Emperor of India

Emperor or Empress of India, was a title used by British monarchs from 1 May 1876 (with the Royal Titles Act 1876) to 22 June 1948, that was used to signify their rule over British India, as its imperial head of state.[1][2][3] The image of the emperor or empress was used to signify British authority—his or her profile, for instance, appearing on currency, in government buildings, railway stations, courts, on statues etc. "God Save the King" (or, alternatively, "God Save the Queen") was the former national anthem of British India. Oaths of allegiance were made to the emperor or empress and the lawful successors by the governors-general, princes, governors, commissioners in India in events such as imperial durbars.

Emperor of India
The Star of India and the Royal Arms
Last to reign
George VI
11 December 1936 – 22 June 1948
  • Her Imperial Majesty
    (1 May 1876 – 22 January 1901)
  • His Imperial Majesty
    (22 January 1901 – 22 June 1948)
  • styled H.I.M.
First monarchVictoria
Last monarchGeorge VI
Formation1 May 1876
Abolition22 June 1948

The title was dropped on 22 June 1948, when, under the Indian Independence Act 1947, George VI became king of the new dominions of India and Pakistan. The monarchies were abolished upon the establishment of the Republic of India in 1950 and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1956.


The emperor or empress took little direct part in government. The exercise of sovereign powers was delegated from the emperor or empress, either by statute or by convention, to the Viceroy and Governor-General of India who were appointed by the emperor or empress, or to offices such as the secretary of state for India. The appointed Viceroy and Governor-General was also the ex-officio head of the Imperial Legislative Council, and its two houses, the Central Legislative Assembly and the Council of State as the delegation on behalf of the emperor or empress, along with the governors of provinces. They performed these duties with the advice and consent of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Government of India.

Executive power was exercised by His/Her Imperial Majesty's Government in the presidencies and provinces (via the viceroy and governor-general) and the princely states via suzerainty. They had the support of the Armed Forces in India, such as the British Indian Army and Royal Indian Navy, the Indian Civil Service and other Crown Servants Secret Services (as the emperor or empress received certain foreign intelligence reports before the Viceroy did).

Judicial power was vested in the various Crown Courts in India, which by statute had judicial independence from the Government.

Powers independent of government were legally granted to other public bodies by statute or Statutory Instrument such as an Order in Council or a Royal Commission.


New Crowns for Old, the cartoon's caption references a scene in Aladdin where lamps are exchanged. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, is offering Queen Victoria an imperial crown in exchange for an earl's coronet. She made him the Earl of Beaconsfield at this time.[4]
The Imperial Crown of India

After the nominal Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was deposed at the conclusion of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (10 May 1857 – 1 November 1858), the government of the United Kingdom decided to transfer control of British India and its princely states from the mercantile East India Company (EIC) to the Crown, thus marking the beginning of the British Raj. The EIC was officially dissolved on 1 June 1874, and the British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, decided to offer Queen Victoria the title "empress of India" shortly afterwards. Victoria accepted this style on 1 May 1876. The first Delhi Durbar (which served as an imperial coronation) was held in her honour eight months later on 1 January 1877.[5]

The idea of having Queen Victoria proclaimed empress of India was not particularly new, as Lord Ellenborough had already suggested it in 1843 upon becoming the governor-general of India. By 1874, Major-General Sir Henry Ponsonby, the Queen's private secretary, had ordered English charters to be scrutinised for imperial titles, with Edgar and Stephen mentioned as sound precedents. The Queen, possibly irritated by the sallies of the republicans, the tendency to democracy, and the realisation that her influence was manifestly on the decline, was urging the move.[6] Another factor may have been that the Queen's first child, Victoria, was married to Frederick, the heir apparent to the German Empire. Upon becoming empress, she would outrank her mother.[7] By January 1876, the Queen's insistence was so great that Benjamin Disraeli felt that he could procrastinate no longer.[6] Initially, Victoria had actually considered the style "Empress of Great Britain, Ireland, and India", but Disraeli had persuaded the Queen to limit the title to India in order to avoid controversy.[8] Hence, the title Kaisar-i-Hind was coined in 1876 by the orientalist G.W. Leitner as the official imperial title for the British monarch in India.[9] The term Kaisar-i-Hind means emperor of India in the vernacular of the Hindi and Urdu languages. The word kaisar, meaning 'emperor', is a derivative of the Roman imperial title caesar (via Persian, Turkish – see Kaiser-i-Rum), and is cognate with the German title Kaiser, which was borrowed from the Latin at an earlier date.[10]

