[Editor: This article notes the change in status of the Governor-General of Australia, as well as changes to the titles of the Government and Prime Minister of Australia. It was published in the Kalgoorlie Miner (Kalgoorlie, WA), 2 December 1926.]
The King’s title.
Interesting and significant is the passage in the report drawn up by the Imperial Relations Committee and adopted by the Imperial Conference, which makes a change in the title or style of the Sovereign. A recent cablegram remarked that it had attracted much attention in the Old Country, and added, “so deeply is Royalty and its titles interwoven with English life that a mere suggestion of a change in the title stirs the imagination.”
There have been many such changes since England first became a united kingdom, almost exactly 1100 years ago, and behind each of them lies quite a lot of history. After the gradual withdrawal of the Romans from England, that country was occupied by various marauding tribes of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Danes; and during the period known as the Heptarchy, from 454 to 827, it was split up into seven kingdoms, more or less ruled by independent and often warring chieftains, each of whom styled himself king of his particular realm. Finally Egbert, the powerful king of Wessex, conquered all the rest and made England a single kingdom under his sole rule. He took for his title in 828 “Rex Gentis Anglorum,” “King of the English nation,” and his successors down to the Norman Conquest so styled themselves.
After the defeat and death of Harold Godwinsson, the last of the Saxon kings, in 1066, William was crowned at Winchester, and his official title was “King of England and Duke of Normandy.” To this Henry the Second, after Strongbow’s conquest of part of Ireland in 1172, added the title of “Lord of Ireland”; but when in 1204 John lost Normandy, the words the “Duke of Normandy” were dropped from the Royal style. Perhaps to make up for this loss, John instituted the practice, still followed, of using the plural pronouns “We, Us, and Our” in Royal proclamations and documents instead of the singular “I, me, and my.”
In 1283 Edward the First conquered Wales and united it to England, the Royal style still remaining, if we remember right, “King of England and Lord of Ireland.”
The next change of title — curious because at the time it had no real validity, and because it persisted long after it had ceased to have any meaning — was made by Edward the Third soon after his accession in 1327. Edward laid claim to the throne of France through his mother, Isabella, daughter of the French king, and emphasised his claim by expanding his title to “King of England and France and Lord of Ireland.” He justified it by the conquest of a large part of France; Henry the Fifth did actually gain the French crown by the treaty of Troyes in 1420; and his son Henry the Sixth was crowned in Paris ten years later. But with the appearance of Joan of Arc the French threw off the English yoke, and by 1431 Calais was the only part in France left in English hands, till Mary lost it in 1558. But the words “King of France” remained part of the English Royal style till 1802.
Henry the Eighth’s reign saw two changes of title. The less important was the substitution of “King of Ireland” for “Lord of Ireland.” The more important, which has been used ever since, was the addition of the “Fid Def,” which has appeared on all English coins since 1521, except that it was once accidentally omitted from one issue, known in consequence as the “godless florin.” The Pope was so pleased with a tractate which Henry wrote in defence of Roman Catholicism, that he conferred upon him the title “Fidei Defensor,” “Defender of the Faith.” It now bears a meaning quite different from what it did then.
The union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603 brought a change of title, and that of James the First was “King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith.” On the union of the parliaments of England and Scotland in Queen Anne’s reign in 1707 the term “Great Britain” was substituted for “England and Scotland.”
With the accession of George the First in 1714 and the union of the crowns of England and Hanover, the words “King of Hanover” were added to the style. The union of the parliaments of England and Ireland in 1801 brought about another change, and the treaty of Amiens in 1802 provided an occasion for dropping the long-empty claim to the throne of France. The Royal style and title was then appointed to run, “George the Third, by the grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, King of Hanover.” When Queen Victoria came to the throne of England in 1837, her uncle Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, became King of Hanover, the two crowns were disunited, and Hanover was omitted from the Queen’s title.
It is noteworthy that the first mention in the Royal title of the British possessions overseas was in 1858, when Queen Victoria was proclaimed in India as “Victoria, by the grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Colonies and Dependencies thereof in Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia, Queen, Defender of the Faith.” This style, however, was not in ordinary use. The Queen’s title remained as at the time of her accession until the visit to India of the Prince of Wales — afterwards King Edward the Seventh — in 1875, when, at the insistence of Disraeli, a great and far-seeing statesman of Empire, the title of “Empress of India” was added to the Queen’s style.
