5

The regnal numbers of the monarchy of the United Kingdom are combined from the regnal numbers of the separate kingdoms of England and Scotland. Hence, as there was a previous Queen Elizabeth in England, the current queen is known as Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a common mistake to call her the Queen of England: she is not, as England is no longer a kingdom in its own right, but instead forms part of the singular United Kingdom.

However, Canada, Australia, and Jamaica, among others, are kingdoms in their own right, with their own monarchies (which merely happen to be vested in the same person). Elizabeth is not Queen of England, but she is Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia, and queen of many other countries.

In these countries, why is she known as Elizabeth II? Elizabeth I of England never ruled any of these countries.

  • Tried to add tag monarchy, but couldn't create a new one. – TRiG Feb 26 '17 at 15:40
  • Perhaps better suited to Politics (especially if the regnal number is not determined by statute)? – phoog Feb 26 '17 at 17:12
  • 1
    But Elizabeth I did rule Canada! – Clint Eastwood Jan 17 '18 at 18:50
  • Hadn't thought of that! – TRiG Jan 17 '18 at 20:33
6

Actually, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II are not sovereigns of any common state. QEI was sovereign of England and Wales and QEII is sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (among others).

The numbering has nothing to do with the states they are sovereign over: it is familial number dating from William I (the Conquerer). It is no different from the numbering that would occur if I were named for my father and my son were named for me.

Some monarchies use ordinals that include mythological kings or kings that ruled a completely different state that shared a common geography or culture, or were claimed to do so in the founding myths of a state.

The only legal issue here is that the number that a monarch accepts is the legally relevant one - if the next Elizabeth decides she will be Elizabeth XVII then so she will be. There is actually a case about this relating to QEII in Scotland:

A court case, MacCormick v Lord Advocate, contesting the style “Elizabeth II” within Scotland, was decided in 1953 that the numbering of monarchs was part of the royal prerogative, and that the plaintiffs had no title to sue the Crown.

So, legally, she is Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland even though Scotland never had a Queen Elizabeth I. Practically, state owned assets in Scotland are not embossed with EIIR (Elizabeth II Regina) but with the crown of Scotland out of consideration of Scottish sensibilities on the matter.

In any event, certainly in Australia (not sure about Canada), the head of state is the Governor General, not the Queen.

You can read about they whys and wherefores here.

1

This could be considered to be an extended application of what one might call the "Churchill Rule".

Although I am sure neither The Queen nor her advisers could seek to bind their successors in such a matter, I think it would be reasonable and logical to continue to adopt in future whichever numeral in the English or Scottish line were higher. Thus if, for instance, a King Robert or a King James came to the throne he might well be designated by the numeral appropriate to the Scottish succession, thereby emphasising that our Royal Family traces its descent through the English Royal line from William the Conqueror and beyond, and through the Scottish Royal line from Robert the Bruce and Malcolm Canmore and still further back. Her Majesty's present advisers would for their part find no difficulty in accepting such a principle.

Winston Churchill, House of Commons Debates, 15th April 1953

Doing it this way removes any ambiguity, as it avoids having two monarchs in a given country's history with the same numbering (while coming at the cost of skipping some numbers). That same benefit applies beyond the shores of the UK: if the above rule were, conceptually, extended, it applies tidily to all Commonwealth Realms: the current Queen of Canada is the first Elizabeth there, but (part of) another country (i.e. England) has had an Elizabeth previously, and so she's Elizabeth II.

  • 1
    I would hope that if any of the other Commonwealth Realms were monarchies before coming into personal union with Britain, their traditional regnal numbering would also be observed, but in practice I think that this is moot. – owjburnham May 15 '18 at 9:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.