May 27 2009

The immediate effect of the Corsican adventurer’s usurpation of the imperial style and title in A.D. 1804 was to vulgarize a term of Western political art whose dignity had been the only one of its pristine virtues that had not by then long since departed from it. The reigning Danubian Hapsburg monarch Francis II’s self-metamorphosis from a “Roman Emperor” into an “Hereditary Emperor of Austria” on the 10th August, 1804, was caricatured, on the 12th October, 1822, in the proclamation of Don Pedro I as Emperor of Brazil. Yet this reductio ad absurdum of the value of a political coinage which a Napoleon I had debased did not deter a Napoleon III from assuming, on the 2nd December, 1852, a title that was to lure him into liquidating a Second French Empire in a more conclusive disaster than the First French Empire’s débâcle.

The Brazilian New-World “reductio ad absurdum” had been anticipated with the Imperial coronations of Jean-Jacques Dessalines of Haiti on October 8 1804, two months before Napoleon (he was assassinated in 1806) and Agustín de Iturbide, the general who helped secure Mexican independence, on July 12 1822 (he was overthrown the next year).

Haiti became an Empire again in 1849 under Faustin. He went into exile in 1859. The French turned Mexico into an Empire again by placing a Hapsburg, Maximillian (the younger brother of Franz Josef), on the throne there in 1863. He was captured and executed by liberal forces in 1867. Brazil remained an Empire until 1889.

In 1806 the rulers of Vietnam took a title which was translated as Emperor – the Nguyễn dynasty lasted from 1802 to 1945 – but in deference to China, it was not always used. From 1884, the French translated it as king.

The Japanese had the term conveniently to hand as they were preparing to become a Great Power. Emperor was the recognised translation of tennō. In 1867 the Emperor was “restored” and brought to Tokyo from Kyoto. From 1192 to 1867, the sovereignty of the Japanese state had been exercised by shoguns, or their shikken regents (1203-1333), whose authority had been conferred by Imperial warrant. The Emperors had been less than puppets. In 1867, they became puppets. State Shinto, based on the official dogma of the divinity of Japan’s national origins and of its Emperor, became the unifying Japanese ideology.

In 1876 Disraeli decided that Queen Victoria should be Empress of India. She was proclaimed at the Delhi Durbar of 1877. The title was available. It had been in abeyance since the deposition of the feeble last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur II, in 1858. The Mughal dynasty had ruled over most of the subcontinent from the sixteenth century, but had used the title Badshah (whence Pādeshāh, considered in the West to be equivalent to Emperor) without geographic designation. During the Indian rebellion of 1857, the rebel sepoys had proclaimed Bahadur II as Badshah-i-Hind or Emperor of India.

The Korean kings declared their complete independence from China in 1895 and only in 1897 adopted a title, Daehan Hwangje, which is translated as Emperor. On August 22 1910, Japan annexed the Korean Empire. There had been only two Emperors: Kojong and Sunjong (old-style myoho names).

The last Emperor of China, Puyi, was a veritable Augustulus.

The last Russian Tsar was deposed in 1917. The rulers of three Slavic powers had called themselves Emperor or Tsar in imitation of Byzantium: Bulgaria (from 913 to 1018 and from 1185 to 1422), Serbia (from 1345 to 1371) and Russia (from 1547 to 1917). (There were pre-1547 precedents in Russia: see a comment below this post.) Ferdinand I of Bulgaria adopted the traditional title again in 1908 and it was used, but only within Bulgaria, until the abolition of the monarchy in 1946.

The last Ottoman emperor was deposed in 1922.

Two imperial lines came to an end in the 1970s. The Solomonic Ethiopian ruler used a title which is literally translated as King of Kings and whose usual translation is Emperor. The last Emperor of Ethiopia was deposed in 1974. The Persian title Shāhanshāh, Shah of Shahs, was sometimes translated as Emperor. The last Shah was deposed in 1979.

President Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic had himself crowned Emperor, as Bokassa I, in 1976 in imitation of Napoleon. He was overthrown three years later and the republic was restored.

Toynbee refers to modern Germany and Austria in a passage which follows the one quoted above: see Barbarossa’s cave.


Aisin-Gioro Puyi

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

11 Responses to “Augustuli”

  1. richard Says:

    I’m interested in the definition of empire because I’m also interested in the defining of nation states – and this is far outside my usual thinking on the subject, which largely revolves around an empire being a political unit containing multiple distinct territories. Thanks for bringing back to me the sense of the word as a form of rhetoric.

    I think it’s a bit mean calling the Empire of Brazil a reductio ad absurdum, although one might wonder exactly why and how Brazil has multiple territories.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    I’ve corrected the bit about Queen Victoria. Yes – sneering at Brazil may be unfair. It was an “Empire” for 67 years and became a republic peacefully. And sneering at Haitian pretensions is a bit like Evelyn Waugh laughing at Abyssinia.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    “Multiple territories” is a bit anachronistic, no? Belongs to a late 19th century idea of what an empire is. There may have been territories, but they are not essential to the definition or idea. Multiple peoples might be closer.

    • richard Says:

      You’re right, that’s a bad slip on my part – although I’m not sure the territorial idea is inappropriate for earlier times, too, even if those territories are more like mandalas or walled cities rather than anything like nation states, still, it’s the peoples that count, for production, tribute and so on.

  4. bingley Says:

    >>In 1806 the rulers of Vietnam took a title which was translated as Emperor – the Nguyễn dynasty lasted from 1802 to 1945 – but in deference to China, it was not always used. From 1884, the French translated it as king.<<

    Who was deferring to China? The Vietnamese? The French?

  5. […] de facto autonomy as a principality; from 1908 until 1946 the Bulgarian rulers called themselves Tsars]. Italy, after careful preparation, shamelessly invaded and seized the outlying Ottoman provinces […]

  6. […] Louis-Napoléon was not, strictly speaking, the first president to have become an emperor. Agustín de Iturbide, the general who helped to secure Mexican independence, briefly made the transition in 1822. Faustin I of Haiti made it in 1849. Jean-Bédel Bokassa would make it in Central Africa in 1976. See my post on Augustuli. […]

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