British Emperor

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Although in the past the style of British Emperor has been (retroactively) applied to a few mythical and historical rulers of Great Britain, Ireland or the United Kingdom, it is sometimes used as a colloquialism to designate either Plantagenet and Tudor caesaropapism or, more frequently, the British sovereign of the Empire of India.

Caesaropapism social order combining the power of secular government with the religious power

Caesaropapism is the idea of combining the power of secular government with the religious power, or of making secular authority superior to the spiritual authority of the Church; especially concerning the connection of the Church with government. Justus Henning Böhmer (1674–1749) may have originally coined the term caesaropapism (Cäseropapismus). Max Weber (1864-1920) wrote: "a secular, caesaropapist ruler... exercises supreme authority in ecclesiastic matters by virtue of his autonomous legitimacy". According to Weber's political sociology, caesaropapism entails "the complete subordination of priests to secular power."


Mythical British kings

The mythical British ruler King Arthur is referred to in medieval Welsh texts as ameraudur (meaning "emperor"). The Welsh poem Geraint, son of Erbin , written in the 10th or 11th century, describes a battle at a port-settlement and mentions Arthur in passing. The work is a praise-poem and elegy for the 6th-century king Geraint, provides the earliest known reference to Arthur as "emperor". [1]

King Arthur legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries

King Arthur was a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas. Arthur's name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin.

Geraint king of Dumnonia from Welsh folklore and Arthurian legend

Geraint is a character from Welsh folklore and Arthurian legend, a king of Dumnonia and a valiant warrior. He may have lived during or shortly prior to the reign of the historical Arthur, but some scholars doubt he ever existed. The name of Geraint is a Welsh form of the Latin Gerontius, meaning old man.

Britannic Empire

The Britannic Empire was a short-lived breakaway state of the Roman empire in the late Roman Period. It was formed as a result of the revolt by the naval commander Carausius. It ended when Carausius's usurper, Allectus, was defeated by the Emperor Constantius I in 296.

Carausian Revolt

The Carausian Revolt was an episode in Roman history, during which a Roman naval commander, Carausius, declared himself emperor over Britain and northern Gaul. His Gallic territories were retaken by the western Caesar Constantius Chlorus in 293, after which Carausius was assassinated by his subordinate Allectus. Britain was regained by Constantius and his subordinate Asclepiodotus in 296.

Carausius Emperor of the Britannic Empire

Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius was a military commander of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. He was a Menapian from Belgic Gaul, who usurped power in 286, during the Carausian Revolt, declaring himself emperor in Britain and northern Gaul. He did this only 13 years after the Gallic Empire of the Batavian Postumus was ended in 273. He held power for seven years, fashioning the name "Emperor of the North" for himself, before being assassinated by his finance minister Allectus.

Allectus Roman emperor

Allectus was a Roman-Britannic usurper-emperor in Britain and northern Gaul from 293 to 296.

Imperial ambitions (930–1066)

Several Kings of England displayed imperial ambition in the period from 930 to 1066, using a variety of what would be considered imperial titles. The most common title was basileus, but imperator, princeps, augustus, and caesar were all used sporadically. [2] [3]


Basileus is a Greek term and title that has signified various types of monarchs in history. In the English-speaking world it is perhaps most widely understood to mean "king" or "emperor". The title was used by sovereigns and other persons of authority in ancient Greece, the Byzantine emperors, and the kings of modern Greece.

Imperator rank in ancient Rome

The Latin word imperator derives from the stem of the verb imperare, meaning 'to order, to command'. It was originally employed as a title roughly equivalent to commander under the Roman Republic. Later it became a part of the titulature of the Roman Emperors as part of their cognomen. The English word emperor derives from imperator via Old French Empereür. The Roman emperors themselves generally based their authority on multiple titles and positions, rather than preferring any single title. Nevertheless, imperator was used relatively consistently as an element of a Roman ruler's title throughout the principate and the dominate. In Latin, the feminine form of Imperator is imperatrix.

Princeps is a Latin word meaning "first in time or order; the first, foremost, chief, the most eminent, distinguished, or noble; the first man, first person". As a title, "princeps" originated in the Roman Republic wherein the leading member of the Senate was designated princeps senatus. It is primarily associated with the Roman emperors as an unofficial title first adopted by Augustus in 23 BC. Its use in this context continued until the reign of Diocletian at the end of the third century. He preferred the title of dominus, meaning "lord" or "master". As a result, the Roman Empire from Augustus to Diocletian is termed the "principate" (principatus) and from Diocletian onwards as the "dominate" (dominatus). Other historians define the reign of Augustus to Severus Alexander as the Principate, and the period afterwards as the "Autocracy".


