Following on from my musings about The Crown, here are some interesting facts about the British royal family. If you’ve ever wondered about their surname, the Queen’s full title or how the line of succession works, wonder no further…
Is it the House of Windsor, or Mountbatten-Windsor?
The official name of the British royal family is Windsor and has been since 1917, when George V changed the name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor because of anti-German sentiment in Britain and the Empire during the First World War (this had become increasingly problematic after the Germans had developed a twin-engined bomber called the Gotha G.IV which was capable of crossing the Channel and therefore bombing London). ‘Windsor’ was chosen because of that name’s long association with the monarchy.
The Mountbatten complication arose in 1952 when Elizabeth II succeeded to the throne, leading to questions about whether her children would use their father’s surname. By birth, Prince Philip had been a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg (which provided the royal families of Denmark and Greece, hence his nickname ‘Phil the Greek’) but when he took British citizenship in 1947 he abandoned his foreign titles and took the surname Mountbatten, which was that of his mother's family (his mother was the daughter of Prince Louis of Battenburg, who had relinquished his own German titles and changed his name to the more English-sounding Mountbatten in 1917). While the idea of changing the royal family’s name to the House of Mountbatten (or Mountbatten-Windsor) was obviously supported by Prince Philip’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, it was opposed by (among others) the Queen Mother and the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
In 1952 it was declared that the royal family would continue to be called the House of Windsor, but a 1960 declaration states that descendants of the Queen and Prince Philip can use the surname Mountbatten-Windsor if they want to. Surname usage among the Queen’s children and grandchildren varies. Princes Charles and Andrew were both referred to as ‘Lieutenant Windsor’ when they served in the Royal Navy, while Prince Edward has styled himself as ‘Edward Windsor’ for his TV work and his daughter, who does not have a royal title or a peerage, is called Lady Louise Windsor. Princess Anne and Prince Andrew both entered the name ‘Mountbatten-Windsor’ in official marriage register entries, while Prince William was referred to as ‘William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor’ by the French courts during a lawsuit against a magazine that had published topless photographs of his wife. Meanwhile, Princes William and Harry have both used the surname ‘Wales’ while Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie have both used the surname ‘York’, referring to their fathers’ titles.
The Queen’s full title
“Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”
This varies slightly in the “other Realms” of which she is head of state, and in Canada it is of course given in French as well. The Queen’s title is partly reiterated in the lettering on our coins – D.G.REG.F.D. stands for Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensatrix, which is Latin for ‘By the Grace of God, Queen and Defender of the Faith’.
‘Defender of the Faith’ dates back to the 16th century. In 1521, Henry VIII was granted this title by the Pope in recognition of his opposition to the ideas of Martin Luther. He wasn’t the only one; his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was also a Defender of the Faith as were two Kings of Scotland, James IV and James V. The Pope revoked Henry’s title in 1530 following the break with Rome, however in 1544 Parliament voted to give Henry the title as a defender of the new Anglican faith. It’s in this sense that it has been passed onto his successors.
‘Head of the Commonwealth’ is more recent – it was created for George VI in 1950. Before this, the Commonwealth was a group of countries which all had the same monarch, but this changed when India wished to become a republic but remain a member. The solution was to give the monarch a new title. Today, most Commonwealth member-states are republics; there are 31 of them, along with 16 Commonwealth Realms – the ones which have the Queen as their head of state – and five more that have their own monarchies.
The line of succession
Succession to the British throne is determined by legitimacy, religion and descent. The rules as they now stand date back to the Bill of Rights (1689) and the Act of Settlement (1701). Succession is limited to those who are born within wedlock, in communion with the Church of England (ie. not of the Roman Catholic faith) and descended from Sophia, Electress of Hanover (1630-1714; more on her in a later post). The rules are the same in each of the 16 Commonwealth Realms – they have to be, in order for them all to have the same monarch. In 2011 the Prime Ministers of the Realms decided on some changes to the rules of succession, and the changes – which in this country fall under the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 – became law last year; specifically, the rule which disqualified anyone who married a Roman Catholic was got rid of, as was the the male-preference primogeniture requirement (ie. boys before girls, regardless of who was born first) for anyone born after the rule-change.
At the time of writing, and limiting it to the descendants of HM Queen Elizabeth II, the line of succession is as follows:
1. HRH Prince Charles (68), eldest son
2. HRH Prince William (34), grandson
3. HRH Prince George (3), great-grandson
4. HRH Princess Charlotte (1), great-grand-daughter
5. HRH Prince Harry (32), grandson
6. HRH Prince Andrew (56), son
7. HRH Princess Beatrice (28), grand-daughter
8. HRH Princess Eugenie (26), grand-daughter
9. HRH Prince Edward (52), son
10. James, Viscount Severn (8), grandson
11. Lady Louise Windsor (13), grand-daughter
12. HRH Princess Anne (66), daughter
13. Peter Phillips (39), grandson
14. Savannah Phillips (6), great-grand-daughter
15. Isla Phillips (4), great-grand-daughter
16. Zara Tindall (35), grand-daughter
17. Mia Tindall (2), great-grand-daughter
The line continues through the descendants of the Queen’s late sister, Princess Margaret, and then to the eligible descendants of their father’s siblings, followed by the eligible descendants of previous monarchs. No complete line of succession is maintained so the exact position of those who are far down the list is uncertain. An unofficial list compiled in 2011 contains the names of 5,753 living and eligible descendants of the Electress Sophia; in this, Prince Philip – the oldest living great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria – is 679th in line to his wife’s throne.