Diamond – mark of a monarch’s 60th anniversary
Jubilee – derived from the Latin verb iūbilō, “shout for joy”
The last Jubilee celebrated by a monarch other than Her Majesty was that of her grandfather, George V. This is fitting. She has always followed in her grandpa’s footsteps.
She perched on a little chair between the King and me, and the King gave her biscuits to eat and to feed his little dog with, the King chortling with little jokes with her–she just struggling with a few words, ‘Grandpa’ and ‘Granny’ and to everyone’s amusement had just achieved addressing the very grand-looking Countess of Airlie as ‘Airlie.’ After a game of bricks on the floor with the young equerry Lord Claud Hamilton, she was fetched by her nurse, and made a perfectly sweet little curtsey to the King and Queen and then to the company as she departed.
— an observer of the Princess Elizabeth of York as reprinted in King George V by Kenneth Rose (1983)
Winston Churchill noted at Balmoral, later that year:
There is no one here at all except the family, the household and Princess Elizabeth–aged 2. The latter is a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.
Those were the thirties. Grim years of Depression and a war looming over a country exhausted and heartbroken after the last. George V had not been popular in the first years of his reign because he lacked the flash and warmth of his father, Edward VII. During the Great War he kept to a behind-the-scenes role, conscious of other monarchies falling all around him. He was also mindful of Britain’s rising republicanism and felt he must persuade his government to deny asylum to his own cousin, the Tsar of Russia.
He never aimed to be popular. When the wind blew the other way, he kept to his convictions that would never sacrificed for “good press.” He even rebuffed his son, the man who could not rule without the woman he loved, for prosing on about giving great press.
“I do things because they are my duty, not as propaganda.”
He was a Sailor King like William IV, another monarch doomed to follow a predecessor (George IV) given to indulge in self-acclaimed brilliance. He was frugal, modernizing his father’s Britannia for a second racing career even as the yachtsmen of England urged the king to have the 1892 boat replaced. He refused and kept the vessel throughout his reign.
In personal matters, he was even less like his popular father. Edward VII eschewed the bed of Alexandra, Europe’s loveliest princess, for that of another woman. George V remained devoted throughout his life to the redoubtable Queen Mary (who will someday receive the richly-deserved devotion of several posts on this blog):
“I can never sufficiently express my deep gratitude to you, darling May, for the way you have helped and stood by me in these difficult times. This is not sentimental rubish, but what I really feel.”
On the sixth of May in 1935, George V celebrated his Silver Jubilee, astonished at how many people were lining the streets. But none of this went to his head, as he indicated upon leaving St. Paul’s after the service of Thanksgiving.
“The Queen and I are most grateful. Just one thing wrong with it–too many parsons getting in the way. I didn’t know there were so many damn parsons in England. It was worse than a levee.”
Duty renews us all, year after year. It binds us to the past so that we can live in the future. I suppose that is why the Lebowitz portrait of Her Majesty is so apposite of the Reign, funereal in its depiction of an order that is everlasting.
When George V died, Britannia was towed into deep water south of the Isle of Wight and sunk.