Bretwalda is an Old English word. The first record comes from the late 9th-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is given to some of the rulers of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms from the 5th century onwards who had achieved overlordship of some or all of the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. It is unclear whether the word dates back to the 5th century and was used by the kings themselves or whether it is a later, 9th-century, invention. The term bretwalda also appears in a 10th-century charter of Æthelstan. The literal meaning of the word is disputed and may translate to either 'wide-ruler' or 'Britain-ruler'.

Edgar the Peaceful Anglo-Saxon king of England

Edgar, known as the Peaceful or the Peaceable, was King of England from 959 until his death. He was the younger son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and came to the throne as a teenager, following the death of his older brother Eadwig. As king, Edgar further consolidated the political unity achieved by his predecessors, with his reign being noted for its relative stability. His most trusted advisor was Dunstan, whom he recalled from exile and made Archbishop of Canterbury. The pinnacle of Edgar's reign was his coronation at Bath in 973, which was organised by Dunstan and forms the basis for the current coronation ceremony. After his death he was succeeded by his son Edward, although the succession was disputed.

River Dee, Wales river in Wales and England

The River Dee is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.

Norman Era: Empress Maud (Matilda)

In this case the epithet "Empress" was rather used to distinguish this person from other princesses called Matilda or Maud. Matilda was not Empress of Britain; she took her title from her previous marriage to Holy Roman Emperor Henry V.

Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor King of Germany (from 1099 to 1125) and Holy Roman Emperor (from 1111 to 1125), the fourth and last ruler of the Salian dynasty

Henry V was King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, the fourth and last ruler of the Salian dynasty. Henry's reign coincided with the final phase of the great Investiture Controversy, which had pitted pope against emperor. By the settlement of the Concordat of Worms, he surrendered to the demands of the second generation of Gregorian reformers.

The "Imperium Maius" issue

Although several English monarchs flirted with the idea of "imperial" power, this never led to an official change of the title of "King/Queen" to that of "Emperor/Empress".

Imperium maius

In Christian Europe the use of the title emperor was more than an affectation. A king recognises that the church is an equal or superior in the religious sphere; emperors do not. This was illustrated by Henry VIII of England who started to use the word imperium in his dispute with Pope Clement VII over the annulment of his first marriage. The distinction began to blur when kings began to claim divine rights.

English kings and the imperium maius

William II, Duke of Normandy (who became William the Conqueror) thought it important enough to request and get a papal blessing for his conquest of England. Richard I refused to show deference to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor when held prisoner by him, declaring "I am born of a rank which recognizes no superior but God". [7] After Henry I agreed to the Concordat of London in 1107, the English kings recognised the supremacy of the Pope in matters spiritual. For example, when Thomas Becket was murdered, Henry II was forced to recognise that, although he ruled temporal matters, spiritual matters came under the authority of the Church in Rome.

This changed with the dispute between Henry VIII and Pope Clement VII over Henry's wish to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. The Act in Restraint of Appeals (1533) explicitly stated that

Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and king, having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial crown of the same. [8]

The next year the First Act of Supremacy (1534) explicitly tied the head of church to the imperial crown:

The only supreme head in earth of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia, and shall have and enjoy annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm. [9]

The Crown of Ireland Act, passed by the Irish Parliament in 1541 (effective 1542), changed the traditional title used by the Monarchs of England for the reign over Ireland, from Lord of Ireland to King of Ireland and naming Henry head of the Church of Ireland, for similar reasons.

During the reign of Mary I, the First Act of Supremacy was annulled, but during the reign of Elizabeth I the Second Act of Supremacy, with similar wording to the First Act, was passed in 1559. During the English Interregnum the laws were annulled, but the acts which caused the laws to be in abeyance were themselves deemed to be null and void by the Parliaments of the English Restoration, so by act of Parliament the Crown of England (and later the British and UK crowns) are imperial crowns.

