New Crowns for Old
, the cartoon's caption references a scene in Aladdin
where lamps are exchanged. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, is offering Queen Victoria an imperial crown in exchange for an earl's coronet. She made him the Earl of Beaconsfield
at this time.
After the nominal Mughal Emperor was deposed at the conclusion of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (10 May 1857 - 1 November 1858), the government of the United Kingdom decided to transfer control of British India and its princely states from the mercantile East India Company (EIC) to the Crown, thus marking the beginning of the British Raj. The EIC was officially dissolved on 1 June 1874, and the British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, decided to offer Queen Victoria the title "Empress of India" shortly afterwards. Victoria accepted this style on 1 May 1876. The first Delhi Durbar (which served as an imperial coronation) was held in her honour eight months later on 1 January 1877.
The idea of having Victoria proclaimed Empress of India was not particularly new, as Lord Ellenborough had already suggested it in 1843 upon becoming the Governor-General of India. By 1874, Major-General Sir Henry Ponsonby, the Queen's Private Secretary, had ordered English charters to be scrutinised for imperial titles, with Edgar and Stephen mentioned as sound precedents. The Queen, possibly irritated by the sallies of the republicans, the tendency to democracy, and the realisation that her influence was manifestly on the decline, was urging the move. Another factor may have been that the Queen's first child, Victoria, was married to Crown Prince Frederick, the heir to the German Empire. Upon becoming empress, the Princess Royal would outrank her mother. By January 1876, the Queen's insistence was so great that Benjamin Disraeli felt that he could procrastinate no longer. Initially, Victoria had actually considered the style "Empress of Great Britain, Ireland, and India", but Disraeli had persuaded the Queen to limit the title to India in order to avoid controversy.
Many in the United Kingdom, however, regarded the assumption of the title as an obvious development from the 1858 Government of India Act, which resulted in the founding of the British Raj. The public were of the opinion that the title of "Queen" was no longer adequate for the ceremonial ruler of what was often referred to informally as the Indian Empire. The new styling underlined the fact that the native states were no longer a mere agglomeration but a collective entity.
When Edward VII ascended to the throne on 22 January 1901, he continued the imperial tradition laid down by his mother, Queen Victoria, by adopting the title "Emperor of India". Three subsequent British monarchs followed in his footsteps, and it continued to be used after India had become independent on 15 August 1947. It was not until 22 June 1948 that the style was officially abolished during the reign of George VI.
When signing off Indian business, the reigning British king-emperors or queen-empresses used the initials R I (Rex/Regina Imperator/Imperatrix) or the abbreviation Ind. Imp. (Indiae Imperator/Imperatrix) after their name (while the one reigning queen-empress, Victoria, used the initials R I, the wives of king-emperors simply used R). When a male monarch held the title, his wife used the style queen-empress, despite the fact that she was not a reigning monarch in her own right.
British coins, as well as those of the Empire and the Commonwealth, routinely included the abbreviated title Ind. Imp.. Coins in India, on the other hand, were stamped with the word "Empress", and later "King-Emperor". When India became independent in 1947, all coining dies had to be changed, which took up to a year and created some problems. Canadian coins, for example, were minted well into 1948 but stamped "1947", the new year's issue indicated by a small maple leaf in one corner. The title appeared on coinage in the United Kingdom throughout 1948.