Saving the Nation

Published in History Today

Peter Furtado joins the celebrations of the Victorian Society as it commemorates half a century of defending the country’s nineteenth-century heritage.

It also asked one of its founding members and life-president, Lord (Asa) Briggs, to talk about the event. He chose as his theme three jubilees: Victoria’s Golden (1887), her Diamond (1897) and the Society’s own (1958). He stressed that, although golden anniversaries and jubilees were common in the late Victorian era, the concept of a diamond jubilee was previously unheard of – yet curiously appropriate for 1897, a moment when diamonds were all the rage in the wake of recent discoveries in South Africa. Together the two Victorian jubilees were an expression of the revived engagement of the monarchy with the public, something on which the Queen and Albert had placed great importance in the early years of her reign, in what was an entirely innovative manner.

Briggs stressed that the last decade of the reign was a pivotal moment of change for the whole country, seeing the onset of a new modernity. The Queen was very much at the centre of this, he argued, pointing out the symbolism of the fact that at lunch on Jubilee Day 1897 she turned her mind back to 1837, yet seated beside her was Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination was to lead to such dire consequences for the whole of Europe in 1914. The next two years, 1898 and 1899, were the busiest of her entire life and, even in the final year of her life she never adopted a ‘recessional’ frame of mind about the empire. ‘There is much still to be written about Queen Victoria in the 1890s’, he concluded.

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