King of Ireland

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Henry VIII, became King of Ireland in 1542.

The designation King of Ireland has been used during three periods of Irish history.

In the centuries prior to 1169 Ireland had coalesced into a national kingdom under a High King of Ireland. In the aftermath of an Anglo-Norman incursion into Ireland in 1169 Henry II and his successors became "Lord of Ireland". The Treaty of Windsor in 1175 recognised the last native king as overlord of all Ireland outside Anglo-Norman control but further Anglo-Norman incursions weakened his authority and after his abdication the office fell dormant.

After Henry VIII made himself head of the Church of England, he also requested and got legislation through the Irish Parliament, in 1541 (effective 1542), naming him King of Ireland and head of the Church of Ireland (which, both in Ireland and Northern Ireland, remains a member of the Anglican communion today but is no longer an established church like the Church of England or the Church of Scotland). The title 'King of Ireland' was then used until 1 January 1801, the effective date of the second Act of Union, which merged Ireland and Great Britain to create the United Kingdom.

After creation of the Irish Free State as a dominion of the British Empire in 1922, the question whether the King reigned in Ireland as 'King of the United Kingdom' or as 'King of Ireland' took on important constitutional significance that would have later ramifications for the entire British Empire as it was transformed into the Commonwealth of Nations.

King George V continued to reign in Northern Ireland as King of the United Kingdom, because Northern Ireland had opted to remain within U.K.; but this provided no answer for the Free State. The question was solved in that regard in 1927, when the old Anglo-Irish title "King of Ireland" was revived. So the question began to arise in the other dominions of the British Empire - especially after the Statute of Westminster 1931 made them fully independent of Britain - whether the King-Emperor was king of Canada, Australia, etc., because he was head of the British Empire, or because he was head of state of each individual country. At the centre of the issue was the notion of the indivisibility of the Crown, with constitutional experts across the Empire, but especially in London, pondering the question of how the Crown could be indivisible on the head of one sovereign if that person were separately king (or queen regnant) of each division of the one Empire.

This grand question was finally put to bed in 1952, when Elizabeth II was proclaimed Queen separately by the parliaments of United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan (became a republic in 1954), and Ceylon (since 1971, the Republic of Sri Lanka). Revival of the title King of Ireland in 1927 thus turned out to be a catalyst for reforming the concept of the indivisibility of the Crown, by elevating the concept of "The Crown" from concrete physicality (the literal crown, as presentation) to abstract principle (the crown as representation). This followed upon the other important development by which the British Empire became the Commonwealth of Nations, namely the provision to allow India to become a republic in 1950 and still remain in the Commonwealth; thus paving the way for then-Princess Elizabeth to become, in 1952, the first "Head of the Commonwealth."

Meanwhile, in 1949, the last link with the monarch was severed in Dublin when the Irish Free State became the Irish Republic, thereby leaving the Commonwealth and laying the title 'King of Ireland' well and truly to rest.



Kingdom of Ireland (1542-1801)

The title 'King of Ireland' was created by an act of the Irish Parliament in 1541, to replace the Lordship of Ireland which had existed since 1171 with the Kingdom of Ireland. The Crown of Ireland Act established a personal union between the English and Irish crowns, providing that whoever was king of England was to be king of Ireland as well, and so its first holder was King Henry VIII of England.

For a brief period in the seventeenth century, from the impeachment and execution of Charles I in 1649 to the Restoration of the monarch in England in 1660, there was no 'King of Ireland' in effect - only in name. Charles II had been crowned King of Scotland, England and Ireland at Scone, Scotland, in 1651; but England had become a republic when it executed his father, and the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, quickly marched north, and then across the Irish sea, to put an end to any plans to restore the new king to the English throne by temporarily - albeit illegally - uniting England, Scotland and Ireland under one government. After Cromwell's death in 1658, however, his son, Richard, was the only person to emerge as a leader of this pan-British Isles republic, and he was not sufficiently competent to maintain any of it. Parliament at London voted to restore the monarch, an Charles II returned from exile in France, as King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

When the first Act of Union took effect in 1707, merging England and Scotland into the semi-federal Kingdom of Great Britain, the person union between the Irish and English crowns became a personal union between Irish and British crowns. The Kingdom of Ireland was then merged to Great Britain on 1 January 1801 when the second Act of Union took effecting, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (since 1922, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).

Irish Free State (1927-1936)

Main article: Monarchy in the Irish Free State

Twenty-six of Ireland's thirty-two counties left the United Kingdom in 1922 (the six northeastern counties of Ireland opted to remain British), as the Irish Free State (renamed ╔ire in 1937), a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. As a dominion, the Free State was a constitutional monarchy with the British monarch as its head of state. However, until 1927, King George V was still formally styled 'King of the United Kingdom'. It was five years before the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 revived the title King of Ireland as a separate position to the British crown. As before 1801, the two crowns existed in a personal union.

In conjunction with the change, the Free State achieved greater autonomy within the British Empire. For example, the British cabinet could no longer advise the King on matters pertinent to the Irish Free State but the king, through his governor general (after 1937, through the President of Ireland) took the advice of his Irish prime ministers. The Free State was also granted its own Great Seal and began to sign treaties in its own right, instead of through Britain.

That last item - the right of British dominions to sign treaties on their own behalf without the imperial oversight of London - dates to the First World War and the insistence of the then-Dominion of Canada that she be represented at the Versailles Peace Talks and sign the treaty under her own name, though within the context of the British Empire. Canada had already managed to reserve this right to herself in an earlier treaty negotiation with the United States. Canadian insistence on the right to sign the Treaty of Versailles independently effectively secured this right to all British dominions, including post-bellum dominions like the Irish Free State.


Main article: Irish head of state from 1936-1949

From 1936 to 1949 the role of the King of Ireland in the Irish state was greatly reduced and ambiguous. An amendment to the Free State constitution in 1936 all but eliminated all of the King's official duties but one. Under the External Relations Act of the same year he continued to represent the Free State in international affairs. This purely external role continued when the new Constitution of Ireland was introduced in 1937.

The position of King of Ireland ceased to be with the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act, which came into force in April 1949. This act, as the name suggested, declared the state to be a republic. The Crown of Ireland Act was eventually repealed in the Republic of Ireland by the Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union Irish Statutes) Act, 1962.

The monarchy continues in Northern Ireland, of course, which remains a province of United Kingdom. The Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since 1952, Elizabeth II, numbers an assortment of pre-Norman High Kings of Ireland among her ancestors, through her mother, the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

List of Lords, Kings and Queens of Ireland (Non-Native)




Kings and Queens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which see.

The first of these was George III, (1801-1820). The last was George V, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (and Emperor of India, etc.), 1910-1927; thereafter, King of Ireland, 1927-1936, and King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


As the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom were separate from 1922 and the royal titles from 1927, one could argue that George V was actually George IV in his capacity as King of Ireland, but this would effectly deny the Act of Union that took effect on 1801 as successor to the former Kingdom of Ireland, and it would present the confusion of two Kings George IV - one of United Kingdom, one of Ireland, both of them resident in London and mostly German, ethnically. So, it really isn't worth all the bother to be so nitpicky about it.

Edward VIII was the first monarch to accede to the British throne with the Northern Irish designation attached to his title. His brother, George VI was the first actually so crowned, and the last to be crowned King of Ireland.

George VI's daughter, Elizabeth II, currently Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has in common with the former American presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan that all three of them are descendants of the pre-Norman CennÚtig kings of Munster (southwestern Ireland). In the Queen's case, her descent from Brian Boru and other native Irish kings is through her mother, the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

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