[On February 17, 1876, Mr. Disraeli introduced a Bill for enabling Her Majesty to adopt a new title for the sovereignty of India. When it became known that the title selected was that of Empress, a violent ferment was raised by the Opposition, who denounced the attempt to introduce 'a bastard imperialism' into the English monarchy, and under cover of a new form to insinuate the thin end of the wedge of military despotism. At this distance of time one wonders at the violence displayed. It subsequently appeared that the title of Empress was first applied to Her Majesty by the Duke of Argyle when Secretary of State for India. — T. E. Kebbel's introductory note. This text has been scanned and converted to html by George P. Landow.]
In moving the second reading of this Bill I take the opportunity of noticing a question which was addressed to me a few days ago by the honourable member for Banbury [Mr. B. Samuelson]. I thought at the time that the question was unfair and improper. The question was whether I was then prepared to inform the House of tbe title which Her Majesty would be advised to adopt with respect to the matter contained in the Bill before us, and my answer was, that I was not then prepared to give the information to the House. It appeared to me that that appeal, as I ventured to remark, was unfair and improper, because, in the first place, on a controversial matter, it required me to make a statement respecting which I could offer no argument, as the wise rules of this House, as regards questions and answers, are established. I should, therefore, have had to place before the House, on a matter respecting which there is controversy, the decision of the Government, at the same time being incapacitated from offering any argument in favour of it.
I thought the question was improper, also, in the second place, because it was a dealing with the royal prerogative that to say the least, was wanting, as I thought, in respect. Both sides of the House agree that we are ruled by a strictly constitutional Sovereign. But the constitution has invested Her Majesty with prerogatives of which she is wisely jealous, which she exercises always with firmness, but ever, wlien the feelings and claims of Parliament are concerned, with the utmost consideration. It is the more requisite, therefore, that we should treat these prerogatives with the greatest respect, not to sav reverence. In the present case if Her Majesty had desired to impart to the House of Commons information which the House required, the proper time would certainly be when the Bill in question was under the consideration of the House. It would be more respectful to the House, as well as to the Queen, that such a communication should be made when the House was assembled to discuss the question before them; and such information ought not to be imparted, I think, in answer to the casual inquiry of an individual member.
From the beginning there has been no mystery at any time upon this matter. So far as the Grovernment are concerned they have acted strictly according to precedent, and it has not been in my power until the present evening to impart an any information to the House upon the subject on which they intimated a wish to be informed. But, upon the first night, when I introduced this Bill, I did say, alluding to the prerogative of the Queen, and Her Majesty's manner of exercising that prerogative, that I did not anticipate difficulties upon the subject. To this point in the course of the few observations I have to make, I shall recur; but, before doing so, I shall make some remarks upon the objections which have been made to a title which it has been gratuitously assumed that Her Majesty, witli respect to her dominions in India, wishes to adopt. It is a remarkable circumstance that all those who have made objections on this subject, have raised their objections to one particular title alone. One alone has occurred to them — which primâ facie' is rather an argument in favour of its being an apposite title. No doubt other objections have been urged in the debate, and I will refer to them before proceeding to the other part of my remarks. It has been objected that the title of Emperor and Empress denotes military dominion; that it has never or rarely been adopted but by those who have obtained dominion the sword, retained it by the sword, and governed by the sword; and, to use the words of a right honourable gentleman [Mr. Lowe, afterwards Lord Sherbrook] who took part in the recent debate — 'Sentiment clothes the title of Emperor with bad associations.'
