Emperor or Empress of India, shortened to King-Emperor or Queen-Empress, was a title used by British monarchs from 1 May 1, 1876 (with the Royal Titles Act 1876) to June 22, 1948. 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.
Imperial Crown of 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.
The title was officially dropped on June 22, 1948, when, under the Indian Independence Act 1947, George VI became King of the new dominions of India and Pakistan. The monarchies of both nations 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.
Victoria, Empress of 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).
Edward VII, Emperor of India
Judicial power was vested in the various Crown Courts in India, which by statute had judicial independence from the Government.
After the nominal Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was deposed at the conclusion of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (10 May 10, 1857 – November 1, 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 June 1, 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 May 1, 1876.
The first Delhi Durbar (which served as an imperial coronation) was held in her honour eight months later on January 1, 1877.
George V, Emperor of India
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. Another factor may have been that the Queen’s first child, Victoria, was married to Crown Prince Friedrich of Prussia, the heir apparent to the German Empire. Upon becoming empress, she would outrank her mother.
By January 1876, the Queen’s insistence was so great that Benjamin Disraeli felt that he could procrastinate no longer. 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. 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.
Edward VIII, Emperor of India
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 the Greek Καίσαρ), and is cognate with the German title Kaiser, which was borrowed from the Latin at an earlier date.
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.
When King Edward VII ascended to the throne on January 22, 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 even after India had become independent on August 15, 1947. It was not until June 22, 1948 that the style was officially abolished during the reign of George VI.
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.
George VI, Emperor of India
When signing off Indian business, the British King-Emperor 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.