Elizabeth II became queen when her father died, February 6, 1952. She was crowned June 2, 1953.
In the long line of hereditary English monarchs, Elizabeth is the second to reign for so long. The first to celebrate a diamond jubilee was Victoria.
Jubilee’s history begins with the ancient Hebrews. It is written in the Torah, “You shall sanctify the 50th year and proclaim freedom throughout the land.”
The Hebrews took this directive seriously. They freed slaves and didn’t harvest crops.
Such a year was proclaimed with trumpet blasts. We can read all this in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.
The word jubilee is from the Hebrew for “ram’s horn,” used by the Hebrews as a trumpet, called yobel in that language. Yobels were sounded to signal beginnings.
The OED, while noting both jubilee’s beginning and its Hebrew meaning, also offers further meanings now part of English usage.
By 1526, jubilee meant, “exultant joy; jubilation; shouting; the sound of jubilation.” By 1584, jubilee was used figuratively for, “a time of restitution or
This idea of restitution, which began in religion, soon assumed further religious meaning. Before the Protestant Reformation (1587), jubilee referred to a year when pilgrims to Rome were rewarded with plenary indulgences. These pilgrimages were viewed as times to do pious works, to atone.
Jubilee’s meaning continued to expand. It became the 50th anniversary of any event; then, by the 18th century, of any period of 50 years. It didn’t refer to 60th anniversaries until Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Jubilate (1604), jubilation (1604), jubilant (1667), and similar words, all arise from jubilee. All have to do with public rejoicing.
The word jubilize (1649), means to celebrate a jubilee.
The idea of jubilee has always been faith-based. In Roman Catholicism, the third Sunday after Easter is known as Jubilate (JOO-bi-LA-tee) because one of the readings for that day is Psalm 66 which, in Latin, begins, “Jubilate Deo” (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord).
Similarly, Psalm 100, Jubilate Deo, is used as an Anglican canticle — “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
This ancient Hebrew idea of jubilee influenced modern thought when, in 1871, in post-Civil War America, the still-renowned Jubilee Singers got started.
All but two of the original singers had been slaves themselves, and their repertoire featured the powerful spirituals of their people. In fact, the Jubilee Singers are credited with introducing this previously “underground” music to the world. Fittingly, they did so during a tour that followed the escape route of the Underground Railroad. Also fittingly, they are named for the Hebrew tradition of freeing slaves during jubilee years.
Not much will likely be written about psalms, ancient Jews, or the legacy of former slaves, during Elizabeth’s Jubilee Year. Nor will we hear of jubilee mutton (late 19th century), which means, “very little,” and refers to the meagre portions of free mutton distributed in 1897 as part of Victoria’s jubilee celebrations.