This week Her Majesty The Queen becomes the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee after 70 years of service. On this momentous occasion, we look back at some of Sidney’s royal visits over the years.

It was one of the College’s earliest alumni, Oliver Cromwell, who brought the first royal visitor to Sidney. In 1768 George III’s dissolute brother-in-law King Christian VII of Denmark, came to view the recently acquired pastel portrait of Cromwell. The Cambridge Chronicle reported at the time that he turned to one of his nobles and said in French, “He makes me tremble”.

The first British royal visit had been in 1861 when Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) was a guest at a fundraising concert in the Hall. His son, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, was a student at Trinity and visited Sidney on 2 March 1884, accompanied by his tutors, Revd John Neale Dalton and Joseph Prior.

Many years passed until Sidney welcomed its next royal guest. Following the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941, King Peter II escaped to Britain to head a Government in Exile. On Sunday 14 February 1943 he attended a Serbian Orthodox liturgy in the College Chapel, at which the celebrant and preacher was his Chaplain, Archpriest Dr Zivojin Ristanovic.

Queen Margarethe II of Denmark attended a reception held at Sidney by Professor Linnett, Vice-Chancellor, for her reception of an honorary degree in June 1975. Already familiar with Cambridge having studied Archaeology at Girton College in 1960–61, Queen Margarethe worked as a distinguished graphic designer. She did the illustrations to the 1977 edition of The Lord of the Rings, under the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer. Queen Margarethe enjoyed her own Jubilee celebrations earlier this year, having been on the Danish throne since January 14, 1972.

Queen Margarethe II of Denmark attending a reception at Sidney in 1975 by Professor Linnett, Vice-Chancellor

Queen Margarethe II of Denmark attending a reception at Sidney in 1975

In his capacity as Chancellor, the Duke of Edinburgh visited Sidney on several occasions. The first visit was on 9 June 1993 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix where he viewed a display of College treasures and dined in Hall.

The Duke of Edinburgh visiting Sidney and looking a book alongside three others

The Duke of Edinburgh viewing a display of College treasures in 1993

He visited again on 22 June 2008 when he presided over the Honorary Degree lunch hosted by former Master Professor Dame Sandra Dawson. Dr Ruth Jackson Ravenscroft - current Bye-Fellow at Sidney - was a second year Theology undergraduate at the time and acted as Chancellor’s Page that day.

Ruth Jackson (second year Theology undergraduate), acting as Chancellor’s Page on 22 June 2008

Ruth Jackson (Ravenscroft), then a second year Theology undergraduate, acting as Chancellor’s Page in 2008

In 1994 Princess Margaret came to a private lunch at Sidney, remembered for her unscheduled visit to Sainsbury’s to photograph the College from its first floor.

On 8 March 1996, Her Majesty The Queen paid the first visit by a reigning British monarch to the College to celebrate its Quatercentenary. Head Gardener, Trevor Rees, was there on the day and recounts his memories of the special occasion. 

"As you can imagine, preparations for the gardens was all hands on deck. But because she was arriving in early March, there was nothing in flower in Hall Court, which is where she walked through. We went out to a garden centre and stocked up on in flower primulas and we lined up just one side (the Porters' side) to make it look like it was planted. They were still in their pots, but we bundled them so tightly it looked like a brightly coloured planted border. All of the staff lined up along the other side which masked it, so we didn't have to plant that. 

Her Majesty The Queen walking through Hall Court

Her Majesty The Queen walking through Hall Court with Professor Horn, then Master (spot the potted primulas!)

"When the Queen arrived, a lot of staff were up on the top floor of Sainsbury's cheering and waving. She turned up in a Rolls-Royce that stopped just outside the front of College. She was smiling and waving to the staff who were around. What we didn't bargain for was that on her way out, the staff had all cleared, revealing the absence of plants on that side - we were rumbled!

The Queen arriving at Sidney Sussex College and waving from the steps at the front of College

"After everything was done, I asked the Bursar at the time what we should do with all the pots of primulas, and he said to give them away to the staff. Once that announcement was made, they were like crows on a Christmas ham! It was like a rugby free for all!

"The Royalty Protection Officers visited before the event and would do random searches in the wheelbarrows in case anything was hiding in there. The Duke of Edinburgh went off the beaten track and lifted the lids off some bins to peer inside and cause mischief. One of the Royalty Protection Officers was stationed inside the magnolia in Hall Court, and the Duke of Edinburgh had a habit of revealing them and making jokes.

"The Queen must have been hungry because she ate everything she was given. The Hall Manager at the time was really pleased!"

A highlight of the visit was the unveiling of a stone plaque that is displayed inside the Mong Building.

The Queen unveiling of a stone plaque alongside William Mong

Her Majesty The Queen unveiling a stone plaque displayed inside the Mong Building in 1996

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