Golden Jubilee

The origins of Royal Jubilees date back to the days of Ancient Egypt. Pharaohs were obliged to take part in various ceremonies to demonstrate their continuing virility and competence to rule. The word Jubilee is Hebrew and comes from Yobel, which refers to the ram's horn that was used in those days to proclaim that celebrations were about to begin.

There have been only three English monarchs to celebrate a Golden Jubilee, or 50 years on the throne. King George III marked his half-century as Head of State in 1809, and Queen Victoria celebrated hers in 1887. All the crowned heads of Europe, most of whom were Victoria's relations or descendants, gathered for the occasion and rode with her in procession to Westminster Abbey.

In 1977 Queen Elizabeth marked her 25 years on the throne with a Silver Jubilee. The whole nation celebrated in the form of street parties and processions. But this years' Golden Jubilee celebrations are a little more muted. Things have changed for the Royal Family since the nineteen seventies. Now, people question the role of the monarchy in a modern, democratic society. Queen Elizabeth II has seen the country she rules transform dramatically since she was crowned in 1953.

Homecoming Queen

It was Prince Philip, Elizabeth's husband, who told her of the news of the death of her father, George VI, on February 6, 1952. At the time, she was 3,000 miles away from Buckingham Palace, in Kenya. She was crowned, officially, 17 months later. TV manufacturers were delighted when three million sets were purchased so the British could watch the Coronation on the telley.

Britain, in the nineteen fifties, was a very different country than it is today. Rationing was still in existence, as some things were still in short supply after the war. People could only buy goods, such as cloth and some foods, when they produced a ration coupon. Society was still deferential and the British Class System was still very much in evidence.

The nineteen sixties saw British society begin to change dramatically. The Queen, and the monarchy as an institution, tried to keep pace with this transformation. But it was only in the nineteen eighties and nineties, and the scandals surrounding Charles and Diana, and Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew, that people started to seriously question the role of a modern monarchy. The Queen was asked by parliament to pay tax for the first time. The style of the monarchy began to change as well. Gone are the days when the country was prepared to pay vast sums of money for the upkeep of the Royal Family and their lavish lifestyles. The death of the Queen Mother is seen by many to be the end of the old-style monarchy. In the remaining years of her rule, Queen Elizabeth will try to adjust to this new reality.

Public opinion

But what do "her subjects", the British public, think and feel about the Royal Family at the beginning of a new millennium? Support for the monarchy increased slightly after the death of the Queen Mother. Fifty four per cent of those polled said that the form and character of the monarchy should remain unchanged. This means, however, that around half of the British population thinks that changes must be made, although there is little agreement on what these changes should be.

We have asked our regular British WoE correspondents to tell us how they feel about Queen Elizabeth II and the British Monarchy in general. Their responses show a wide range of feelings and opinions, ranging from loyal monarchism to outright republicanis

Correspondents: Hilary Davies | Barnaby Harward | Joe Harper | Charlie McNeill

- Peter Gentle