attended by The Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Cavalry and Basingstoke Infantry; when an excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Russell Curate of Basingstoke; a liberal subscription was raised for the indigent ands the day concluded with a public dinner, at the Town Hall, attended by the Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Corps and many of the neighbouring gentlemen,where the utmost harmony and festivity prevailed to a late hour.
But for Jane Austen it appears to have been rather a quiet day. Not, I hasten to add, that we know much about what she did or thought of the celebrations for, as she and Cassandra were together, there would be no reason for her to record her thoughts in a letter and no pocket book survives. However, we do know that on the 24th October 1809, the day before the date for the official celebrations of George III’s Jubilee, Mary Austen, James Austen’s wife (he was Jane Austen’s eldest brother and had succeeded his father as Rector of Steventon) attended a Golden Jubilee ball at Basingstoke.
Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s lucky brother who was adopted by the wealthy Knights, was in Chawton, at the cottage with Jane Austen, Cassandra and Mrs Austen. Fanny Knight, his eldest daughter, made this entry in her pocket-book for the 25th October, which was the day the Jubilee was officially celebrated:
Papa came back to breakfast & brought not a very good account of George. The Jubilee on act. of the dear old King’s 50th accession day. No very grand doings here.We all dined with Mrs F. A.(Frank Austen’s wife-jfw) except G.M. & Charles. I spent the morng. there whilst Papa, Aunts C and Jane called at Froyle.
So, at Chawton, not much was going on. Edward Knight had a tenant, Mr Middleton, who was in residence at Chawton House and so Edward could not host any land-lordly festivities there. Unlike at Steventon, where the Digweeds, the local squires, gave a dinner for the poor of the parish,which was held in their barn on their estate.
So…what was going on in the rest of the country. At Windsor the Royal Family attended a service of Thanksgiving at St. George’s Chapel: you can see the roof of the chapel to the right of the round tower in my print, below:
George III was blind and ill at this stage in his life, and was anxious about the health of his daughter Princess Amelia. She was taken seriously ill on the day of the Jubilee celebrations( the 25th October )and died on the 2nd November 1809. At Batchelor’s Acre at Windsor a giant ox and some mutton were begin roasted for the benefit of the poor, but in the morning of the 25th October Queen Charlotte and many of the other members of the royal family arrived at 10.30 a.m to taste the beef:
Fifty Batchelors were ready, at the outside of the gate, which opens to the Acre: and when the royal party descended from the stand, guarded them at the fire-place, where the ox was roasting; they then proceeded to view the construction of the grates and walls for roasting the ox, which were so well contrived as to roast two whole sheep at the same time, and then returned to the booth. The butchers employed in managing the cooking of the whole animals, were dressed upon the occasion in blue frocks and silk stockings: they cut the first prime pieces from the ox and sheep, and put them upon silver plates, and the bachelors and butchers waited upon the royal party with them. They all tasted and appeared highly pleased with the novelty.
Then, after the Thanksgiving service in St George’s Chapel had taken place, Queen Charlotte returned for a second helping, with the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Clarence:
The Duke of Sussex, with his hat off, held the
tray from which Queen took two or three pieces of beef and bread. The Duke of Clarence distributed the plum pudding.’
Eventually in 1810, an obelisk was erected on Batchelor’s Acre to commemorate the Jubilee, and you can still see it there now.
Many landlords held similar events on their estates. In Castle Bromwich in Warwickshire the poor were given blankets and coal. And in Meriden, again in Warwickshire, the squire gave each inhabitant a loaf of bread, a pint of strong ale and a share of the 3000 lbs of fat ox beef, which had been roasted in a grand public celebration similar to the event held at Batchelor’s Acre. In London there were fireworks and illuminations:
The Rejoicings, Fireworks and Illuminations in the City 1809
I love the idea of illuminations -lots of tiny lamps set in pattens on buildings or in windows. The façade of the bank of England, as designed by Sir John Soane, was arrayed with them to celebrate the Jubilee:
Jubilee Illuminations at The Bank of England, 1809.
They spelt out “God Save the King” as you can see below:
“God Save the King” illuminations on the Bank of England , 1809
and the illuminations also were arranged in the shape of trophies
Side Screen Illuminations
I think we forget how spectacular these illuminations must have seems to people at a time when candlelight was rare and expensive. I think the city, lit like this, must have looked fantastic.
In other towns thanksgiving services were held, together with dinners in hotels and inns. In Birmingham a statue of Admiral Nelson by Sir Richard Westmacott was unveiled. This was paid for by public subsection and was the first public tribute featuring the hero of Trafalgar to be erected in England.
