On 1 May 1876, Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress Of India after discussion with Prime Minister of the day, Benjamin Disraeli led to Queen Victoria wanting a title boost after her daughter became Empress Of Germany. From 1876 until the Empire Of India was disbanded in 1947, British Monarchs were styled as King-Emperors and Queen-Empresses.
This is the only instance in British history where a Monarch was styled as an Emperor/Empress, and even in this instance the use of the title was very limited. Most monarchs didn’t even bother to style themselves as King-Emperors and Queen-Empresses after Victoria, opting instead for just King/Queen and then almost discreetely signing documents as, for example ‘George RI’ (Rex Imperator, King Emperor).
The theory we’re discussing here today, however, is could The Queen proclaim herself or could The Queen be made Empress of Britain.
The title of Emperor/Empress (who rules over an Empire) is widely regarded as the highest ranking Monarchial title, King/Queen (who reigns over a Kingdom) is a lesser title than Emperor but still ranks above any other title.
The title of Emperor originated from the Roman Empire, and ever since, Monarchs around the world have used, or tried to use, the style of Emperor due to the positive connotations that are associated with the massive land control and power of an Emperor [of Rome], that is why the title of Emperor is regarded as higher than King.
When a Monarch with an existing title tries to proclaim themselves with a higher title, this is called title inflation and has caused all sorts of problems for aspiring Emperors and the like in the past.
Currently, there is only one Empire left in the entire world and that’s the Empire of Japan (currently reigned over by Emperor Akihito). For anyone that doesn’t know, such as the condition that has befallen most Monarchies around the world, the Emperor of Japan is much like a kitten without its claws. The Emperor has no position in politics and is regarded only as the embodiment of the state, not as its leader.
That’s half the problem with inflated titles. Subjects under a King who decides he’ll call himself Emperor are far more likely to see this as some form of tightening control and will likely respond with some sort of uprising.
Theoretically, however, there is nothing to stop The Queen being proclaimed Empress. Though she wouldn’t be able to do it herself. It would require an act of parliament to make her an Empress, something that would probably fall at the first hurdle when the MPs get a chance to vote on it.
Britain became closer to being an Empire in its own right than you might think. In 1801, when ‘The United Kingdom’ was officially formed, King George III was offered to be made ‘Emperor of the British Isles’, a title update that many considered would match the amount of land he reigned over, despite having lost Britain’s American Colonies many years before (something he would never be able to shake off). King George III declined the offer to be made an Emperor, stating that as the title had no history in Britain, it had no place in use.
If King George III had said yes all those years ago, we’d be looking at an ‘Her Imperial Majesty Empress Elizabeth II’, reigning over ‘The United Empire Of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, but alas, it wasn’t to be.
Nowadays it is a practical impossibility to inflate a Monarch’s title without some form of opposition, and with Republican sympathy being more outspoken than it ever used to be, it would definitely not end well for the British Monarchy.