by Paul James
October 29 2006
In 1953, every independent realm of Her Majesty passed an act concerning the royal title and style of the Queen. This was the first time that separate acts and separate titles were adopted for the same monarch by different realms, but the practice of formally proclaiming or enacting a particular royal style and title dates back at least to the sixteenth century, and the practice of using a fixed style dates back roughly to the conquest.
The Anglo-Saxon kings of England were more lackadaisical about titles: the substance of power was more important than the form, at least in this regard. Documents give a bewildering variety of titles for a single king, e.g. Athelstan was variously King of the Anglo-Saxons, King of the English, Monarch of all Britain, sometimes he was omnipotent, sometimes he was king by the Grace of God<, at others by the Providence of God. The one common feature throughout the Anglo-Saxon period is that the monarchs were kings of people rather than land, i.e. King of the English (Rex Anglorum), not King of England (Rex Angliae). This was common practice elsewhere in Europe too, and in Britain, it survived until 1603 in the title King of Scots.
This style continued for a while after the Norman conquest, sometimes with the addition of “Duke of the Normans”. Henry II (reigned 1154-89) brought extra titles into the mix from his paternal inheritance and was styled King of the English, Duke of the Normans and Aquitainians and Count of the Anjouvans. King John altered the style to refer to England, Normandy etc, and also added Lord of Ireland. John went on to lose Normandy and Anjou, but the titular claims to these territories weren’t given up until his son’s reign.
The longest-lasting piece of fiction in the English royal styles was introduced by Edward III in 1340, when he lay claim to the crown of France by right of descent from his mother, Isabelle, daughter of Philippe IV. Edward’s new style was King of England and France and Lord of Ireland – he dropped the ducal title of Aquitaine since it would have been merged into the French Crown. As a result of the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360, he dropped the French claim but was recognized as Lord of Aquitaine by King Jean II of France. The peace with France broke down again nine years later, and Edward resumed his French royal claim and the title which, with one brief exception, was to remain the English royal style until the reign of Henry VIII.
The French title was a fiction – English kings ruled parts of France, but never the whole country, and were never recognized as kings by most of the French. After the disastrous reign of Henry VI, England’s French possessions consisted of nothing but Calais, and this too was lost in 1558. But the title “King of France”, along with the shield of France in the royal arms, persisted until 1801, even while the real King of France was recognized by England.
The one exception to this occurred, ironically, when an English king had the most realistic chance of actually becoming King of France! After his military successes at Agincourt and afterward, Henry V secured recognition as heir to the throne of France from Charles VI, although this was not accepted by many of the French, and the war went on. From the point of this recognition, which was given in the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, Henry styled himself by the Grace of God King of England, Heir and Regent of France, and Lord of Ireland. The two kings – Henry and Charles – died within two months of each other in 1422, so that, according to the treaty, Henry VI of England was also King of France, and resumed the pre-1420 royal style.
Henry VIII went through four different royal styles, as a result of the English reformation, and the elevation of Ireland to the status of a kingdom in 1542. At the beginning of his reign, he used the same style which had first been adopted by Edward III in 1340, but in 1521 he incorporated the Papally-granted title Defender of the Faith. Following the break with Rome, his headship of the Church of England was also included, and he became by the Grace of God King of England and France, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Ireland, and of the Church of England on Earth the Supreme Head. When Ireland was raised to a kingdom in 1542, the title became: by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth the Supreme Head.
Edward VI and Jane Grey bore Henry VIII’s last style, but on her marriage to Philip of Spain, Mary and her husband adopted a long joint style : Philip and Mary, by the Grace of God, King and Queen of England and France, Naples, Jerusalem and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, Princes of Spain and Sicily, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Milan, Burgundy and Brabant, Counts of Hapsburg, Flanders, and Tyrol. In 1556, the list of kingdoms increased on the abdication of Philip’s father, Emperor Charles V, and became King and Queen of England, Spain, France, both Sicilies, Jerusalem and Ireland.
