Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 22 June 2020

End of Empire

Seventy two years ago, on June 22nd 1948, a Royal proclamation announced that henceforward the title Emperor of India would no longer form part of the style and title of the British monarch.

On August 15th 1947 the new Dominions of India and Pakistan became independent with King George VI as their monarch, represented in each by a Governor General. That remained the constitutional status of the countries until 1950 and 1956 respectively.

However for ten months after that handover of authority the title Emperor of India remained one of the attributes of the British monarch. As such it dated from the Royal Titles Act of 1876 and the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress on May 1st of that year.

The history of the title, its assumption and disclaimer can be read at Emperor of India. The article has one obvious mistake - in the Punch cartoon from 1876 Queen Victoria is not, as the article says, giving Disraeli an earl’s coronet but her own crown as Queen of the United Kingdom, and implies that Disraeli was making off with the Queen’s authority. I am also a little uncertain as to the argument cited that Queen Victoria sought the title as a recompense for her loss of influence. She apparently held against Gladstone, Leader of the Opposition, his  criticism of the legislation granting the title. 

The suggestion that she was sensitive to the idea that her eldest daughter might somehow outrank her in the future as German Empress and Queen of Prussia is again a little questionable - monarch is sovereign, and the future Empress Frederick was such as a consort, not by inheritance. A few years later in the early 1880s the future Emperor Wilhelm II was making fun of his grandmother’s new title by referring to her as the Empress of Hindoostan in some private letters, which suggests it did not carry much weight with her Hohenzollern relatives.

The Imperial Crown of India. 

The crown, designed by Garrard & Co,, was created for the King-Emperor George V to wear at the Delhi Durbar of 1911.

It is set with one large ruby, 6,100 diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires, and weighs 0.97 kg.

Image: Royal Collection Trust

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