Queen Elizabeth at 90: a view from the Victorian era

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2016 by kmflett

Queen Elizabeth at 90: a view from the Victorian era

Desc: Menu for household dinner on Queen Victoria's 80th birthday 24.5.1899 ¥ Credit: [ The Art Archive / Lord Edward Pelham Clinton Collection ] ¥ Ref: AA337175

 Menu for household dinner on Queen Victoria’s 80th birthday 24.5.1899  Credit: [ The Art Archive / Lord Edward Pelham Clinton Collectio]

You may be planning to mark the official 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth 11 on 12th June with a celebration even if you are not a monarchist. After all the UK is hardly over burdened with national feast and festival days.

Alternatively you may just ignore it and get on with life or perhaps raise the flag of the red republic and make your protest.

In the modern era, and Jeremy Corbyn has made the point previously, while many socialists may think the monarchy is an anachronism, the thought also occurs that there are other more pressing priorities than abolishing the Crown.

Our Victorian predecessors saw things rather differently.

Queen Victoria died in 1901 well short of her 90th birthday but she did live to see her 80th marked on 24th May 1899.

There was a special service at St Pauls Catherdral attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury where thanks were given for the Queen’s long life. There were reportedly crowds outside though Queen Victoria herself was not there.

There was special music composed to mark the day by leading composers and a special dinner at Windsor to mark the occasion.

Victoria commissioned a German artist, Angeli, to paint a birthday portrait.

This fed into one of the most persistent criticisms of her reign. Namely that while she was a British monarch, the background of her family was in fact German.

Indeed this was one of the comments made by the radical paper Reynolds’s News in its edition of 24th May 1899.

Reynolds’s which had been founded by the Chartist and novelist GWM Reynolds in 1850 was the largest circulation paper of the day, selling around 300,000 copies.

It was a populist paper quite happy to cover murders and sex scandals but its politics were radical. It reported trade union activity and covered the political left such as the marxist Social Democratic Federation.

Reynolds’s was also virulently anti-monarchist and pro-republican in tone in a way that has no parallel in the modern British media.

In a special article to mark Queen Victoria’s birthday Reynolds’s rehearsed some of its long standing criticisms of the monarchy and the Queen in particular.

It argued that the cost of the monarchy was excessive and unwarranted when so many lived in poverty. It contended that the monarchy cost £14 million a year and the Queen was always guaranteed an old age pension unlike many of her subjects.

It underlined the point of cost by noting that for a good deal of her period in office the Queen had been absent from public life. Reynolds’s suggested that the occasions when the Queen had appeared in the previous 35 years were ‘rare’. Indeed she did not attend any public event on the day of her 80th birthday.

Reynolds’s was also concerned with the inequality that Victoria presided over. While she as a female monarch was head of the Church and head of the armed forces these positions were open to no other woman.

It went on to complain that while the ‘idle middle classes’ were celebrating the Queen’s birthday over half a million people in London were living in one-roomed houses. There is a striking parallel with London in 2016 with the Queen occupying Buckingham Palace for parts of the year while numbers of others in the Capital have no dwelling at all.

Its article concluded with a toast to the Queen:

‘Gentlemen, The Queen and Slum Dwellings, the Queen and our Army of Paupers.. the Queen and the unemployed, the Queen and child slaves, the Queen and poisoned women workers. God Save the Queen.


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