The British Royal Family and the Colonial Empire from the Georgians to Prince George

Professor Miles Taylor, Director of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London

The keynote address in the international conference Crowns and Colonies: Monarchies and Colonial Empires hosted by the Department of History, the University of Sydney

11 June 2014

The British royal family likes its former colonies very much, and if the recent visit to Australia of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is anything to go by, then it seems as though that feeling is still shared. It was not always so. Until the 1870s, British monarchs remained aloof from the burgeoning British empire. The four Georges were Kings of Britain and Hanover, but not of the overseas dominions, and in 1800 at the time of the Act of Union with Ireland, the title of Emperor was specifically rejected by George III. By the Victorian era, although there were 'Crown colonies' from New Zealand to the Caribbean, they were overseen by Viceroys or Governors, acting only in the name of the monarch. And in India, a commercial enterprise (the East India Company) and not the Crown was in charge.

Only with the second half of the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) did things begin to change. By the time of her diamond jubilee in 1897, Victoria had become one of the most iconic and recognisable figures of her age, or indeed any other. This illustrated keynote lecture describes when, why and how the British royal family became an imperial and then a Commonwealth phenomenon.

Curiously, this had less to do with the British government than is often supposed, and came much more from the monarchs themselves ­ especially Queen Victoria ­ and also, perhaps surprisingly, from the indigenous subject peoples of the empire.

Professor Miles Taylor

Professor Miles Taylor has been Director of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London since 2008. He studied history at Queen Mary College London, Harvard and Cambridge, where he gained his PhD in 1989. His first two books focused on nineteenth-century British radicalism and Chartism, but he has also written widely on Victorian studies, the impact of empire on British politics and culture, and on the history of the UK parliament. He is currently completing a book for Yale University Press, entitled Empress: Queen Victoria and India.