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Preparing to throw the jubilee cakes
Throwing buns from County Hall in Abingdon as a way of celebrating Royal and national events —including, of course, next week’s Diamond Jubilee — is a tradition at least 250 years old. The first recorded chucking of ‘cakes’ as they were then called (I hope penny tea-cakes, not squidgier items) by bigwigs, such as councillors and so forth, on to the populace in the square below happened on the occasion of the coronation of King George III in 1761.
The word ‘jubilee’, from which we derive the verb to jubilate (from Latin: jubilare), dates right back to the Old Testament and the book of Leviticus. It stems from the Hebrew word for ram because jubilee years were proclaimed by the blowing of ram’s horns — which is why trumpets still figure strongly in celebrations.
In Leviticus, Jubilees were marked every 50th year. During them, Hebrew slaves were freed, debts were written off, and houses and lands that had been sold in the open countryside were supposed to be given back to their original owners or their heirs.
No Abingdon bun fun occurred in 1785, the 25th anniversary of George III’s reign, presumably because the concept of a Silver Jubilee is comparatively modern, possibly reflecting Silver Weddings. But the throwers were back in 1810 to celebrate his Golden Jubilee. Whether there would have been any such frolics for his Diamond is unknown since the poor king, mentally ill, died in January 1820 — just a few months’ short of his 60 years on the thrones of both Great Britain and Hanover.
Queen Victoria, Britain’s longest serving monarch to date, overtook George III in the longevity stakes in 1896 but requested that any celebrations be delayed until her Diamond Jubilee the following year, on which occasion there was certainly much bun throwing. The jubilations knew no bounds, the two-day holiday having been declared a festival of the British Empire.
Throughout much of the globe — all that was pink on the map — free meals and beer were made available for all and sundry. And grander banquets were held with much pomp and ceremony for grander people. In Oxford, new bells were installed at the cathedral to ring in the jubilee.
In terms of longest reigning European monarchs, Victoria is in third place with 63 years. Louis XIV, who came to the French Bourbon throne in 1643 aged four, holds the record at 72 years, and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and Hungary, who died in 1916, comes in second at 68 years.
But this year marks only the second 60-year reign in English history. Long live he Queen!
The first Silver Jubilee was celebrated with bun-throwing in 1935 when George V had been on the throne for 25 years. The second was that of his granddaughter, the present Queen, which was celebrated 42 years later in 1977.
Had Silver Jubilees been celebrated earlier in Britain, the first after the Norman conquest would have been that of Henry II, the Duke of Normandy who ended up reigning territory from Hadrian’s Wall in the north to the Pyrenees in the south.
He lived much of his life at the Royal Palace of Woodstock, which stood near the present Blenheim Palace, and reigned for 35 years.
He negotiated peace after the bloody civil wars between his mother Matilda and cousin Stephen.
It was also the first to be crowned King of England, rather than the older and more tribal-sounding King of the English. He negotiated peace terms with Stephen at Wallingford, under the terms of which Stephen would be allowed to reign until his death and then Henry would take over.
Members of the House of Plantagenet that he established proved remarkably long-living. Henry III reigned for just short of 56 years (1216-1272), and Edward III reigned for 50 years.
But if anyone tells you that buns were thrown from County Hall in those days, “Don’t Jubeleeve it” (To recycle a joke from 1977): County Hall was only built in 1678-83.