Now, the House must at once feel what vague and shadowy arguments — if they can be called arguments — are these: 'Sentiment clothes the title of Emperor with bad associations.' I very much doubt whether sentiment does clothe the title of Emperor with bad associations. I can remember, and many gentlemen can remember, the immortal passage of the greatest of modern historians, where he gives his opinion that the happiness of mankind was never so completely assured or so long a time maintained as in the age of the Antonines, and the Antonines were emperors. The honourable gentleman may be of opinion that an imperial title is a modern invention, and its associations to him may be derived from a limited experience, of which he may be proud. But when so large a principle is laid down by one distinguished for his historical knowledge, that 'Sentiment clothes the title of Emperor with bad associations,' I may be allowed to vindicate what I believe to be the truth upon this matter. Then a second objection was urged — it was said, 'This is a clumsy periphrasis in which you are involving the country if you have not only royal but imperial majesties.' Now, the right honourable gentleman who made the remark, might to have recollected that there would be no clumsy periphrasis of the kind. The majesty of England requires for its support no epithet. The Queen is not Her Royal Majesty. The Queen is described properly as Her Majesty. Therefore the clumsy periphrasis of 'Royal and Imperial' Majesty could never occur.
There is, however, a stronger and more important objection which has been brought to this title of Empress. Put briefly and concisely it is this — that we diminish the supremacy of the queenly title by investing Her Majesty, though only locally with an imperial dignity. I deny that any imperial dignity is superior to the queenly title, and I defy anyone to prove the reverse. (Hear.) I am happy to have that cheer; but I hear and read every day of an intention to invest Her Majesty with a title superior to that which she has inherited from an illustrious line of ancestors. It is necessary, therefore, to notice this statement. In times which will guide us in any way upon such a subject, I doubt whether there is any precedent of an emperor ranking superior to a crowned head, unless that crowned head was his avowed feudatory. I will take the most remarkable instance of imperial sway in modern history. When the Holy Roman Empire existed, and the German Emperor was crowned at Rome and called Caesar, no doubt the princes of Germany, who were his feudatories, acknowledged his supremacy, whatever might be his title.
But in those days there were great kings — there were kings of France, and kings of Spain, and kings of England — they never acknowledged the supremacy of the Head of the Holy Roman Empire, and the origin, I have no doubt, of the expression of the Act of Henry VIII., where the crown of England is described as an imperial crown, was the determination of that eminent monarch that at least there should be no mistake upon the subject between himself and the Emperor Charles V. These may be considered antiquarian illustrations, and I will not dwell upon them, but will take more recent cases at a time when the intercourse of nations and of Courts was regulated by the same system of diplomacy which now prevails. Upon this question, then, I say there can be no mistake, for it has been settled by the assent, and the solemn assent, of Europe. In the middle of the last century a remarkable instance occurred which brought to a crisis this controversy, if it were a point of controversy. When Peter the Great emerged from his anomalous condition as a powerful sovereign — hardly recognised by his brother sovereigns — he changed the style and title of his office from that of Czar to Emperor. That addition was acknowledged by England and by England alone. The rulers of Russia as Emperors remained unrecognised by the great comity of nations; and after Peter the Great they still continued to bear the titles of Czar and Czarina; for more than one female sovereign nourished in Russia about the middle of the century. In 1745, Elizabeth, Czarina of Russia, having by her armies and her councils interfered considerably in the affairs of Europe — probably (though I am not sure of this) influenced by the circumstances that the first Congress of Aix la Chapelle, in the middle of the last century, was about to meet — announced to her allies and to her brother sovereigns that she intended in future to take the title of Empress, instead of Czarina. Considerable excitement and commotion were caused at all the Courts and in all the Governments of Europe in consequence of this announcement ; but the new title was recognised on condition that Her Majesty should at the same time write a letter, called, in diplomatic language, a reversal, acknowledging that she thereby made no difference in the etiquette and precedence of the European Courts, and would only rank upon terms of equality with the other crowned heads of Europe. Upon these terms France, Spain, Austria, and Hungary admitted the Empress of Russia into their equal society.
