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Style of the British Sovereign

The precise style of British Sovereigns has varied over the years. The present style is
"Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Defender of the Faith, Head of the Commonwealth."

Highness, Grace and Majesty

From about the twelfth century onwards, English Sovereigns used the style "Highness". They shared this style with only five other monarchs in Europe: the Holy Roman Emperor and the Kings of France, Castile, Aragon and Portugal. Around 1519, however, the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of France assmued the style "Majesty"; Henry VIII copied them. The style "Majesty" had previously appeared in England, but did not become common until Henry VIII's reign.

"Majesty," however, was not used exclusively; it arbitrarily alternated with both "Highness" and "Grace," even in official documents. For example, one legal judgment issued by Henry VIII uses all three indiscriminately; Article 15 begins with "the Kinges Highness hath ordered," Article 16 with "the Kinges Majestie" and Article 17 with "the Kinges Grace." During the reign of James I, however, "Majesty" became the official title, to the exclusion of others.

In full, the Sovereign is referred to as "His [Her] Most Gracious Majesty." In Acts of Parliament, the phrase "The King's [Queen's] Most Excellent Majesty" is used in the enacting clause. In treaties and on British passports, the Sovereign is referred to as "His [Her] Britannic Majesty" as to differentiate her from foreign Queens.

Style of the Sovereign

The Anglo-Saxon Kings of England used numerous different styles, including "King of the Anglo-Saxons" and "King of the English." Grander variations were adopted by some monarchs; for example, Edred used "King of the Anglo-Saxons, Northumbrians, Pagans and Britons." These styles were sometimes accompanied by extravagant epithets; for instance, ∆thelstan was "King of the English, raised by the right hand of the Almighty to the Throne of the whole Kingdom of Britain."

William I, the first Norman monarch, used the simple "King of the English." His successor, William II, was the first to consistently use "by the Grace of God." Henry I added "Duke of the Normans" in 1121, though he had seized Normandy from his brother Robert in 1106. In 1152, Henry II acquired many further French possessions through his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine; soon thereafter, he added "Duke of the Aquitanians" and "Count of the Angevins" to his style.

"King of the English," "Duke of the Normans," "Duke of the Aquitanians" and "Count of the Angevins" remained in use until John ascended the Throne in 1199, when they changed to "King of England," "Duke of Normandy," "Duke of Aquitaine" and "Count of Anjou," respectively. John, furthermore, was already the ruler of Ireland; therefore, he added "Lord of Ireland" to his style.

In 1204, England lost both Normandy and Anjou. Nevertheless, they did not renounce the associated titles until 1259. French territory once again became the subject of dispute after the death of the French King Charles IV in 1328. Edward III claimed the French Throne, arguing that it was to pass to him through his mother Isabella, Charles IV's sister. In France, however, it was asserted that the Throne could not pass to or through a woman. Edward III began to use the title "King of France" (dropping "Duke of Aquitaine") after 1337. In 1340, he entered France, where he was publicly proclaimed King. In 1360, however, he agreed to relinquish his title to the French claimant. Though he stopped using the title in legal documents, he did not formally exchange letters confirming the renunciation with the French King. In 1369, Edward III resumed the title, claiming that the French had breached their treaty.

Henry V invaded France, but agreed to the Treaty of Troyes, whereby he was recognised as the Heir and Regent of France, in 1420. He died in 1422, to be succeeded by his infant son, who became Henry VI. Shortly after his accession, Henry VI also inherited the French Throne. In the 1450s, however, Henry VI's weakness led to the loss of all of England's territories in France, with the exception of Calais. The claim to the title of "King of France" was nonetheless not relinquished.

Henry VIII's reign saw the use of five different royal styles.
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Henry VIII's reign saw the use of five different royal styles.

After 1422, the royal style remained unchanged for almost a century. Numerous amendments, however, were effected during Henry VIII's reign. After Henry wrote a book against the Protestant Martin Luther, Pope Leo X rewarded him by granting the title "Defender of the Faith." After disagreements with the Papacy over his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, establishing the Church of England in 1533. Pope Paul III rescinded the grant of the title "Defender of the Faith," but Henry continued to use it. In 1535, Henry added "of the Church of England in Earth Supreme Head" to his style in 1535; a reference to the Church of Ireland was added in 1536. Meanwhile, advised that many Irish people regarded the Pope as the true temporal authority in their nation, with the King of England acting as a mere representative, Henry VIII changed "Lord of Ireland" to "King of Ireland" in 1542. All changes made by Henry VIII were confirmed by an Act of Parliament passed in 1544.

