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When Did Royalty Begin Giving Recognition to Centenarians?

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 5 Aug 2020 | comments*Discuss
Monarch Telegram Centenary Diamond


My 5th great grandfather lived to the age of 106 and died in 1883. Did centenarians at that time receive recognition from Royalty and if so, are there any records that I could research?

(M.L, 12 May 2009)


Celebrations of age, especially milestones like a century, have long been part of humankind, although those who live to 100 and beyond are still few and far between. For many years the parties were restricted to family or community, but eventually the monarch did start the tradition of sending greetings to any British or Commonwealth citizen who reached 100 years of age, then again at 105 and every year thereafter.

Unfortunately for you, however, it didn’t start until 1917, when George V sent out the first of these now-famous telegrams, which were delivered by bicycle, and actually written by a secretary.

These days it’s not a telegram – those were phased out in 1982 – but a card, which, although not actually penned by the Queen, would seem to be coming from her, delivered in a special blue envelope, the card itself bearing the coat of arms, a photograph and a scan of the Queen’s signature. These celebrations are also sent out for diamond wedding anniversaries – that’s 60 years.

Whilst the first few years of the scheme saw very few of the congratulations sent, by now they number a few thousand a year as life expectancy increases. Originally the problem was compounded by the fact that centralised birth records – the birth certificates – didn’t begin until 1837, meaning that for the first 20 years, people were reliant on old parish baptismal records to officially know a person’s age.

It could well be that the early years of the 100th birthday telegrams saw some who were qualified not receiving them because of the inexactness of the records. Of course, none of this helps your researching, since there are no records to research.

For someone to live past 100 in the 19th century was indeed a rare event. To offer a standard, in 1901, if you were 65, then you could reasonably expect another 10.5 years of life if you were a man, 11.5 if you were a woman. However, that’s assuming you reached 65, as most didn’t; in the 19th century, life expectancy was just 37 years, meaning many didn’t live past that age.

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@Dawn. Well done you - and happy 106th birthday to your grandmother.
TheCentenarian - 17-Jul-15 @ 10:20 AM
MY grandmother was born in Southern Ireland in 1909 and will celebrate her 106th birthday in three weeks time. Initially the Palace refused to send a 100th birthday card to her as they said she was Irish not English but with a little checking it became apparent that Eire was part of the UK in 1909, and until 1922 as far as I can gather and so the Palace did indeed send a card. She also received a card on her 105th birthday and will be receiving another very soon.
Dawn - 13-Jul-15 @ 1:40 PM
@Fran. Why not contact the palace yourself to ensure this can be looked into before the date. Her birth certificate will needed. Here's how to do it .
TheCentenarian - 17-Feb-15 @ 1:55 PM
Hi .. My aunt will be 100 years old on Christmas Eve this year. I am a little bit concerned that, as she was born in Southern Ireland in 1915 and not in the UK , she may miss out on her telegram from the Queen. She is of course a British Citizen. Do you think this might be a problem? If so how can I highlight this Her Name is Norah Barry 24-12-1915 Kindest regards Fran
Fran - 16-Feb-15 @ 8:56 AM
I have the original of a telegram sent to my great great grandmother on February 21st 1910She was Mrs Baker of 21 Black Griffin Lane Canterbury Kent. Telegram reads I am commanded by the King to congratulate you on having attained your hundredth birthday Knollys This was sent from Buckingham Palace on behalf on Edward VII Knollys was his Equerry
Tassie - 29-May-12 @ 5:54 AM
Obviously not a telegram but, according to the Huddersfeld Examiner, 17th January 1914, John Turner of Kirkburton near Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire, received a LETTER of congratulations on his centenary from King George V.It was signed by a certain Clive Wigram (Assistant Private Secretary and Equerry according to Wikipedia)
Robocart - 16-Oct-11 @ 1:33 AM
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