Why do British monarchs celebrate Jubilees?

The Mall in London adorned with Union Jacks
The whole of the United Kingdom will have huge celebrations to mark the Platinum Jubilee | Image: Shutterstock

A Royal Jubilee is a huge event in the United Kingdom and across other Commonwealth countries, but where did the idea even come from? Similar to jubilation, it’s clear jubilee is all about celebration and enjoyment, but how did we come to this choice of word? Before looking more closely at its royal uses, let’s try and discover where it all began.

Biblical Beginnings or Egyptian Etymology?

The origin of the word jubilee is highly contested, with both Hebrew and Ancient Egyptian claims to the word. In both instances, it still defines a loud or joyful noise and has come to mean so much more.

In Ancient Egypt, a jubilee fell when a pharaoh had reigned for thirty years and was then repeated every three years after that. Before the jubilee, the ancient Egyptian tradition had been to murder their pharaoh after a thirty-year reign, so the new system was at least a lot more humane.

The other argument is that jubilee has its origins in the Old Testament as a word taken from the Hebrew “yobel”, meaning a ram’s horn trumpet. The Year of the Jubilee was special to Israel and began with the ritualistic blowing of a trumpet.

Catholic Celebrations from 1300AD

The New Testament shows Jesus bringing the old jubilee to completion and it remains something celebrated every 25 years in Roman Catholicism.

The Roman Catholic Church began formally celebrating jubilees in 1300. They span the whole year and are recognised as a period for forgiving sins and reconciliations. Jubilees are still celebrated every 25 years, and the year of jubilee was last celebrated in 2000.

Royal Jubilees

Royal Jubilees are a Great British tradition and celebrate significant periods in any monarch’s reign. Very few British monarchs have reigned for 50 years or more, and there are no records to suggest that King Henry III, Edward II and James VI had official celebrations to mark their 50th year of their reignon the throne. However, both George III and Queen Victoria celebrated their Golden Jubilees and of course, Queen Elizabeth II is onto her Platinum in 2022.

Once a monarch has celebrated their Silver Jubilee (25 years) and their Gold Jubilee (50 years), the celebrations seem to continue every ten years, with Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II both holding Diamond Jubilee celebrations after 60 years. An excerpt from Queen Victoria’s diary read: ‘No one ever, I believe, has met with such an ovation as was given to me, passing through those 6 miles of streets … The cheering was quite deafening & every face seemed to be filled with real joy. I was much moved and gratified.’

These events are an opportunity for the general public to celebrate with the monarch. In previous years, Queen Elizabeth II has travelled around the world to visit Commonwealth countries in addition to touring the United Kingdom.

Five Fantastic Facts about Royal Jubilees

1. George III Celebrates ‘First Ever’ Jubilee with Criminal Pardons

George III took a philanthropic approach to his jubilee in 1809. His celebrations involved the release of ‘all persons confined for military offences’ and people up and down the country enjoyed roast beef and plum pudding in honour of the king.

2. World’s Largest Garden Party at 2012 Diamond Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant is allegedly the world’s ‘largest outdoor party’. Over 1 million people lined the banks of the River Thames to watch 1,000 boats sailing down the river.

3. London Underground Immortalises the Silver Jubilee

To celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the London Underground opened a brand-new line, appropriately named the Jubilee Line. Officially opened a little later in 1979, it appears in a light grey on all tube maps, to represent the silver celebration it is named after.

4. Queen Commands a Love of Poetry

The first Royal Poetry Competition was launched by the Poet Laureate and the Queen at her Golden Jubilee in 2002. The monarch always had the role of choosing our Poet Laureate and this competition is a further celebration of the written word. The first competition had over 4,000 entries and the Queen presented nine medals to winners aged between 7 and 18.

5. One Queen to Rule Them All

No monarch has ever reached the grand milestone of Platinum Jubilee. Queen Elizabeth II is the first monarch in written history to have reigned for so long and her Platinum Jubilee in 2022 is a celebration of 70 years on the throne.