The Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act, 1927 (17 Geo 5, c. 4) was a significant landmark in the constitutional history of the United Kingdom and British Empire. The act had two consequences. The first was to change the full name of the United Kingdom (UK) to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the former United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in recognition of the fact that the Irish Free State had seceeded from the UK in 1922.
Its second, and more important function, was to modify the King's title, and in so doing to replace the concept of a single crown ruling the British Empire with multiple crowns. In this way, by means of the act, each of the empire's dominions became a separate kingdom. The Act was thus an important step in the evolution of the dominions towards full independence. The full title of the act was An Act to provide for the alteration of the Royal Style and Titles and of the Style of Parliament and for purposes incidental thereto.
The 1927 Act did not change the title of the United Kingdom explicitly. Rather it did this by changing the title of the British Parliament. Section 2 of the act changed the parliament's title was from the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Historians generally retrospectively date the coming into being of the modern United Kingdom to December 1922, even though the formal change of title did not occur for another five years. Despite the change of name, the Act provided that there would be no change in the numbering of parliaments. Thus the legislature then in session continued to be the Thirty-fourth Parliament, and its successors have been numbered accordingly.
The Act did not modify the King's title directly. Rather it permitted the King to do so by royal proclamation, provided the proclamation was issued within six months. Before 1927, King George V reigned as king in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Irish Free State, South Africa, etc. Each of these states, in effect, as dominions, amounted to a subdivision of the United Kingdom. After 1927, however, he reigned as King of Australia, King of New Zealand, King of Ireland, King of South Africa, etc. The form of use in the royal title as issued by George V did not mention the dominions by name, but refered to them as the "British Dominions beyond the Seas". Nonetheless the Act shattered the previous concept of the shared monarch, replacing it with one of multiple crowns, all worn by one monarch.
One direct consequence of the change in the royal title was that the British government lost the right to formally advise the monarch on the exercise of his or her powers in the dominions. Rather, the government of each dominion acquired the exclusive right to do so. This difference was significant because, by constitutional convention, the monarch must, in almost all circumstance, act in accordance with the 'advice' of his or her ministers.
Another implication was that from, 1927 onwards, governors-general were replaced, in the role of representing the British government in each dominion, by a 'High Commissioner', whose duties were soon recognised to be virtually identical to those of an ambassador.
- Title before: George V, By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India
- Title afterwards: George V, By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.
The Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act arose from the meeting of a Commonwealth Conference, the impetus coming, in part, from the controversial King-Byng Affair in Canada. Although an important change in the status of the monarch, and of the dominions, was implicit in the Act, neither the British government nor most of the dominion governments seem to have initially grasped its full significance.
However the government of the Irish Free State put the changes introduced by the Act into immediate effect: by assuming the right to select its own Governor-General, demanding a direct right of audience with the King, and beginning to accept the credentials of international ambassadors to the Irish state--something no other dominion up until that time had done.
The Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act was followed by the Statute of Westminster in 1931 which increased the independence of the dominions even further. This granted dominon parliaments the power to enact or amend almost any legislation they chose, and removed the right, in most circumstance, for the British Parliament to legislate for the dominions.
Most dominions were slower than the Irish Free State to respond to the laws of 1927 and 1931 with moves to sever constitutional ties with the United Kingdom, and many, when they did, were faced with determined, though ultimately futile, opposition from London. Many dominions waited until the acession of Elizabeth II in 1952 to codified their new autonomy into domestic law.
An interesting consequence of the 1927 act was that Edward VIII's abdication in 1936 required separate legal acknowledgement in each Commonwealth nation. In the Irish Free State, that acknowledgment, in the External Relations Act, occurred a day later than elsewhere, leaving Edward technically as "King of Ireland" for a day, while George VI was king of all other Commonwealth realms.
In 1948 and 1953 further changes were made to the title of the monarch by British acts of Parliament. However the law passed in 1953 was the first to apply only to the United Kingdom and its dependencies. In that year the practice was begun of using separate styles for each of the commonwealth realms in which the monarch is head of state, the style in each case determined by the native parliament.