Diamond Jubilee – Diamond Jubilee 2012

Page from An account of the rejoicings, illuminations, &c. &c. that have taken place in Newcastle and Gateshead on the following occasions: the peace of Amiens, in 1801, the jubilee of His Majesty George III, 1809, the general peace, in 1814, the abandonment of the bill against Queen Caroline, 1820, coronation of George III, and Queen Charlotte, 1761, coronation of His Majesty George IV, 1821 by J. Sykes, 1821 (Clarke (Edwin) local Collection, Clarke 1502)

To celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, we bring you a special Treasure of the Month.

2012 sees the 60th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It is astounding to think that no-one under the age of 60 has ever known any other monarch. It is unlikely that future generations will see a monarch of Britain on the throne for so long; however the Queen is not the first long-reigning monarch. Many of our former Kings and Queens have ruled for many decades, having ascended to the throne at a young age.

Elizabeth I was twenty-five when she became queen in 1558 and ruled for almost 45 years until her death in 1603. Edward III ruled for just over 50 years from the age of thirteen in 1327 to his death in 1377. Henry III ruled England for just over 56 years from 1216 to 1272. James VI of Scotland (who later became James I of England after the union of the English and Scottish crowns upon Queen Elizabeth I’s death in 1603) ruled Scotland for nearly 58 years from 1567 to 1625. However, both Henry and James came to the throne as infants, which rather increased their chances of having a long reign!

George III set a new record for the longest-serving monarch when he died in 1820, having ruled for almost 60 years. However, his son the Prince of Wales (later George IV) ruled as Regent from 1811 after George III’s descent into ‘madness’ reportedly brought on by the death of his youngest daughter and then as King from 1820 to 1830. Finally, the only monarch to have reigned longer than our current queen is Queen Victoria. Aged just 18 upon her ascension to the throne in 1837, she celebrated a Golden and Diamond jubilee before her death aged 81 in 1901, after 63 years and 216 days as queen.

Jubilees have, unsurprisingly, always been celebrated with much pomp and ceremony. Celebrations have taken place all over the country, memorabilia has been mass-produced and purchased by millions, and street parties have been held. George III’s golden jubilee was celebrated in 1809, as he entered his 50th year as King. Below is an extract from an account of the celebrations that took place in Newcastle. It states:

“The day was ushered in with ringing of bells; the flag was hoisted on the castle, on some of the churches, and by the ships in the river”.

The rest of the day was made-up of several acts of charity including meals of beef and plum pudding for the poor, the liberation of prisoners and a collection for the foundation of a public school. There were also church services throughout the day.

Not exactly the barbeque and pop concert from Buckingham Palace that we’ll be enjoying this year, but jubilant all the same!

Queen Victoria’s Golden and Diamond jubilees involved public processions, banquets and thanksgiving services. Below is a memento from her Golden jubilee entitled Our Gracious Queen by Mrs O. F. Walton. It is a collection of images and stories of Queen Victoria’s life from 1887. There were great outpourings of affection for Victoria, who was hugely popular again in the late nineteenth century. Mrs Walton reminds us all to:

‘…thank God that He has spared her to us so long, and let us pray that He may spare her for many years to come…God grant, then, that each of us may be a true loyal subject of our dear Queen, always eager to stand up for her, always willing to obey her…’

Times and traditions may have changed over the years, but in 2012 with the monarchy undergoing a new surge in popularity, this jubilee is sure to bring as much celebration as those of George and Victoria did.

Oh and just in case you are wondering, Queen Elizabeth II will have to rule until 10th September 2015 to beat Queen Victoria’s record and become our longest-reigning monarch!

Front cover from Our Gracious Queen showing Queen Elizabeth II
Front cover from Our Gracious Queen by Mrs. O. F. Walton., 1887 (19th century collection, 942.081 WAL)

Mary, Queen of Scots – August 2011

[Mary, Queen of Scots] In the Royal Palace of St. James's an Antient Painting. 1580. Delineated and sculpted by G. Vertue (1735)
[Mary, Queen of Scots] In the Royal Palace of St. James’s an Antient Painting. 1580. Delineated and sculpted by G. Vertue (1735)
(Clarke (Edwin) General Collection)

This month marks the 450th anniversary of Mary, Queen of Scots’ return to Scotland aged nineteen, following the death of her husband, King François II of France. Mary was born in 1542 and became Queen of Scotland six days later following the death of her father, King James V, after his defeat at the battle of Solway Moss. King Henry VIII was determined to marry the infant Queen to his son, Edward, thus finally uniting the crowns of Scotland and England. This was unpopular with the Scottish nobles who instead made a deal with the French to marry Mary to the Dauphin. This was ratified by the Treaty of Haddington in 1548 and Mary was sent to live in France – a safe distance from the attempts by English troops to kidnap her.

