Yale Exhibition Celebrates Two Centuries of Royal Jubilees

As Queen Elizabeth II and her subjects observe the 50th anniversary of her reign with public festivities, Yale University is celebrating the milestone with an exhibition of documents and memorabilia from jubilee celebrations past and present.

As Queen Elizabeth II and her subjects observe the 50th anniversary of her reign with public festivities, Yale University is celebrating the milestone with an exhibition of documents and memorabilia from jubilee celebrations past and present.

A toy bus, special issue stamps and chinaware emblazoned with the royal coat of arms are among the many commemorative items at Sterling Memorial Library marking the Jubilees of British monarchs from George III’s 50th in 1809 to Elizabeth II’s in 2002. Also on display are souvenir programs, verses written for the occasion by the reigning poets laureate and the manuscript of the Moss Hart and Cole Porter play “Jubilee.”

Frank Prochaska, who teaches a course on the monarchy and modern British society at Yale, put the exhibition together from disparate sources with the help of students and library staff. Manuscripts and illustrated books from Yale’s libraries account for most of the items on display. Prochaska noted that people who passed by as the exhibition was being assembled unearthed souvenirs and mementos of their own, which they loaned to the show.

“Everything that has a Jubilee association can be marketed,” Prochaska says, standing beside a case containing such Jubilee 2002 items as a Union-Jack-clad Teddy bear, Queen Elizabeth II playing cards and dishtowels with a portrait of the Queen and flags of the Commonwealth.

While a jubilee celebration might be seen as a commercial venture, it is a peculiarly British expression of public spirit and national unity, according to Prochaska. It is a way for people throughout the Commonwealth to express their support for the reigning monarch and an occasion for the monarch to reach out to her subjects. From the Jubilees of George III and Queen Victoria (her Golden, in 1887, and her Diamond ten years later) to the present Queen’s celebration, which began on February 6 this year, the bestowal of royal patronage on favorite charities and public projects has been a hallmark of the event. Traditionally, during jubilee celebrations the monarch pardons prisoners, relieves debtors and provides public festivities.

“Britain is a republic with an hereditary royal president,” says Prochaska. “Republics need festivities and spectacles to amuse and distract the public. A hereditary monarchy provides the opportunities for celebration through weddings, coronations and jubilees. Street parties, royal visits and grand staged events help to foster a sense of civic pride, social responsibility, and national unity in a nation undergoing continuous social change.”

However the exhibition plays up the popularity of the Royal family, it also pays heed to a vocal anti-monarchist minority. Standing out among the artifacts extolling the virtues of the reigning monarch is a record with scathing anti-royalist lyrics by the Sex Pistols, ironically titled “God Save the Queen.” Prochaska says he had to comb many record stores to find it.

The exhibition will be at Sterling Memorial Library, 120 High Street. The Library’s summer hours are 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 5:30-10 p.m. on Thursday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday and closed on Sunday. The exhibition is scheduled to run until the end of July.

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345