Queen Elizabeth II: Changing Circumstances, Changing Titles

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Upon assuming the crown in February 1952, the British “empire” led by Queen Elizabeth II consisted of a conglomeration of states and territories bound together in various ways.  There were a number of sovereign states and their dependencies,[1] territories administered through the Commonwealth Relations Office,[2] British dependent territories administered through the Colonial Office,[3] and condominiums.[4]  Nonetheless, the Queen’s formal title was “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith.”  By late that year the fact that the royal title was not consistent with the relationships within the commonwealth led to an agreement to change the Queen’s title.  In December, the U.S. embassy in London sent the following despatch (from the RG 59 1950-54 Central Decimal Files (NAID 302021) file 741.11/12-1552) reporting on the proposed changes.

As might be expected, such change did not come without protest.  In this March 1953 despatch, the embassy reported on some of the complaints about the revised titles.

741.11[3-953
U.S. Embassy Great Britain to Department of State, Despatch 4131, March 9, 1953, p1, file 741.11/3-953, 1950-54 Central Decimal File, RG 59
741.11[3-953.2
U.S. Embassy Great Britain to Department of State, Despatch 4131, March 9, 1953, p2, file 741.11/3-953, 1950-54 Central Decimal File, RG 59
The files contain no additional reporting on the titles bill.  The new titles went into effect in May 1953 and the Queen became “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, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith” in the UK and otherwise as noted in the bill.


[1] United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Canada; Australia; New Zealand; Union of South Africa; Republic of India; Pakistan; Ceylon; Southern Rhodesia (external affairs controlled by the UK).  Information on the British commonwealth and dependencies comes from Department of State files.

[2] High Commission Territories of Basutoland, Bechuanaland, and Swaziland.

[3] Kenya; Tanganyika (independent kingdom under protection of Great Britain); Uganda; Somaliland; Zanzibar and Pemba; Northern Rhodesia; Nyasaland; Cameroons; Gambia; Gold Coast; Nigeria; Sierra Leone; Togoland; Brunei; Hong Kong; Malaya; North Borneo; Sarawak; Singapore; Aden; Mauritius; Seychelles; Maldive Islands; Cyprus; Gibraltar; Malta; Falkland Islands; St. Helena; Bahamas; Barbados; Bermuda; British Guiana; British Honduras; Jamaica; Leeward Islands; Trinidad and Tobago; Windward Islands; British Solomon Islands; Fiji; Gilbert and Ellice Islands; Tonga; Pitcairn Island.

[4] Anglo-Egyptian Sudan; New Hebrides; Canton and Enderbury Islands.

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