When did the British monarch become an Emperor? I know that Queen Victoria became Empress of India, that there is an order of the British Empire, but is there such a thing as a British Emperor?

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    Not entirely sure that I understand the question. Disraeli and Victoria attached the title "Emperor" to the British Monarchy. Thus whoever occupies the throne gets the title (adjusted for gender). Thus when Edward assumed the throne after Victoria, he was "Emperor of India".
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 12:13
  • 1
    Certainly from the times of James II/VI, Monarch of Britain and Scotland, the Monarchy had the right to the title, but I believe I've seen it even earlier; I just can't remember where I saw it.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 14:16
  • 2
    Aethelstan had himself declated emporer in 930.
    – rougon
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 5:00
  • You might find the Wikipedia page on the [British Emperor[(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Emperor), and the references cited there to be of interest. Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 4:26
  • @rougon You could make an argument for Claudius, or at least Hadrian. Constantine III was actually based in Britain.
    – Spencer
    Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 22:49

9 Answers 9


The British were in charge of India from 1858 to 1947. During the period from 1877 to 1947 (or so), the British monarchs also called themselves "Emperor of India" or "Empress of India," in addition to their status as King or Queen. So Victoria signed letters as "Victoria RI," where the R was for "queen" (Regina) and the I was for "empress" (Imperatrix).

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    So, if I understand correctly, there is a British Empire, but no British Emperor (just a British King/Queen that happens to be Emperor elsewhere)? Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 23:13
  • 4
    That is essentially correct, yes.
    – aeismail
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 23:55
  • John was styled Emperor of Ireland. Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 7:19
  • Queen Victoria was Empress of India, so she was an Empress.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 19:18

Victoria was persuaded to take the title of Empress of India by then prime minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1876

Partly this was to stop the political embarrassment that her daughter was married to the heir to the German emperor which would have made her daughter an empress and so outrank her - thus making Britain less important than Prussia.

Mostly it was that Disraeli was an expert politician and able to twist the monarch and public opinion to his purpose. Giving the head of state an impressive title that made her happy, the people happy and increased the country's international standing - at no cost - was a masterstroke.


Victoria and her successors were king/queen of the United Kingdom (England + Scotland + Wales + Ireland) and emperor/empress of India in personal union, in part at least so as not to be outdone by the Hohenzollern (king of Prussia and emperor of Germany) and the Habsburgs (emperor of Austria and king of Hungary). “RI” (regina-imperatrix) is the exact equivalent of “k.u.k.” (kaiserlich und königlich).

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    Sources would help.
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 18:18

People talked about the British Empire, but nobody ever actually officially created a British Empire.

There was no monarch of the British Empire, no prime minister of the British Empire, not cabinet of the British empire, no parliament of the British Empire, etc.

There was merely the United kingdom and a bunch of colonies controlled by it with no central institutions except for those which the United Kingdom already had.


They sometimes used the title "King-Emperor". The main cultural region was England (& Britain), which had historically been "Kingdoms" not "Empire". Hence it was more culturally acceptable for the reigning monarch to be called "King", not "Emperor".

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    This isn't correct—the monarchs were considered to be emperors of India during the period known as the British "Raj" in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
    – aeismail
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 12:31
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    Yes, Emperor of India. But King of Great Britian. Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 19:32
  • That is correct. Don't know why this answer is down voted. +1 to compensate. Rory, you can perhaps clarify in your answer that Emperor of India and King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were two different titles.
    – Apoorv
    Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 16:51
  • @MonsterTruck. Northern Ireland did not exist as a political entity at that time.
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 17:11
  • @TRiG Before 1927 the title used to be King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Apoorv
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 16:05

There is no formal ritual which bestows the title "Emperor". The term doesn't have a legal meaning, there no copyright, nothing to prevent Joshua Norton from declaring himself to be the Emperor of North America. (Pedants may argue that the term derives from Imperator, which does have a formal requirement and bestowal ritual, but since the fall of Rome that title is not relevant.)

Arguably the Monarch of the United Kingdom became an Emperor in 1759 after the Battle of Quebec. Great Britain defeated France and inherited title to French lands in North America. That is the event that my teachers asserted made the UK an Empire, although there isn't really a legalistic justification for the change. The UK suddenly had Imperial problems, which I would loosely define as "How to perform governance in a foreign land where domestic governance obviously doesn't apply?". North American colonies were not "represented" by members of Parliament, nor by the House of Lords (One could argue the Lords Spiritual, but ...) British law applied and British rights, but governance would have to be exercised differently. There could be no Bishops, no Lords, no Barons, no Marquis, etc. The institutions of governance that relied on these officials would have to be restructured. For me, that is an Imperial problem and that is why Britain is suddenly an Empire. (note that Scotland had Scottish titles and Scottish governance institutions that the UK could co-opt; there were no such institutions in North America. While the individuals serving as Governors' may have had titles, they were serving as the King's representative, not as titled Lords.)

Flip the question the other way - What would have happened if Britain were never an Empire? What if there is no point at which one can say "at this point Britain is not an Empire, but at the point it is." Nothing in history would have changed. Emperor is a word we use out of convenience to describe Executive authorities that must incorporate a diversity of governance institutions. (In point of fact, I believe that Adams suggested that G. Washington be addressed as his Imperial Majesty. Thank goodness he was defeated.)


I guess it all depends on what you call an empire. Henry VIII looking for a way to get divorced from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn asked people look for interesting legal solutions.

Thomas Cromwell managed to discover that since the Anglo Saxon times England had always been an empire, thus Henry was an Emperor, ie he did not have take orders from other rulers such as the Pope.

See Scarisbrick, John (2008). Henry VIII. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520011304. page 314.

But this is medieval politics, as has been said in other answers, the current British Empire started in the Victoria era


The story I've heard is that, when Victoria's daughter married the Czar of Russia, she essentially became an Empress, and therefore 'outranked' her mother. Since that wouldn't do at all, Victoria took the title of 'Empress of India' so she could maintain her status as the head of the family. The source of this scandalous bit of character assassination was a college professor who follows such things far more closely than do I, and who am I to disagree with a college professor? * snerk *

  • 4
    It seems either you weren't listening very well, or your college professor was misinformed. The only one of Victoria's daughters to become an Empress was her oldest, The Princess Royal, Victoria. She became Empress of Germany in 1887 (10 years after Victoria became Empress of India). Her grand-daughter became Empress of Russia in 1894 when she married Tsar Nicholas II (17 years after Queen Victoria became Empress of India). :) Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 1:36

Victoria was the first to have an official title, but I believe Henry II, also known as: Henry FitzEmpress or Henry Plantagenet, was the first to be addressed as one, so around 1160 could be an answer to your question.

Henry ruled as Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Nantes, King of England (1154–89) and Lord of Ireland; at various times, he also controlled Wales, Scotland and Brittany.

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    Any source for your claim that Henry was "addressed" as "emperor"?
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 22:28
  • Will have a look, but his mother was Empress Matilda, Lady of the English, and heir to the throne and regent (but not officially crowned) so she's also a contestant.
    – arober11
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 2:40
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    She was an empress because she was the wife of the "Holy Roman" emperor.
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 8:32
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    You're confusing the plantagenet empire with a emperor title for henry I think.
    – user5001
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 2:04
  • The head of an empire is an emperor, so I've taken the question to be a simple quest to find the first body to have the job, an be addressed / recognised as such.
    – arober11
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 2:21

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