George III as Emperor

In 1801 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was created after the merging of the British and Irish parliaments. It was suggested that George III be declared Emperor of the British Isles. The King declined and became king of "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". [10]

Parliament used the terms "empire" and "imperial". Blackstone commented in 1765 "The meaning ... of the legislature, when it uses these terms of empire and imperial, and applies them to the realm and crown of England, is only to assert that our king is equally sovereign and independent within these his dominions, as any emperor is in his empire." [11]

British monarchs with the title Emperor/Empress of India (1876–1948)

The British government led by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, conferred the additional title Empress of India on Queen Victoria by an Act of Parliament, [12] reputedly to assuage the monarch's irritation at being, as a mere Queen, notionally inferior to her daughter, the future German Empress; the Indian Imperial designation was also formally justified as the expression of Britain succeeding the former Mughal as paramount ruler of the subcontinent, using indirect rule through hundreds of princely states formally under protection, not colonies, but accepting the British Sovereign as their "feudal" suzerain.

The title of Emperor of India was not immediately relinquished by George VI when India and Pakistan gained independence on 15 August 1947, as he continued to be king of each of the two new dominions, but he abandoned the title with effect from 22 June 1948. [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

An emperor is a monarch, and usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife, mother, or a woman who rules in her own right. Emperors are generally recognized to be of a higher honour and rank than kings. In Europe, the title of Emperor has been used since the Middle Ages, considered in those times equal or almost equal in dignity to that of Pope due to the latter's position as visible head of the Church and spiritual leader of the Catholic part of Western Europe. The Emperor of Japan is the only currently reigning monarch whose title is translated into English as Emperor.

The Holy Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. The title was, almost without interruption, held in conjunction with title of King of Germany throughout the 12th to 18th centuries.

Monarchy of Ireland

A monarchical system of government existed in Ireland from ancient times until—for what became the Republic of Ireland—the early twentieth century. Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, remains under a monarchical system of government. The Gaelic kingdoms of Ireland ended with the Norman invasion of Ireland, when the kingdom became a fief of the Holy See under the Lordship of the King of England. This lasted until the Parliament of Ireland conferred the crown of Ireland upon King Henry VIII of England during the English Reformation. The monarch of England held the crowns of England and Ireland in a personal union. The Union of the Crowns in 1603 expanded the personal union to include Scotland. The personal union between England and Scotland became a political union with the enactments of the Acts of Union 1707, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain. The crowns of Great Britain and Ireland remained in personal union until it was ended by the Acts of Union 1800, which united Ireland and Great Britain into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from January 1801 until December 1922.

Emperor of India title used by British monarchs from 1 May 1876 to 22 June 1948

Emperor/Empressof India was a title used by British monarchs from 1 May 1876 to 22 June 1948.

Roman emperor ruler of the Roman Empire

The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period. The emperors used a variety of different titles throughout history. Often when a given Roman is described as becoming "emperor" in English, it reflects his taking of the title Augustus or Caesar. Another title often used was imperator, originally a military honorific. Early Emperors also used the title princeps. Emperors frequently amassed republican titles, notably princeps senatus, consul and pontifex maximus.

The Acts of Supremacy are two acts passed by the Parliament of England in the 16th century that established the English monarchs as the head of the Church of England. The 1534 Act declared Henry VIII of England and his successors as the Supreme Head of the Church, replacing the Pope. The Act was repealed during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I. The 1558 Act declared Queen Elizabeth I and her successors the Supreme Governor of the Church, a title that the British monarch still holds.

Imperial, royal and noble ranks Legal privilege given to some members in monarchial and princely societies

Traditional rank amongst European royalty, peers, and nobility is rooted in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Although they vary over time and among geographic regions, the following is a reasonably comprehensive list that provides information on both general ranks and specific differences.

The precise style of British sovereigns has varied over the years. The present style is officially proclaimed in two languages:

Great king and the equivalent in many languages is a semantic title for historical titles of monarchs, suggesting an elevated status among the host of kings and princes. This title is most usually associated with the shahanshah of Persia under the Achaemenid dynasty whose vast empire in Asia lasted for 200 years up to the year 330 BC, and later adopted by successors of the Achaemenid Empire whose monarchial names were also succeeded by "the great". In comparison, "high king" was used by ancient rulers in Great Britain, Scotland and Ireland, as well as Greece.

Majesty is an English word derived ultimately from the Latin maiestas, meaning greatness, and used as a style by many monarchs, usually kings or sultans. Where used, the style outranks the style of (Imperial/Royal) Highness, but is inferior to the style of Imperial Majesty. It has cognates in many other languages, especially Indo-European languages of Europe.

