Letters in Focus: Jubilee Jamboree

jubilee_1With its whirl of bunting, teapots, cotton frocks, and the river pageant, Diamond Jubilee fever is sweeping the country for just the second time in British history. Early modern subjects might not have had the opportunity to celebrate a sixty-year reign, but it’s clear from Early Modern Letters Online – itself replete with royalty from across Europe – that they knew how to mark in style royal and aristocratic betrothals, marriages, and birthdays, whilst countrywide celebrations of military victories and triumphant peace treaties helped bolster national unity.

Then, as now, cities, towns, and institutions arranged peals of bells, official gun salutes, and lavishly styled river pageants for their inhabitants to enjoy. Eminent speakers delivered orations and sermons from pulpits at moments of national importance – we read how ‘Dr. Sherlock is to preach in St. Pauls before Q.Anne to celebrate the glorys and triumphs of the late victorys in Germany. “You may easily imagine that the D. of M. will have no inconsiderable part in the panegyrie”’. Professional intelligencer John Pory wrote to Sir Robert Cotton in 1607 describing the masque Hymenaei which was designed by Inigo Jones and written by Ben Jonson to celebrate the marriage of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and Lady Francis Howard (not that of Prince Henry, as erroneously noted in the abstract). Just as we do today, they enjoyed firework spectaculars; and at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession we find ‘an invitation to the freeholders of Canterbury to partake of a roast ox, bread and beer to celebrate Peace on July 8’ (a service in St Paul’s Cathedral was held also to mark the Peace of Utrecht, at which Handel’s Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate was given its premiere). As one might expect, bonfires and beacons lit the night sky on numerous occasions and finery was donned for balls and dances, but, in a week during which the highlight here at Cultures of Knowledge has been a paper on the correspondence of James I’s daughter Elizabeth Stuart (podcast to come!), the ‘Winter Queen’ reminds us what’s missing today: scheduled into the festivities that marked her marriage to Frederick, Elector Palatine is the description of a ritual we have lost in these modern celebrations – the tilting match, or joust. Something to suggest to cyclists at the local street party?

emlo_logo_infrastructureLetters in Focus with Miranda Lewis

Miranda is editing metadata from the Bodleian card catalogue of correspondence for our union catalogue, Early Modern Letters Online. On a regular basis, she brings us hand-picked and contextualised records.

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