Queen Victoria reigned for more than six decades, and when she reached her 60th anniversary on the throne Britain marked the occasion with her Diamond Jubilee.
The events in London were designed to be a celebration of her life as well as the spread of the British Empire throughout her lengthy reign.
Social celebrations and religious services were held. And colonial military units from the distant reaches of the empire put on a spectacular show in London, marching in prominent positions in an enormous procession.
The front page of the New York Tribune reported that the crowds gathered to witness the pageantry on June 22, 1897 had been "the largest aggregation of human beings ever assembled in one place." Some estimates of the crowd reached 5 million.
The celebrations were similar to the Golden Jubilee events a decade earlier, but given the queen's advanced age she had turned 78 a month earlier there was a tinge of sadness about them.
A dispatch from London on the front page of the New York Tribune appeared under a headline reading, "Probably the Queen's Last Ride in State Through the Streets of London."
The Diamond Jubilee did indeed mark the end of an era. The British Empire was probably at its highest point, and the elderly queen would pass away within four years. And Victoria's Diamond Jubilee would also be the last great assemblage of European royalty.
Queen Victoria Set a Record for Tenure on the British Throne
On September 23, 1896, Queen Victoria set the record for having reigned the longest as monarch of Britain. The longest time spent on the British throne to that point had been the reign of King George III of 59 years and 96 days.
It was determined that a massive celebration of Victoria's impending 60th anniversary on the throne would be observed in June of 1897. The focus of the celebrations would be on the growth of the British Empire during Victoria's reign.
Plans were made to incorporate government delegations and military units from throughout the empire, which, at that time, covered much of the globe. Britain had secured its hold on The Raj, as British India was known, and had also fought wars in places ranging from Afghanistan to Africa.
Accounts written at the time refer to exotic sights in London in the early summer of 1897, when troops from around the empire began arriving in the city. Photographs taken at the time depict colonial troops in distinctive uniforms, including Australian troops who brought along their mascot, a young kangaroo.
The Procession in London Was Like Nothing Ever Seen
In light of the Queen's age and problems she had walking, it was determined that the centerpiece of the public portion of the Diamond Jubilee would be a lengthy procession through London. Queen Victoria could be seen by millions of people, and she would not have to leave her carriage.
The route of the procession was six miles long, and stands had been built along much of the way to accommodate crowds of spectators.
As Victoria left Buckingham Palace promptly at 11 a.m. on the morning of June 22, 1897, she pushed a button which transmitted a message by telegraph to the farthest reaches of the British Empire:
"From my heart I thank you, my beloved people. May God bless you."
Her Indian servants then helped her into her carriage, and she began a long ride through London, escorted by marching lines of sailors from the Royal Navy, troops of the British Army, and colonial troops from Australia, Hong Kong, India, Africa, and Canada.
When the royal procession reached St. Paul's Cathedral, a religious service of thanksgiving was held beside the carriage, so the queen would not have to walk up the stairs into the venerable building. Following the service, the crowd spontaneously erupted in giving the queen three cheers.
The procession continued onward, eventually making a circuit around the city of London. That night illuminations were lit around the country, and every corner of England and Scotland had bonfires and celebrations.
Celebrations continued for another two weeks, including a garden party at Buckingham Palace on June 28, a grand review of Indian and colonial troops in Windsor Park on July 2, and a palace reception for the colonial prime ministers.
Not Everyone Celebrated Victoria's Reign
The Diamond Jubilee received extensive front-page news coverage throughout America. President McKinley sent a congratulatory message to Queen Victoria, and in many American cities there were celebrations and observances of the Jubilee. But good feelings for Victoria and what she represented were not universal.
As happened during the Golden Jubilee a decade earlier, Irish nationalists, in Ireland and America, protested against the continued role of their homeland by Britain.
A protest against the Diamond Jubilee was raised in the British House of Commons by Irish members. Protesting Britain's rule of Ireland, John Redmond, a successor to Charles Stewart Parnell, stood in the House of Commons, and though jeered by British members, spoke of how the Irish felt about Queen Victoria, her reign, and the celebrations. According to a dispatch which appeared in American newspapers on June 22, 1897:
"Mr. Redmond protested against Great Britain's rule in Ireland, and asked the house to adopt an amendment to the effect that it deemed it a duty to place on record that during the sixty years of her majesty's reign, Ireland had suffered grievously from famine, depopulation, poverty, and the continued suspension of constitutional liberty, with the result that the Irish are discontented and disaffected and unable to join in the celebration."
Another story which appeared in American newspapers concerned a judge in Chicago who "eloquently" denounced the queen when an attorney in his courtroom offered a motion that court be adjourned in honor of the queen's jubilee.
Accusing Queen Victoria of a lack of concern during the Great Famine, Judge Goggin concluded, "There was not enough money to bury the bones of her dead subjects and they were devoured by the dogs." The judge, it was reported, then "shed tears for his countrymen."