The Universe of Discourse

Sat, 06 May 2023

The pillar box war

photograph of two red pillar-style post boxes, side by side.  Each is
roughly cylindrical, with a black base, a flat flaring top, and a
large slot near the top for the insertion of letters.

A “pillar box” is a British mailbox. It usually has the monogram (“cypher”) of the reigning monarch at the time it was built. At right are two examples. The one to the right has the monogram of Queen Elizabeth II, also depicted below.

Royal cypher of Elizabeth II  consisting of the letters “ER” with
a roman numeral “II” in between, surmounted by a royal crown.

(“EⅡR” is short for “Elizabeth II Regina”). The pillar box to the left has the monogram of her father, George VI.

When Elizabeth was crowned in 1953, there was a dispute in Scotland over what she should be called. “Elizabeth II of Scotland” was a bit of an oddity because Scotland had never before had a queen named Elizabeth: England's Elizabeth I had never been queen of Scotland, which at the time was a separate kingdom. Compare the so-called James VI and I who was King James VI of Scotland but King James I of England. (He was the son of Elizabeth's cousin Mary. James I–V had been the kings of Scotland from 1406–1542.)

Post boxes in Scotland with Elizabeth's “EⅡR” monogram were repeatedly vandalized and in some cases exploded. A lawsuit was filed in Scotland, asserting that the proclamation of Elizabeth II was a violation of the 1707 Act of union between England and Scotland. The court disagreed: “The [Act of Union] did not contain any provision as to the style and titles to be adopted by the monarch of the new [United] kingdom.” The plaintiff was required to pay the respondent's legal expenses.

The two nations found an acceptable compromise: after 1953 pillar boxes erected in Scotland omitted Elizabeth's monogram entirely, and included only a heraldic representation of the crown of Scotland.

The issue doesn't come up with Charles III, who is the third monarch of that name in both England and Scotland.

Pillar box photograph by Kitmaster is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Elizabeth II's royal cypher by Sodacan is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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