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The kingdoms of England and Scotland were formally united into a single Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 by the Act of Union. Queen Anne consequently assumed the title “Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.”. It remained in use until 1801, when Great Britain and Ireland combined to become the United Kingdom. George III used the opportunity to drop both the reference to France and “etc.” from the style. It was suggested to him that he assume the title “Emperor”, but he rejected the proposal. Instead, the style became “King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith”.

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King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith

In 1876 “Empress of India” was added to Queen Victoria’s titles by the Royal Titles Act 1876, so that the Queen of the United Kingdom, the ruler of a vast empire, would not be outranked by her own daughter who had married the heir to the German Empire (an empire by the necessity of establishing a federal monarchy in which several kings wished to retain their royal titles despite their subjugation to a different monarchy). Her successor, Edward VII, changed the style to reflect the United Kingdom’s other colonial possessions, adding “and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas” after “Ireland”. In general usage the monarch came to be called the King-Emperor, especially in the Crown’s overseas possessions and in British India and the princely states.

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Empress of India

In 1922 the Irish Free State gained independence. In 1927 the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 changed the description “of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas” to “of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas”. The 1927 Act was also significant for opening the door to dominions (later Commonwealth realms) having the right to determine their own style and title for the sovereign, a right which was first exercised in 1953.

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King Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Emperor of India, Defender of the Faith

The designation “Emperor of India” was dropped from the royal style in 1948 after the independence of India and Pakistan a year earlier, even though King George VI remained king of the dominion of India until 1950, when it became a republic within the Commonwealth. The dominion of Pakistan existed between 1947 and 1956, when it too became a republic within the Commonwealth. Similarly, although the republic of Ireland was constituted in 1949, “Great Britain and Ireland” was not replaced with “Great Britain and Northern Ireland” until 1953.

In the same year the phrase “Head of the Commonwealth” was also added, and “British Dominions beyond the Seas” was replaced with “other Realms and Territories”. Thus, the style of the present sovereign is “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”.

Nicky Philipps' portrait of the Queen
ELizabeth II, By the Grace of God, Queen 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

Also in 1953, separate styles were adopted for each of the realms over which the sovereign reigned. Most realms used the form, “Queen of … and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth”, omitting the title “Defender of the Faith”. Australia, New Zealand and Canada all included a reference to the United Kingdom as well as “Defender of the Faith”, but only Canada still uses this form.