For the next twenty years, under Peter III., there were discussions on the subject; but he also gave a reversal, disclaiming superiority to other crowned heads in taking the title of Emperor. When Catherine II. came to the throne, she objected to write this reversal, as being inconsistent with the dignity of a crowned sovereign; and she herself issued an edict to her own subjects, announcing, on her accession, her rank, style, and title; and distinctly informing her subjects that, though she took that style and title, she only wished to rank with the other sovereigns of Europe. I should say that the whole of the diplomatic proceedings of the world from that time have aknowledged that result, and there can be no question on the object. There was an attempt at the Congress of Vienna to introduce the subject of the classification of sovereigns; but the difficulties of the subject were acknowledged by Prince Metternich, by Lord Castlereagh, and by all the eminent statesmen the time; the subject was dropped; the equality of crowned heads was again acknowledged, and the mode of precedence of their representatives at the different Courts was settled by an alphabetical arrangement, or by the date of their arrival and letters of credit to that Court at once and for ever. The question of equality between those sovereigns who styled themselves Emperors and those who were crowned heads of ancient kinp, doms, without reference to population, revenue, or extent of territory, was established and permanently adopted.
Now, Sir, the honourable gentleman the member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) said the other day, ' If Empress means nothing more than Queen, why should you have Empress? If it means something else, then I am against adopting it.' Well, I have proved to you that it does not mean anything else. Then, why should you adopt it? Well, that is one of those questions which, if pursued in the same spirit, and applied to all the elements of society, might resolve it into its original elements. The amplification of titles is no new system, no new idea; it has marked all ages, and has been in accordance with the manners and customs of all countries. The amplification of titles is founded upon a great respect for local influences, for the memory of distinguished deeds, and passages of interest in the history of countries. It is only by the amplification of titles that you can often touch and satisfy the imagination of nations; and that is an element which Grovernments must not despise. Well, then, it is said that if this title of Empress is adopted, it would be un-English. But why un-English ? I have sometimes heard the ballot called un-English, and indignant orators on the other side have protested against the use of an epithet of that character which nobody could define, and which nobody ought to employ. I should like to know why the title is un-English. A gentleman the other day, referring to this question now exciting Parliament and the country, recalled to the recollection of the public the dedication of one of the most beautiful productions of the English muse to the Sovereign of this country; and speaking of the age distinguished by an Elizabeth? by a Shakespeare, and by a Bacon, he asked whether the use of the word Empress, applied by one who was second in his power of expression and in his poetic resources only to Shakespeare himself, in the dedication of an immortal work to Queen Elizabeth was not, at least, an act which proved that the word and the feeling were not un-English ? Then, of course, it was immediately answered by those who criticised the illustration that this was merely the fancy of a poet. But I do not think if was the fancy of a poet. The fancy of the most fanciful of poets was exhausted in the exuberant imagination which realised his illustrious Sovereign as the 'Faery Queen.' He did not call her Empress then — he called her the 'Faery Queen.' But when his theme excited the admiration of royalty — when he had the privilege of reciting some of his cantos to Queen Elizabeth, and she expressed a wish that the work should be dedicated to her — then Spenser had, no doubt, to consult the friends in whom he could confide as to the style in which he should approach so solemn an occasion, and win to himself still more the interest of his illustrious Sovereign. He was a man who lived among courtiers and statesmen. He had as friends Sidney and Raleigh; and I have little doubt that it was by the advice of Sidney and Raleigh that he addressed his Sovereign as Empress, [To the most mightie and magnificent Empresse, Elizabeth, by the Grace of God, Queen of England, &c.'] The Queen of England, of Ireland, and of Virginia, the hand of Sir Walter Raleigh being probably shown in the title of the Queen of Virginia; and it is not at all improbable that Elizabeth herself, who possessed so much literary taste, and who prided herself upon improving the phrases of the greatest poet, revised the dedication. That example clearly shows that the objection of this assumed adoption by Her Majesty of the title of Empress as un-English could hardly exist in an age when the word was used with so much honour — in an age of words which wise Bacon and brave Raleigh spake.'
