European sovereigns and their empires ‘beyond the seas’
in Crowns and colonies
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The coronations of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 illustrate the continuing but changing significance of the monarchy for the British Empire; George VI was proclaimed Emperor of India, and though Britain no longer ruled the Raj by the time of his daughter’s coronation, she was still Head of the Commonwealth and the head of state of a disparate assortment of independent countries and remaining British possessions. On both occasions, dignitaries from the dominions and colonies gathered in London for the coronation ceremonies, exotic imperial troops processed to Westminster Abbey, the sovereign read messages to subjects ‘beyond the seas’, and in such cities as Bombay and Penang, as well as many other outposts, the new monarch was cheered with loyal toasts. In the cases of other empires as well - from the suzerainty of early modern Spanish kings over their American empires to later links between the Dutch queen and the East Indies - the relationship between the crown and colonies has been a key aspect of the history of European expansion, though one that has gained little historical attention. This chapter identifies some key connections, including the constitutional role of monarchs in the colonies, the personal engagement of various sovereigns in empire (including tours by royals), and the use of the pageantry of the monarchy to inscribe imperial rule over distant domains. This chapter reviews historiographical and theoretical work on these relationships, and suggests new perspectives on the subject of crowns and colonies.

Crowns and colonies

European monarchies and overseas empires

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