Obviously, Elizabeth I did not inherit Philip’s titles, but also, although she resumed the headship of the Church of England which Mary had relinquished (but as Supreme Governor, not Supreme Head), she did not put this back into the royal style. Instead, she placed a vague “etc” or “&c” at the end, producing by the Grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c.
James VI added Scotland (not Scots) to the title after England to give the official title until 1707 of by the Grace of God, King/Queen of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.. However, James also issued a proclamation mandating the style King of Great Britain, France and Ireland … even though Great Britain was not a single kingdom at the time. It became a united kingdom in 1707, at which time both “England” and “Scotland” disappeared from the royal style forever, to give King/Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.. From 1707, the king’s German titles were also sometimes included (Duke of Brunswick-Lüneberg, Arch Treasurer, and Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire).
A second Act of Union brought Great Britain and Ireland together in 1801 as a single kingdom, necessitating a further change in the royal style. The opportunity was taken to drop the meaningless claim to France, which, by this time, had abolished the monarchy altogether. George III became by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith.
At the time of the union, George III rejected suggestions that he should assume an imperial title, but in 1876, Queen Victoria willing accepted the title, not in relation to Britain, but to India. Empress of India was added to the end of the 1801 style. This was the first reference in the royal style to Britain’s vast territories outside Europe, and the first time the royal title and style was authorised by an Act of Parliament, rather than made by proclamation solely under the prerogative.
The second reference to overseas territories was added after Victoria’s death, when Edward VII became by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British dominions beyond the seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India. The phrase “British dominions beyond the seas” remained the only reference to the non-Indian territories, even after some of them became autonomous dominions equal in status to the United Kingdom. However, the creation of the Irish Free State was acknowledged five years after the event when the phrase United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the British dominions … was replaced by Great Britain, Ireland and the British dominions … Although all of Ireland was still subject to the Crown, most of it was no longer part of the United Kingdom. This ceased to be the case in 1949 when the Irish Free State became the Republic of Ireland, but it took another four years for the title to be corrected.
Indian independence led to the removal of the title Emperor of India in 1948. At around this time, and especially when India opted to become a republic in 1950, the question of the inappropriateness of the royal style to current circumstances was raised. Countries such as Canada and Australia were fully independent nations, but their names appeared nowhere in their King’s title! In addition, the negotiations surrounding India’s wish to remain in the Commonwealth after becoming a republic had led to the agreement that the king would be recognized as “Head of the Commonwealth”, but this, too, was missing from the official title. By the time Elizabeth II acceded to the throne in February 1952, there was general agreement on the nature of a new royal title, but the specific title or titles had not yet been decided upon. Consequently, her proclamation as Queen in the United Kingdom used a style which has never had official sanction and referred to no nation by name: Queen of this Realm and of all Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth. Officially, though, her style remained the same as that of her father until final agreement on a change was reached and implemented in 1953.
The agreed change stated that every dominion should adopt its own royal title, but that they should all contain the common phrases “of her other Realms and Territories” and “Head of the Commonwealth”. Some dominions chose to retain a reference to the United Kingdom in their title, as well as to themselves; while others did not. Some of those who did so (Australia and New Zealand) removed it in the 1970s.
Today, therefore, the Queen is unique in possessing sixteen different titles. Three refer to the United Kingdom (UK, Canada, and Grenada), and only three retain the title Defender of the Faith (UK, Canada and New Zealand). In the UK, she is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, but in most realms the style is somewhat simpler, e.g. in Australia (since 1973) it is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.
It is not yet clear what will happen to the title when the crown passes to Prince Charles. The title “Head of the Commonwealth” is not automatically hereditary, and Prince Charles himself would like to amend the title “Defender of the Faith” to “Defender of Faith”. However, since the title is established by statutory authority, any changes will require the consent of the relevant parliaments.