Mary I, Henry VIII's Catholic daughter, omitted "of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head" in 1554, but the phrase remained part of the official style until an Act of Parliament to the contrary was passed in 1555. In the meantime, Mary had married the Spanish prince Philip. Their marriage treaty acknowledged Philip as a King in England, but limited his role and granted him few powers. The monarchs adopted a joint style, "King and Queen of England, France, Naples, Jerusalem and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, Princes of Spain and Sicily, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Milan, Burgundy and Brabant, Counts of Hapsburg, Flanders and Tyrol," acknowledging both Mary's and Philip's titles. Further changes were made after Philip became King of Spain and Sicily upon his father's abdication.

When the Protestant Elizabeth I ascended the Throne, she used the simpler "Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." The "etc." was added in anticipation of a restoration of the supremacy phrase, which never actually occurred.

After James I, who was already King in Scotland, ascended the English Throne, the official style changed to "King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." In 1604, James I made a proclamation permitting the use of "King of Great Britain" instead of "King of England and Scotland." This new style, though commonly used to refer to the King, was never statutory; therefore, it did not appear on legal instruments. It did, however, appear on the inscriptions on coins.

England and Scotland were formally united into Great Britain in 1707. Anne consequently assumed the style "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 "of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith."

In 1876, Victoria added "Empress of India" to her title, supposedly because she was jealous of the imperial titles of some of her European counterparts. 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."

The Latin inscription on the coin depicted above translates to "George V, by the Grace of God, of All the Britains King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India." "All the Britains" was used instead of the official "Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas."
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The Latin inscription on the coin depicted above translates to "George V, by the Grace of God, of All the Britains King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India." "All the Britains" was used instead of the official "Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas."

In 1922, Southern Ireland became a separate country, but still remained a dominion of the British Crown. In 1927, the phrase "of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas" was changed to "of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominion beyond the Seas."

The designation "Emperor of India" was dropped in 1948, though India had become independent a year earlier. Similarly, although the Republic of Ireland was formed 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."

Also in 1953, separate styles were adopted for each of the Commonwealth 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. (Australia dropped both the reference to the United Kingdom and "Defender of the Faith" in 1973; New Zealand dropped the former in 1974.) Curiously, the style used in Pakistan made mention of the United Kingdom, but not of Pakistan, most likely because the nation was a Realm only in the interim, whilst a constitution was being written.

List of changes to the royal style

Official styles of Sovereigns are shown below. Changes that only take into account the gender of the Sovereign (such as replacing "King" with "Queen") are not indicated. Heads of state who did not rule as Kings or as Queens are shown in italics.


Period Style Used by
10661087 King of the English William I
10871121 By the Grace of God, King of the English William II, Henry I
11211154 By the Grace of God, King of the English and Duke of the Normans Henry I, Stephen
1141 Lady of the English Matilda
11541199 By the Grace of God, King of the English and Duke of the Normans and Aquitanians and Count of the Angevins Henry II, Richard II
11991259 By the Grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou John, Henry III
12591340 By the Grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III
13401420 By the Grace of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V
14201422 By the Grace of God, King of England, Heir and Regent of the Kingdom of France and Lord of Ireland Henry V, Henry VI
14221521 By the Grace of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, Henry VII, Henry VIII
15211535 By the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith and Lord of Ireland Henry VIII
15351536 By the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Ireland and of the Church of England in Earth Supreme Head Henry VIII
15361542 By the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Ireland and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head Henry VIII
15421554 By the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I
15541556 By the grace of God, King and Queen of England, France, Naples, Jerusalem and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, Princes of Spain and Sicily, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Milan, Burgundy and Brabant, Counts of Hapsburg, Flanders and Tyrol Mary I and Philip
15561558 By the Grace of God King and Queen of England, Spain, France, Jerusalem, both the Sicilies and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Burgundy, Milan and Brabant, Counts of Hapsburg, Flanders and Tyrol Mary I and Philip
15581603 By the Grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc. Elizabeth I
16031689 By the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc. James I, Charles I, Charles II, James II
16501653 Captain-General and Commander-in-Chief of all the armies and forces raised and to be raised within the Commonwealth of England Oliver Cromwell
16531659 Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the Dominions and Territories thereunto belonging Oliver Cromwell, Richard Cromwell
1689 By the Grace of God, King and Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, etc. William III and Mary II
16891694 By the Grace of God, King and Queen of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, etc. William III and Mary II
16941707 By the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc. William III, Anne
17071801 By the Grace of God, Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc. Anne, George I, George II, George III
18011876 By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith George III, George IV, William IV, Victoria
18761901 By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India Victoria, Edward VII
19011927 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 Edward VII, George V
19271948 By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India George V, George VI
19481953 By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith George VI, Elizabeth II
1953 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 Elizabeth II
Last updated: 02-19-2005 09:53:24
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55