Tuesday, January 30, 2018

1810, What a Year It Was...Except When It Wasn’t

Last week I mentioned that I had intended to write a post for my 1810 series about the celebrations in observance of George III’s fifty years on the throne. It was kind of a big deal—only three other monarchs since the Norman Conquest (Henry III, Edward III, and James I—and James only squeaks in because of his years on the throne of Scotland as James VI before he became James I of England) had been fifty years on the throne. I blithely assumed that the king’s jubilee took place in 1810—specifically, on October 25, which was the 50th anniversary of the day he became king on his grandfather George II’s death in 1760. But all my poking around into the events of 1810 made no mention of a jubilee celebration in 1810. Weird, I thought. Maybe it wasn’t celebrated because of the war, or...or something.

And so I continue to think...until last week's research into a darling Jubilee cloak print from La Belle Assemblee made me dig deeper and discover the real reason why there were no jubilee celebrations in 1810... Because they'd all happened in 1809!

I was able to find a fair bit of information about the jubilee observances themselves, but no explanation for why they were held at the start of the 50th year of his reign and not on the anniversary of his assession. The closest I've gotten to an explanation is that it was generally known that the king's health was not good, and it seems that many people were worried that he might die before the anniversary itself. Evidently plans for celebrations were a bit of a last-minute thing They needn’t have worried: in fact he lived for another ten years, outliving Queen Charlotte, though nine of those were spent in a twilight of dementia. By summer 1809 it looked as thought the poor old man would survive, so the tentative plans began to firm up (evidently the first sign of the impending celebrations was a sharp increase in the cost of candles, which were being hoarded for illuminations.)  Sadly, he would not be able to enjoy many of the spectacles that were eventually held in his honor, because his eyesight was almost completely gone by this time.

So how was the jubilee observed?

The King and the royal family attended a service of thanksgiving at Windsor, where the queen later threw a spectacularly splendid fete for the court. But there were plenty of less solemn observances all over the country: many of the nobility had oxen and sheep roasted and basically held barbecues for their tenants and workers, with games and races and bread and ale to go with the meat. Assembly balls for the middle classes in towns and larger villages and fireworks and illuminations in the cities were also widespread. After the fact many communities erected public monuments and statues in honor of the king's anniversary. And of course, there was merchandise. You can still buy George III Jubilee medals on eBay (yes, really), and for the wealthier souvenir hunter there were commemorative dishes, glassware, and my favorite, a child’s game celebrating the glories of the kings of England.

In a way it was probably a good thing that George's jubilee celebrations happened in 1809; by the actual anniversary of his accession in October 1810 he would be in even poorer health—on the verge of his final collapse (the Regency would be declared in January)—and his beloved daughter Amelia on her deathbed. I doubt anyone would have felt much like celebrating.


Jane Quant said...

Hi, could you let me know the title/s of the stories in the 1810 series mentioned in the above blog? Thanks

Marissa Doyle said...

The "1810 series" refers to the series of posts I've done about events in 1810, inspired by a novella series set in 1810 that I'm working on. They're not yet published, but I'll certainly let everyone here know when they are (or you can sign up for my newsletter and have the announcement sent straight to you. :) )