House of Windsor: not German, honest!

05 Jun

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.

King George V in German uniform with Kaiser Wilhelm II, in Berlin before the Great War.

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.


Posted by on 5 June 2012 in Air Raid, Events, Famous People


3 responses to “House of Windsor: not German, honest!

  1. Jan Eaton

    5 June 2012 at 5:50 pm

    That’s because Harry, like William, is the son of the Prince of Wales – both William and Harry use the surname “Wales” in their airforce/army careers.

    • Stuart

      5 June 2012 at 6:04 pm

      I understand that that is where the ‘Wales’ name comes from. What confuses me is that Wales is not Charles’s surname, nor is it William’s or Harry’s. Their surname is Windsor. The Queen declared in 1952 her “Will and Pleasure that I and My children shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor, and that My descendants, other than female descendants who marry and their descendants, shall bear the Name of Windsor”. Seems odd to me that they use a different name in the forces.


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