After Francois’ death Mary decided to return to Scotland to rule the country of her birth. Her mother, Mary of Guise, had ruled as regent until her death in 1560 and now the nobles had seized power under her half-brother, Lord James Stewart. They welcomed Mary’s return. Scotland was now a Protestant, and turbulent, country and, as a Catholic, Mary had to compromise over religion during her reign.

Mary was determined to have her claim to the English throne recognised and hoped that she would be named by Queen Elizabeth as her heir. They made plans to meet in summer 1562 but Elizabeth pulled out at the last minute. Mary was upset and annoyed that she had listened to Elizabeth’s opinions about who she should marry. Elizabeth had suggested her own favourite, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, as she thought this would allow her to manipulate Mary’s decisions. In the end, Mary married her English Catholic first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley at Holyrood Palace on 29th July 1565. She married without consulting Elizabeth who was furious as both Mary and Darnley were claimants to the English throne and any children would inherit both parents’ claims and thus be next in line for the crown.

At first Mary was infatuated with Darnley but before long he became arrogant, demanding more power and to be crowned King. He was also jealous of Mary’s friendship with her private secretary, David Rizzio, and he entered into a secret plot with the nobles to get rid of him. They were jealous of Rizzio’s position as Mary’s favourite and of his influence over her. On 9th March 1566, a group of the lords, accompanied by Darnley, murdered Rizzio in front of the pregnant Mary at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Mary was kept prisoner but she managed to lure Darnley back to her side and they escaped. However, she could now no longer trust him.

In June, their son James was born. Those nobles who were loyal to Mary met to discuss the problem of Darnley and swore a bond vowing to get rid of him. Darnley knew the tide had turned against him and, fearing for his safety, fled to his father in Glasgow. Here he was taken ill, with what is now believed to have been syphilis. Mary encouraged her husband to come back to Edinburgh and arranged for him to recuperate in a house at the former abbey of Kirk o’ Field, within the city walls. In February 1567 an explosion occurred in the house in the middle of the night, and Darnley was found dead in the garden. He appeared to have been strangled. He and a servant were found in their bedclothes with a variety of objects including a chair, a dagger and a rope, leading historians to suggest that they were aware the house was going to explode and were trying to escape. It is possible that they were apprehended whilst fleeing and were strangled to death.

One of the nobles, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was quickly accused of having supplied the gunpowder for the explosion and he was believed by many to be responsible for Darnley’s death. It was Mary’s and Bothwell’s actions in the wake of Darnley’s murder that convinced everyone of their guilt. Such was the evidence against Bothwell that Mary had to arrange a staged trial before Parliament, during which he was acquitted. Bothwell then managed to convince the nobles to sign the Ainslie Tavern Bond, in which they agreed to support him in his attempt to marry the Queen. By now the Scots were beginning to become suspicious of Mary.

In April 1567, Mary visited her son at Stirling, for what would be the last time. On her way back to Edinburgh she was abducted by Bothwell and his men and taken to Dunbar Castle, where she was allegedly raped by Bothwell. They returned to Edinburgh and at Holyrood they were married. Mary believed the marriage had the support of her nobles because of the Ainslie Tavern Bond. But they soon turned against the newlyweds and raised an army against them. Mary and Bothwell confronted them at Carberry Hill on 15th June. Although no fighting took place, Mary agreed to go with the Lords on condition that they let Bothwell go. However, they imprisoned her in a castle on an island in the middle of Loch Leven and forced her to abdicate the throne in favour of her son, James. Her brother James was to act as regent.

In May 1568, Mary escaped and managed to raise a small army. After her army’s defeat at the Battle of Langside, she fled by boat across the Solway Firth into England. She appealed to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, to help restore her to her throne but Elizabeth, fearful of Mary’s presence in her country, instead imprisoned her for nineteen years. Following years of plots and escape attempts, Elizabeth eventually had Mary executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587. Upon Queen Elizabeth’s death, Mary and Darnley’s son ascended to the English throne as King James I, finally uniting the Scottish and English crowns.

Historians have examined the evidence and debated whether Mary and Bothwell plotted Darnley’s death, without reaching any definitive conclusion. Bothwell was almost certainly involved in Darnley’s death, but so were most of the nobles – after all they had signed a bond vowing to get rid of him. It is likely that they pointed the finger of blame at Bothwell in order to save their own lives. That Mary so unquestioningly took his side and then quickly married him has been taken as evidence of her guilt. However, as much as she hated Darnley at this point, as a ruling Queen, it is unlikely that she would have plotted his death. In the aftermath of his murder she would have been fearful for her own life and may have seen Bothwell as a protector. After he allegedly raped her, she would have had no choice but to marry him or forgo her honour. Almost as soon as she was in England, she promised to divorce him and marry someone of Elizabeth’s choosing in return for her freedom. It is unlikely she would have been so quick to cast her husband aside if he had been worth committing murder and jeopardising the throne for, just months earlier.