I think it is obvious from these remarks, made upon the assumption that the title which Her Majesty would be pleased to adopt by her Proclamation would be 'Empress,' that the title would be one to which there could be no objection. I am empowered, therefore, to say that the title would be 'Empress,'and that Her Majesty would be 'Victoria, by the Grace of Grod, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, and Empress of India, Now, I know it may be said — it was said at a recent debate a 'rf urged strongly by the right honourable gentleman the mem}) for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) — that this addition to Her Majesty's style, and in this addition alone, we are treating without consideration the colonies. I cannot in any way concur in that opinion. No one honours more than myself the Colonial Empire of England; no one is more anxious to main, tain it. No one regrets more than I do that favourable opportunities have been lost of identifying the colonies with the royal race of England. But we have to deal now with another subject, and one essentially different from the colonial condition. The condition of India and the condition of the colonies have no similarity. In the colonies you have, first of all, a fluctuating population; a man is member of Parliament, it may be, for Melbourne this year, and next year he is member of Parliament for Westminster. A colonist finds a nugget, or he fleeces a thousand flocks. He makes a fortune. He returns to England, he buys an estate; he becomes a magistrate; he represents Majesty; he becomes high sheriff: he has a magnificent house near Hyde Park; he goes to Court, to levees, to drawingrooms; he has an opportunity of plighting his troth personally to his Sovereign: he is in frequent and direct communication with her. But that is not the case with the inhabitant of India.
The condition of colonial society is of a fluctuating character. Its political and social elements change. I remember, twenty years ago, a distinguished statesman (?) who willingly would have seen a Dukedom of Canada. But Canada has now no separate existence. It is called the 'Dominion,' and includes several other provinces. There is no similarity between the circumstances of our colonial fellow-subjects in India. Our colonists are English; they come, they go, they are careful to make fortunes, to invest their money in England; their interests in this country are immense, ramified, complicated, and they have constant opportunities of improving and employing the relations which exist between themselves and their countrymen in the metropolis. Their relations to the Sovereign are ample; they satisfy them. The colonists are proud of those relations; they are interested in the titles of the Queen; they look forward return when they leave England; they do return; in short, they are Englishmen.
Now let me say one word before I move the second reading of this Bill, upon the effect it may have upon India. It is not without consideration, it is not without the utmost care, it is ot until after the deepest thought, that we have felt it our duty to introduce this Bill into Parliament. It is desired in India; it is anxiously expected. The princes and nations of India, unless we are deceived — and we have omitted no means by which we could obtain information and form opinions look to it with the utmost interest. They know exactly what it means, though there may be some honourable members in this House who do not. They know in India what this Bill means, and they know that what it means is what they wish. I do myself most earnestly impress upon the House to remove prejudice from their minds and to pass the second reading of this Bill without a division. Let not our divisions be misconstrued. Let the people of India feel that there is a sympathetic chord between us and them, and do not let Europe suppose for a moment that there are any in this House who are not deeply conscious of the importance of our Indian Empire. Unfortunate words have been heard in the debate upon this subject: but I will not believe that any member of this House seriously contemplates the loss of our Indian Empire. I trust, therefore, that the House will give to this Bill a second reading without a division. By permission of the Queen, I have communicated, on the part of my colleagues, the intention of Her Majesty, which she will express in her Proclamation. If you sanction the passing of this Bill, it will be an act, to my mind, that will add splendour even to her throne, and security even to her empire.
Related Material — Three Punch Cartoons by John Tenniel
- New Crowns for Old Ones
- Empress and Earl, or One Good Turn Deserves Another
- The Queen with Two Heads
Announcement of the title at the Imperial Assembly at Delhi
- The Chief Herald Reading the Proclamation
- The Nizam of Hyderbar presenting his “Nuzzur”
- The Imperial Durbar at Delhi: the Jumna Musjid
- Lord Lytton, Viceroy of India, passing the Flagstaff Tower
- The Imperial Heralds
Selected Speeches of the Late Right Honourabe Earl of Beaconsfield. Ed. T. E. Kebbel. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1882. II, 231-39. [A footnote on the first page of this speech states: "This speech is reprinted from Hansard's Debates by permission of Mr. Hansard."
Last modified 20 May 2017