The queen’s Diamond Jubilee is not only an event of great personal and national celebration but also one which places Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in comparison to those of all the kings and queens who came before her. The British monarchy gains much of its current legitimacy and authority from the antiquity of its foundation over a thousand years ago. Trading on the British belief in “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and a national love of nostalgia, the monarchy has successfully navigated through often choppy waters to the calm of the twilight years of the current queen’s reign by constantly projecting this long heritage.
To display this priceless and essential provenance, the monarchy has always wrapped itself in pageantry linking itself, through carefully managed heraldic symbols, to a heroic and distant past. After all, it is hard, even for the most ardent republican, to argue with an institution which has survived and flourished for so long. Royal landmarks, such as jubilees or royal weddings, allow the monarchy frequent opportunity, particularly in a global media age, to promote and re emphasise these traditions to a new audience, so strengthening and renewing its “brand”. Undoubtedly the current queen, who enjoys widespread affection and admiration, has benefited throughout her reign from these timely occasions of national celebration which have enhanced her reputation to succeeding generations. It could even be argued that the response to the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 2002, when thousands queued to pay their respects to the catafalque of the dead queen within the medieval splendour of Westminster Hall, restored the monarchy after the very choppy waters of the 1990′s. Nor is this a new game. Succeeding monarchs from Henry VIII to, notably, George IV and Victoria have astutely sought to link themselves to their glorious ancestors through elaborate representation of their knightly, heraldic past.
At the queen’s coronation in 1953, her status as heir to centuries of royal lineage was made manifest in hte commissioning of The Queen’s Beasts: ten heraldic figures symbolising the various cultural and ancestral strands which make up the British monarchy and give it authority. The beasts are: the lion of England, the griffin of Edward III, the falcon of the Plantagenets, the black bull of Clarence, the yale of Beaufort, the white lion of Mortimer, the White Greyhound of Richmond, the red dragon of Wales, the unicorn of Scotland, and the white horse of Hanover.
The ten beasts, each approximately six foot high, were modelled in plaster by sculptor James Woodford and placed in prominent position outside Westminster Abbey for the coronation service. Afterwards, too vulnerable to remain out of doors, they were removed first to Hampton Court Palace then, in 1957, to St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle. In 1959 they moved again to their current home in Canada where they were subsequently decorated in their full heraldic colours (originally only the shields were coloured). To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, all ten figures have been brought together and put on public display at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau.
Almost since their inception, the Beasts have inspired copies as souvenirs, some more tasteful than others. In 1955, the Minton factory produced a handsome miniature set in porcelain whilst a year later actual size replicas were made to stand outside the palm house at Kew Gardens.
In 1972, to commemorate the Silver Wedding anniversary of the queen and Prince Philip, William Comyns produced a set of ten parcel gilt silver apostle spoons, each terminating in a “beast”.
A rare surviving complete set of the spoons is available to buy here at Myfamilysilver.com No doubt, forty years on, the Diamond Jubilee will prompt renewed interest in these romantic mythological creatures.