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Happy Birthday to the House of Windsor!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17th is an historical day for the modern British royal family, because their House name, Windsor, came to be ninety four years ago today when George V proclaimed the change from Saxe-Coburg-Gothe to Windsor.  This was not a naturally occurring transition.  The House name changes either when there is a change from lineal descent, such as when Henry IV, a Lancaster, usurped the throne from his cousin, Richard II, a Plantagenet; or when the throne passes down through a female who marries or leaves no direct issue.  Every Queen of England, few though there have been, has signaled a change in House name when her son or heir assumes the throne.  

William the Conqueror

Since the Norman invasion, when William the Conqueror sailed to England and kicked off the period of history we term the Middle Ages, there have been only six reigning women, if you don't count Maude in the 12th century.  Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I were both Tudors and when Elizabeth died the throne passed to the Stuart king, James I, James VI of Scotland.  The House name changed again when Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, also died without issue and the throne jumped to the House of Hanover. 

Queen Anne, the last Stuart

As a woman, Queen Victoria was therefore immediately the last of her House.  Although, she reigned as a Hanover, when she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha her son took his father's name and upon his accession to throne on his mother's death became Edward VII of Saxe-Coburg-Gothe.  Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was, however, destined to be the shortest lived Royal House in British history.  Edward VII's son, George V found himself and his deeply Germanic House name in some trouble when public opinion of Germany hit a low.

George V, the first Windsor.

In 1917 Britain was still engaged in the very brutal first World War against Germany and royal family was understandably uncomfortable with their name's close association to that country.  George V made the unprecedented step to change his family's name altogether and on July 17th proclaimed the very British sounding Windsor to be new name, throwing off all titles and links to their German heritage.

Edward III

Windsor dates all the way back to the most magnificent king of the Middle Ages.  Although, the declining years of his reign were scarred by the Black Death, Edward III's glorious fifty year reign took the island country from the degradation of Edward II's failed leadership, to the heights of the medieval golden age.  Edward was a phenomenal military leader and his victories are still remembered with respect and pride.  The culture and chivalry he renewed and cultivated are some of Britain's richest patrimony from the time period.  Most notably, the Order of the Garter--the highest order of chivalry in England-- is still alive today as we so recently saw in June.  Edward was born at Windsor and so was often refereed to as Edward of Windsor, just as many others were first denominated by their birthplace, eg Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV) and Henry of Monmouth who became Henry V.  


By the time George V looked around for a new name to give his family, Windsor was age-old, classically British without the overwhelming history that names such as Lancaster, York, and Plantagenet held. Although, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh (Philip Mountbatten) did make a non-binding proclamation giving the use of the personal surname Mountbatten-Windsor to their descendants, the House and Family names remain Windsor. Princes Charles, when he ascends the throne, could change that, but it seems likely that the House of Windsor will continue to be the House of Windsor. 

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