Many in the United Kingdom, however, regarded the assumption of the title as an obvious development from the 1858 Government of India Act, which resulted in the founding of the British Raj. The public were of the opinion that the title of "queen" was no longer adequate for the ceremonial ruler of what was often referred to informally as the Indian Empire. The new styling underlined the fact that the native states were no longer a mere agglomeration but a collective entity.[11]

When Edward VII ascended to the throne on 22 January 1901, he continued the imperial tradition laid down by his mother, Queen Victoria, by adopting the title emperor of India. Three subsequent British monarchs followed in his footsteps, and it continued to be used after India had become independent on 15 August 1947. It was not until 22 June 1948 that the style was officially abolished during the reign of George VI.[2]

The first emperor to visit India was George V. For his imperial coronation ceremony at the Delhi Durbar, the Imperial Crown of India was created.

When signing off Indian business, the British king-emperors or queen-empress used the initials R I (Rex/Regina Imperator/Imperatrix) or the abbreviation Ind. Imp. (Indiae Imperator/Imperatrix) after their name (while Victoria used the initials R I, the wives of king-emperors simply used R). When a male monarch held the title, his wife used the style queen-empress, despite the fact that she was not a reigning monarch in her own right.

British coins, as well as those of the Empire and the Commonwealth, routinely included the abbreviated title Ind. Imp.. Coins in India, on the other hand, were stamped with the word "empress", and later "king-emperor". When India became independent in 1947, all coining dies had to be changed, which took up to a year and created some problems. Canadian coins, for example, were minted well into 1948 but stamped "1947", the new year's issue indicated by a small maple leaf in one corner. The title appeared on coinage in the United Kingdom throughout 1948.

List of emperors and empresses

Portrait Name Consort Lifespan Reign Imperial Durbar House
Victoria None 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901 1 May 1876 – 22 January 1901 1 January 1877
(represented by Lord Lytton)
House of Hanover
Edward VII Alexandra of Denmark 9 November 1841 – 6 May 1910 22 January 1901 – 6 May 1910 1 January 1903
(represented by Lord Curzon of Kedleston)
House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
George V Mary of Teck 3 June 1865 – 20 January 1936 6 May 1910 – 20 January 1936 12 December 1911 House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
House of Windsor
Edward VIII None 23 June 1894 – 28 May 1972 20 January 1936 – 11 December 1936 None[lower-alpha 1] House of Windsor
George VI Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952 11 December 1936 – 15 August 1947 None[lower-alpha 2] House of Windsor
George VI
(as King of India)
15 August 1947 – 26 January 1950


  1. Edward VIII abdicated after less than one year of reign.
  2. A durbar was deemed expensive and impractical due to poverty and demands for independence.[12]


  1. "No. 38330". The London Gazette. 22 June 1948. p. 3647. Royal Proclamation of 22 June 1948, made in accordance with the Indian Independence Act 1947, 10 & 11 GEO. 6. CH. 30.('Section 7: ...(2)The assent of the Parliament of the United Kingdom is hereby given to the omission from the Royal Style and Titles of the words " Indiae Imperator " and the words " Emperor of India " and to the issue by His Majesty for that purpose of His Royal Proclamation under the Great Seal of the Realm.'). According to this Royal Proclamation, the King retained the Style and Titles 'George VI by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith'
  2. Indian Independence Act 1947 (10 & 11 Geo. 6. c. 30)
  3. Titles such as "King of Canada" had been rejected in 1901. David Kenneth Fieldhouse (1985). Select Documents on the Constitutional History of the British Empire and Commonwealth: Settler self-government, 1840–1900. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-313-27326-1.
  4. Harold E. Raugh (2004). The Victorians at War, 1815–1914: An Encyclopedia of British Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 122. ISBN 9781576079256.
  5. L. A. Knight, "The Royal Titles Act and India", The Historical Journal, Cambridge University Press, Vol. 11, No. 3 (1968), pp. 488–489.
  6. L. A. Knight, p. 489.
  7. "Remembering Vicky, the Queen Britain never had". www.newstatesman.com.
  8. L. A. Knight, p. 488.
  9. B.S. Cohn, "Representing Authority in Victorian India", in E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (1983), 165–209, esp. 201-2.
  10. See Witzel, Michael, "Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts", p. 29, 12.1 PDF Archived 23 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  11. L. A. Knight, pp. 491, 496
  12. Vickers, Hugo (2006), Elizabeth: The Queen Mother, Arrow Books/Random House, p. 175, ISBN 978-0-09-947662-7
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