Why does the British monarchy matter? Were the ceremonies enacted earlier this year for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee really as traditional and ancient as they appear? How similar were these enactments to the previous diamond jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria? Or are these all modern constructs, a new definition of monarchy for the ‘modern’ age? These are the issues that David Starkey chose to address for this year’s Marc Fitch lecture.
Let us first begin with a brief history of the Marc Fitch lecture, which is an annual event, first organised in 1956 by Marcus Felix Brudenell Fitch (1908-1994). After the Second World War, Fitch developed interests in historical and genealogical matters, and took a leading role in the British Record Society (of which he became chairman in 1956). Under his guidance the society increased publications, most notably the testamentary records of the Canterbury province. According to his ODNB entry (only available via subscription) Fitch set up the Marc Fitch Fund in 1956 as a result of his friend Francis Steer (Sussex county archivist) who complained of the difficulties of attracting financial support for publishing local historical material.
The Marc Fitch Fund upon which the event is now organised is a long time supporter of the Victoria County History which has, since 1933 worked in coordination with the Institute of Historical Research. The fund provides small grants towards research and publication projects whose primary focus is on regional and local history. This year, however, the lecture holds a greater importance, for the Victoria County History (VCH) has been rededicated by Her Majesty the Queen in celebration of her jubilee. All future volumes of the VCH county histories will contain this dedication:
This history is dedicated by gracious privilege to Queen Elizabeth II in celebration of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, and inscribed to the memory of her late Majesty Queen Victoria who graciously gave the History its title
David Starkey talked about the foundations of the VCH in his presentation and noted the great differences between Queen Victoria’s Diamond jubilee celebrations from that held this year. Starkey sees the ceremonial monarchy as a very modern tradition forged by people in the early twentieth century with very powerful connections.
The VCH was founded in 1899 to produce a history of each county and parish in England. This work continues to this day with the large red volumes becoming its most recognisable output, although they do also produce various smaller publications and host the website VCH Explore, which has recently received a new overhaul and upgrade. If you would like to learn more about the VCH have a look at their website or check out their new publication The Victoria County History 1899-2012: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration.