On July 17, 1917 HM King George V of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland changed the name of the royal house from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor. With World War I raging at the time there was a considerable amount of anti-German feeling in the land. For many people it didn’t seem right that the King had a German name while they were fighting a war against the German Empire. In searching for a name to rechristen the royal dynasty they decided on the name Windsor. It was believed that the name Windsor personified the strength of the country and it also went along with the royal tradition that many European Royal Houses had of naming their dynasties after a Castle. The original Windsor Castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I, it has been used by succeeding monarchs and it is the longest-occupied palace in Europe.
The royal house of the United Kingdom has been known as Windsor now for almost 100 years. Will it remain Windsor once Charles becomes King or will it change? Often when the throne passes through the female line, the name of the dynasty will change to reflect the patrilineal descent of the new monarch. This has been the case for the majority of royal houses in Europe although there are exceptions. Some claim that changing the name of dynasties was the invention of modern historians and that during some of these time periods dynastic names were not consistently used. Even with the kings and queens of England, dynastic name changes have not always been consistent. For example, King Stephen was technically a member of the House of Blois but most historians and text books place him as a member of the House of Normandy. The same case happens with William III. Most books place him as a member of the House of Stuart yet he was, in the male line, a member of the Dutch House of Orange.
From a genealogical perspective, Elizabeth II is a member of the Wettin Dynasty from the collateral branch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha line via her descent from Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria. Her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. This makes The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge and his future offsprings members of that dynasty. This is all from a genealogical aspect of course because technically they are members of the House of Windsor. The House of Glücksburg itself is a collateral branch of the House of Oldenburg. The Oldenburg dynasty has ruled in Denmark, Russia, Greece, Norway, Schleswig, Holstein, Oldenburg and Sweden. The question now becomes will the name of the royal house change when Charles succeeds to the throne?
There has been no indication either way that it will change or that it will not change. In times past this would not have been an issue and the name of the royal house would automatically change once the Crown passed through the female line to reflect the patrilineal line. With the name Windsor the British monarchy has a name that does not have foreign roots like many of the former British royal houses had. This trend of adopting or keeping nationalistic names for European Monarchies has become the new tradition. Many extant monarchies have chosen to keep the dynastic name even when passing through the female line. For example, in the Netherlands the dynastic name of the royal family is Orange-Nassau despite passing through the female line in the last three generations. Even further back in time Austria kept the Habsburg name even though the last in the male line of Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, died in 1740. In Russia the name of Romanov was kept even though the last male in the line of Romanov, Emperor Peter II, died in 1730.
The dynasty that replaced the Romanovs were the House of Holstein-Gottorp, a collateral branch of the House of Oldenburg, but because Romanov was the name so associated with the Russian royal family it was decided to retain the name. In Belgium and Luxembourg they also have distanced themselves from their dynastic titles. In 1986, former Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, dropped the dynastic title of the House of Bourbon-Parma, because the head of that house, Duke Carlo-Hugo of Bourbon Parma deemed that Jean’s son, the current Grand Duke Henri, had entered into an unequal marriage. In 1921 King Albert I of Belgium dropped the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynastic name for the same reasons George V did. Today the Belgian royal family is simply known as being “of Belgium.”
With Britain now having a gender neutral succession it seems wise to just retain the name of Windsor for the name of the royal family even though it may, or will, pass through the female line many times in the future. With such a proud British (or specifically English) name such as Windsor attached to the royal family this association would be lost by changing it to the House of Glücksburg. It would once again be placing the family name under something foreign and not British or English. Some have theorized that a future Charles III could hyphenate Windsor with Mountbatten, something the queen herself decreed in 1961 for all their descendants who did not hold a royal title, or Charles III could call the royal house the House of Mountbatten or even the House Edinburgh. However, none of those scenarios seem likely.
Hopefully this all doesn’t sound xenophobic. My intent was to demonstrate that since the political atmosphere has changed over the centuries when royal families ruled over many different nation-states, and that the modern monarchy is more nationalistic, it makes great sense to abandon that old practice of renaming the royal dynasty when it passed through the female line and to retain a name that reflects and honors the people whom the royal family serves.
To receive the latest Royal Central posts straight to your email inbox, enter your email address below and press subscribe.
Join 438 other subscribers