Victoria balked at paying for her diamond jubilee

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Queen Victoria, the matriarch of the British Empire, displayed a parsimonious grip on the royal purse strings when it came to celebrating her long reign. Previously unseen documents show that the Queen was far from amused at the prospect of having to pay the bill for her diamond jubilee in 1897 and even threatened to withdraw from the festivities.

The monarch, still mourning the death of Prince Albert, quibbled constantly through her officials with the government over plans to mark the occasion, saying the arrange- ments were "too extravagant" and she wanted no part in them. State papers released at the Public Record Office show a tetchy exchange between courtiers and ministers as the Queen demanded that Parliament vote £80,000 towards the cost of the celebration, setting a trend for future generations.

State celebrations, including Victoria's golden jubilee 10 years earlier, were a favourite tool of the Victorian Establishment for reinvigorating public faith in the monarchy. It was not a view shared by the Queen. Lord Pembroke, steward of the Royal Household, wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in January 1897 saying: "There is no doubt the Queen feels somewhat strongly that the heavy tax upon her private fortune in 1887 should not be repeated this year, and the more so perhaps because Her Majesty is not personally desirous of any Festivities.

"They are going to take place solely because the nation evidently expects them ... it would certainly be ungenerous to ask the Queen for the cost of these celebrations." Ironically, the documents show that far from footing the entire £76,000 bill for the 1887 event, Buckingham Palace paid less than £6,000.

The Royal penny-pinching for the diamond jubilee extended to even a suggestion that dignitaries be lodged in private homes. Faced with rapidly rising bills for events including a service at St Paul's, a gala opera, state balls and a pageant on the Thames, the Queen's private secretary, Arthur Bigge, wrote to the Treasury: "I am afraid it is possible that the Queen may abandon the whole celebration if she finds the Privy Purse is likely to be called upon to again pay as in 1887." Parliament footed the £76,544 bill for the jubilee. A Palace document notes, testily: "Saving to be surrendered to the Exchequer £3,456."

Next year is Queen Elizabeth's golden jubilee. The bill for celebrations is expected to be met by the taxpayer and private enterprise.