When King Edward came to the throne in 1901, his accession message of thanks for their loyalty and affection, was addressed “To my people,” “To my people beyond the seas,” and “To the people and princes of India”; and the overseas Empire was formally recognised in the King’s proclamation title, “Edward the Seventh, by the grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.”
To that title, as set out in the Royal Titles Act of 1901, the present King George the Fifth succeeded but, before the Imperial Conference met this year, it was recognised that the form was hardly in accord with the altered state of affairs, due to the establishment of the Irish Free State as a Dominion. Hence the Imperial Relations Committee has proposed that the Royal title be slightly altered to read, “George the Fifth, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Dominions beyond the seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.”
The change of form is slight, but the change of meaning goes much deeper. The committee considers that the equality of dominion status necessitates a change in the status of each Governor-General, who now ceases to represent the Imperial Government and becomes the direct representative of the Crown. The King is no longer the Sovereign of the Empire, so to speak, in the lump only, but he is the sovereign of each of its self-governing parts separately, as well as of all in unity, the Governor-General standing for him in each of those parts.
Thus the Government here is no longer officially “the Government of the Commonwealth,” but “His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia”; and Mr. Stanley Bruce is no longer officially, “the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth,” but “His Majesty’s Prime Minister in the Commonwealth of Australia.” Similarly with the other Dominions and with the Motherland itself. The change of nomenclature is small, but it is most significant. It indicates first, the independence and equality of status of each of the self-governing parts of the Empire, and secondly, the union of them all in allegiance to the Crown.
Kalgoorlie Miner (Kalgoorlie, WA), 2 December 1926, p. 4
Also published in various other newspapers, including:
The Corrigin Chronicle and Kunjin-Bullaring Representative (Corrigin, WA), 9 December 1926, p. 4
The Wickepin Argus (Wickepin, WA), 9 December 1926, p. 4,
Crown = the governing power of a land operating under a constitutional monarchy, which is said to govern on behalf of the Crown (i.e. on behalf of the ruling monarch); may refer to the government or elements acting on the behalf of government (e.g. a legal prosecuting service operating in the name of “the Crown”); monarchical, regal, or imperial power; a monarch (King or Queen), an emperor
Dominion = (in the context of the British Empire) one of the British Dominions (Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa), being those countries of the British Empire which were self-governed
florin = a two-shilling coin (equivalent to 24 pence) of British currency; a unit of British-style currency used in Australia, until the decimalisation of the currency in 1966 (the decimal monetary equivalent of a florin was twenty cents)
Heptarchy = the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England (East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex, and Wessex) which existed approximately from the 5th century to the early 9th century (can also refer to: a government consisting of seven people, or a state divided into seven autonomous regions)
Motherland = in an historical Australian context, Great Britain or the United Kingdom; may also refer to England specifically; the term may be capitalised or not; it may be rendered as one word (“motherland”), as two words (“mother land”), or it may be hyphenated (“mother-land”)
nomenclature = a name; a group, set, or system of names or terms (such as is used in scientific fields); the act or process of the choosing of names
Norman Conquest = the Norman conquest of England; in 1066 England was invaded by William, Duke of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror, or King William I); he won the Battle of Hastings (in which his opponent, King Harold II, was killed); after further battles, William was crowned King of England
Old Country = a reference to the country from where one came or from where one’s family originated; in an Australian context, “the old country” also has a meaning regarding the nation which settled Australia, and thus the phrase commonly refers to Great Britain or the United Kingdom (or to England specifically)
Stanley Bruce = Stanley Melbourne Bruce (1883-1967), federal parliamentarian 1918-1929 and 1931-1933, leader of the Nationalist Party 1923-1929, and Prime Minister of Australia 1923-1929
Strongbow = Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1130-1176), also known as Strongbow (and as Richard FitzGilbert); he participated in the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland (1169-1177); his father, Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare (ca. 1100-1148), was also known as Strongbow
tractate = a tract (a brief discourse on a subject; a short article, leaflet, booklet, or pamphlet, especially one of a religious or political nature); a dissertation or treatise (a lengthy, formal, and systematic discourse on a subject)
[Editor: Changed “this loss; John” to “this loss, John”; “remember right” to “remember right,” (added a comma); “France and lord of Ireland” to “France and Lord of Ireland”; “at the instance” to “at the insistence”; “Defender, of the Faith, King” to “Defender of the Faith, King”; “of God, of Great Britain” to “of God, of Great Britain,” (added a comma); “Dominions beyond the seas” (in the second instance) to “Dominions beyond the seas,” (added a comma); “in the lump only” to “in the lump only,” (added a comma).]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]