Nelson by Westmacott in Birmingham’s City Centre. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
At Weymouth, the seaside town where George III and his family and enjoyed many summers, the extraordinary, multicoloured statue of George II was commissioned and erected:
So…the tradition of commissioning and erecting pieces of public art to celebrate Jubilees began, and continues to this day.
If you wanted a more personal momento of the day, then there were many souvenirs you could buy: and they have many resonances with the commemoratives you can buy today. For example, you could buy pottery souvenirs as in this punch bowl:
Jubilee Punch Bowl ©Tooveys
Or you could drink a toast to the King’s heath in an appropriately engraved rummer:
A rummer to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of George III ©Christies
Or, purchase a silver medal:
Jubilee Medal by Wyon issued by James Bissett of Birmingham 1809
Children were not forgotten. An improving, educational game was created and one survives in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum:
The Jubilee: An Interesting Game 1810
This game was published by John Harris in 1810, and was advertised as follows:
This Game may be considered as a Continuation of one published a few years back, entitled HISTORICAL PASTIMES OF ENGLAND, which commenced at the Conquest and ended at the Accession of his present Majesty. where that left off, this begins; and it is hoped that the Events recorded (and surely an eventful Reign it has been) will create a lively interest in the breast of every Juvenile Briton; it is continued to the 25th of October 1809, the day our revered Sovereign entered the Fiftieth year of his Reign, and a Day of Jubilee in every part of his Dominions. The writer of this has only to unite his wishes with those of his fellow subjects, that our good King may long continue to be the Ruler, as he has hitherto been the Father of a free and generous People.
Centrepiece from “The Jubilee: An Interesting Game” published by John Harris 1810
Here are the rules, which seem complicated, but perhaps the mist clears once the game is in progress!
RULES AND DIRECTIONS FOR PLAYING THE JUBILEE
In playing this Game, a teetotum of eight sides is made use of, together with six counters of different colours, as markers, to avoid confusion in telling the game. Each player should also be provided with about two dozen of counters, on which a nominal value should be set, that any player who happens to be out, may purchase of the winners.
If more than six persons sit down to play, a greater number of markers may be cut out of card, and distinguished by figures, as may be agreed on.
Each player proceeds in the game according to the numbers he spins, and pays the fine, or receives the reward appointed. Advances are made by adding the figure turned to that on which the marker stands.
Should any player spin a number on which there is already a marker, he must take its place and the other must move one forward.
Any player taking more than his due, must go back as many numbers as he took. If he take too few, and the next player have spun, he must remain where he was.
Whatever fines are marked in the list of numbers, must be put into the pool, and the first who makes exactly 150, or `The Jubilee’ wins the game; but if he happens to spin above that number, he must go back as may from 150 as he spun beyond it, till he or some one else wins the pool and its contents.
Persons going backward in the game are exempted from the fines attached to the figures on which they be obliged to rest.
Suppose John, Thomas and James play the game; James chooses a white marker, Thomas a red and john a green one; James by agreement spins first; and finding the uppermost number of the teetotum to be 2, he places his Marker on the Funeral of George the Second. Thomas spins next, No. 8, and places his mark on the Birth of the Prince of Wales. John next turns No 1 and places his mark on the Proclamation of George the Third. James then plays again, and spins No. 8 which being added to 2, his former number, sends him forward to the Commitment of Wilkes to the Tower, when he is to pay 2 counters to the pool, and go back to No. 1. Thomas spins No. 7 which, added to 8, his former number, brings him to the first meeting of the American Congress. John then spins No. 5, which added to 1, his former number, carries him to the Declaration of War against Spain and pays two counters to the Pool. Again James spins No. 5, which authorises him to take the station occupied by Thomas’s mark. Thomas therefore moves to No. 16; and John having spun No. 3 moves to No. 9.
And, again in common with this year’s celebrations, you could sing special Jubilee songs composed especially for the event. Go here to read more about them:
The Kings Anthem for the Golden Jubilee of George III in 1809
And if you wanted to celebrate, quietly at home, you could by creating Jubilee themed food: here is an example created by Ivan Day using a creamware mould he thinks was manufactured especially to celebrate George III’s Jubilee. Note its celebratory wreath of laurel leaves and George III’s cypher:
Ivan Day’s flummery produced from his creamware mould of 1809, showing the cipher of George III
Ivan has written a very comprehensive post about Jubilee Food, and the food cooked at George III’s Golden Jubilee in particular, on his blog: go here to read it.
So there you are. Details of a day that was celebrated in a similar manner to the way we ( or, as some of us, at least) will be celebrating this forthcoming weekend. If you are celebrating along with us, I do hope the weather holds and you have a wonderful time. If not, then I hope you have enjoyed this post, nevertheless.
I’ll be taking a short break to prepare and then rest up, but I’ll be back at the end of next week!