Imperial crown

An Imperial Crown is a crown used for the coronation of emperors.

King-Emperor sovereign ruler who is simultaneously a king of one territory and emperor of another

A king-emperor, the female equivalent being queen-empress, is a sovereign ruler who is simultaneously a king of one territory and emperor of another. This title usually results from a merger of a royal and imperial crown, but recognises that the two territories are different politically or culturally and in status. It also denotes a king's imperial status through the acquisition of an empire or vice versa.

A state crown is the working crown worn or used by a monarch on recurring state occasions such as when opening Parliament in Britain, as opposed to the coronation crown with which they would be formally crowned.

<i>Imperator totius Hispaniae</i> title used by Iberian monarchs (primarily the kings of Léon and Castile, but also kings of Navarre, counts of Castile, and dukes of Galicia), from the 9th century onwards

Imperator totius Hispaniae is a Latin title meaning "Emperor of all Spain". In Spain in the Middle Ages, the title "emperor" was used under a variety of circumstances from the ninth century onwards, but its usage peaked, as a formal and practical title, between 1086 and 1157. It was primarily used by the Kings of León and Castile, but it also found currency in the Kingdom of Navarre and was employed by the Counts of Castile and at least one Duke of Galicia. It signalled at various points the king's equality with the Byzantine Emperor and Holy Roman Emperor, his rule by conquest or military superiority, his rule over several people groups ethnic or religious, and his claim to suzerainty over the other kings of the peninsula, both Christian and Muslim. The use of the imperial title received scant recognition outside of Spain and it had become largely forgotten by the thirteenth century.

Augustus (title) Ancient Roman title

Augustus was an ancient Roman title given as both name and title to Gaius Octavius, Rome's first Emperor. On his death, it became an official title of his successor, and was so used by Roman emperors thereafter. The feminine form Augusta was used for Roman empresses and other females of the Imperial family. The masculine and feminine forms originated in the time of the Roman Republic, in connection with things considered divine or sacred in traditional Roman religion. Their use as titles for major and minor Roman deities of the Empire associated the Imperial system and Imperial family with traditional Roman virtues and the divine will, and may be considered a feature of the Roman Imperial cult.

Tsar title given to a male monarch in Russia, Bulgaria and Serbia

Tsar, also spelled czar, or tzar, is a title used to designate East and South Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers of Eastern Europe, originally Bulgarian monarchs from 10th century onwards. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism. The term is derived from the Latin word Caesar, which was intended to mean "Emperor" in the European medieval sense of the term—a ruler with the same rank as a Roman emperor, holding it by the approval of another emperor or a supreme ecclesiastical official —but was usually considered by western Europeans to be equivalent to king, or to be somewhat in between a royal and imperial rank.


  1. Bollard,J.K., (1994) Arthur in the Early Welsh Tradition in The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation. Routledge pp. 11-12
  2. Stubbs, William. Constitutional History of England. Oxford, 1903. Vol. 1, Ch. 7, p. 195
  3. 1 2 Le Goff, Jacques. La civilisation de l'Occident médieval. Paris. 1964; English translation (1988): Medieval Civilization, ISBN   0-631-17566-0. See generally Part II, Chapter VIII.
  4. Hare, Kent G. (Spring 2004). "Athelstan of England: Christian King and Hero". The Heroic Age (7). ISSN   1526-1867 . Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  5. 1 2 3 Colebrooke, Thomas Edward (1877). On Imperial and Other Titles. London: Trübner & Co. pp. 34–36.
  6. Richard Green, John (1884). The Conquest of England. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 356. The imperial titles, which had been but sparsely used by his predecessors, are employed profusely in his charters; nor was his faith in these lofty pretensions ever shaken, even at the time of his greatest misfortunes.
  7. Elizabeth Longford, Elizabeth Harman Pakenham Longford (1989). "The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes", Oxford University Press, ISBN   0-19-214153-8. p. 85
  8. The opening words of the Act in restraint of Appeals, 1533
  9. Excerpt from The Act of Supremacy (1534)
  10. Jeremy Black, George III: America's last king (2006) p. 379
  11. Oxford English Dictionary citing BLACKSTONE Comm. I. vii. 242
  12. "Victoria ( r. 1837-1901)". The Royal Family. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  13. "Issue: 38330 Page: 3647". The Gazzette. The London Gazette. Retrieved 6 July 2018.