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The Last Emperor

The voice of the British monarch carried considerable weight in imperial India. Its slow silencing mirrored the retreat of Britain from the subcontinent. 

George V and Queen Mary watching the Delhi Durbar from the Red  Fort, accompanied by Indian princes acting as pages, 1911.On 22 June 1948, the British Empire formally came to an end when George VI issued a proclamation from Buckingham Palace, doing away with the imperial suffix to his title, ‘Indiae Imperator’ or ‘Emperor of India’. The previous summer, following the end of the British Raj, the new nations of Pakistan and India were born. The Indian empire was no more and the imperial title, which had passed down through four generations of British monarchs, disappeared into history with neither fanfare nor fuss. By the following January, ‘George Rex Imperator’ had gone from the British coinage as well. The world was changing. Emperors and empresses were a thing of the past. Only Haile Selassie in Ethiopia, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran and Hirohito in Japan remained as holders of a hereditary imperial office. Fancy titles had no place in Labour’s new Britain. Not that empire no longer mattered. Across London, on the same day that the imperial title was abolished, the Empire Windrush sailed into Tilbury docks, bringing emigrants from the West Indies, many of whom would go on to staff Labour’s new National Health Service. However, with the royal proclamation of June 1948, the formal trappings of empire ceased. George VI was the last European emperor.

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