Today is the end of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee weekend. Next month also sees the 95th anniversary of the royal House of Windsor – invented to avoid anti-German sentiment around the royal family’s name of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
The links between European royal families is well known. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was the grandson of the UK’s Queen Victoria (on the throne 1837-1901) and cousin to King George V (1910-36). Tsar Nicholas II was the spitting image of George – and was also his cousin.
As a result of Victoria’s marriage to Albert, the royal family’s surname from 1901 was the rather-too-Germanic Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. (In fact, by 1914, the royal family had had German names for two hundred years – since the first Hanover king, George I). With the anti-German feeling that caused attacks on people like East-London German Martha Mittenzwei in 1915, the royal name was a little inconvenient – especially when the Gotha aircraft replaced Zeppelin airships as the main weapon used to terrorise the the British population.
In July 1917, George V declared that he was abandoning both his German name and all German titles:
When he heard of the change of name, Kaiser Wilhelm reportedly responded that he would go and see the Shakespeare play ‘The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’.
Since then, the direct line of succession for the throne have the surname Windsor (quite why Prince Harry has the surname Wales in the army is a mystery to me). Even after the current queen married Prince Philip, it was decided that their children would keep her surname of Windsor, not his surname of Mountbatten – itself a Great War-era Anglicisation of Battenberg, after the First Sea Lord Prince Louis of Battenberg had to quit his post after rumours spread that he was a German. (In fact, Philip was born into the even more German-sounding Greek Royal House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg).
The creation of the House of Windsor in 1917 was just one more lasting legacy of the Great War and the emotions it provoked.