A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.
Bible, King James Version, Leviticus 25.
Celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary of King George III’s reign began on October 25, 1809: to enthusiasts, the first time in over four hundred years that a British monarch had reigned so long; to critics, technically still only the forty-ninth year since his coronation (Colley 1984; Semmel 2007). The term “jubilee”–of religious origin, from Leviticus 25, for the year of celebratory emancipation or penal remission to be observed every fifty years–was widely used in early modern Britain, from the literature of radical political reformers to David Garrick’s “Great Shakespeare Jubilee” at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1769 (Chase 1990). The publications and festivities surrounding the King’s Jubilee drew on these two meanings, provoking applause and criticism from loyalists and radicals in the newspapers, pamphlets, poetry, songs, and performances which marked the occasion in towns and cities across the realm.
Like their subjects, the Hanover royal family also read and collected the literature of the King’s Jubilee. Shown here are two examples of the popular ephemeral literature surrounding the event: the printed sheet music to “God Save the King,” from an album of printed and manuscript music in Osborn MSS 146 (Beinecke call number: OSB MSS 146, Item 868), and “The Character of the King, or, Royal Jubilee. Interspers’d with authentic anecdotes of His Majesty,” an anonymous pamphlet owned by Ernest Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland (Beinecke call number: 1976 644).
The “King’s Anthem” itself, or “God Save the King,” was both an icon of the patriotic fervour for George III and the territory of radical commentators, who continued–as they had in Scotland for the Young Pretender, in the Jacobite uprising of 1745–to colonize the song for political protest (Branham 1999). For many of the subjects of George III, this example of “God Save the King,” from the bound volumes of Osborn MSS 146, might also have evoked the “Jubilee Hymn” of the political radical Thomas Spence, sung to the same tune, and calling on its readers and listeners to proclaim “the perfect Rights of Man, true Common Sense. Now hath the Oppressor ceas’d, and all the World releas’d, from Misery” (Spence 1807).
Branham, Robert James. “‘God save the —!’ American National Songs and National Identities, 1760-1798,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 85 (1999): 17-37.
Chase, Malcolm. “From Millenium to Anniversary: The Concept of Jubilee in Late Eighteenth- and Nineteenth Century England,” Past & Present 129 (1990): 132-147.
Colley, Linda. “The Apotheosis of George III: Loyalty, Royalty, and the British Nation 1760-1820,” Past & Present 102 (1984): 94-129.
Semmel, Stuart. “Radicals, Loyalists, and the Royal Jubilee of 1809,” Journal of British Studies 46 (2007): 543-569.
Spence, Thomas. The Jubilee Hymn. To be Sung an hundred Years hence, or sooner. London: Seale & Bates, .