The Windsors, the royal family of England who wanted to hide their German past

In 1917 King George V had a serious image and leadership problem. He was closely related to the royal houses of his enemies in World War I, and even his surname was German: Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. From March of that same year, when the German plane Gotha G.IV began to bomb London, his name was directly abhorred by his subjects. It was not his fault, he was a British citizen by birth, like his father and her grandmother, Queen Victoria, and her ancestors. The problem is that his grandfather, who bequeathed him the surname, belonged to a German ducal lineage. George V decided to cut to the chase and erase any German reference in his name. Thus, on July 17, 1917, he issued an edict stating that “from the date of this Our Royal Proclamation, Our House and Family shall be denominated and known as the House and Family of Windsor“.

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This is the origin of the surname that has been used by British monarchs ever since, including Queen Elizabeth II and her son and heir Charles III. George V chose him for his millennial relationship with the English monarchy. Windsor Castle was erected by William I the Conqueror shortly after the Norman Conquest and it is linked to the British royal house since the 11th century.

But German blood had run through the veins of the British royal family for at least 200 years before of the name change without having been a serious problem. In 1714 George I, British and great-grandson of James IV Stuart on his mother’s side and German and heir to the Duchy of Hanover on his father’s side, was enthroned as King of Great Britain and Ireland, beginning the reign of the Hanoverians. This dynasty lasted until the reign of Queen Victoria, who married Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, so although her son Edward VII was a direct descendant of the first Hanoverian monarch, the name of the British royal house changed to that of his father when he acceded to the throne in 1901.

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A cartoon from the time shows George V sweeping away his German ancestors to hide them.

Photo: CC

The king playboy

Charles III’s great-great-grandfather married Princess Alexandra of Denmark, with whom he had five children. This married life did not prevent him be a recognized playboy and lover of the good life. His reign coincided with the so-called Belle Époque, an era of scientific and technological advances that allowed for a pleasant and luxurious life, especially for those who could afford it.

Edward VII had multiple lovers, among which were chorus girls and actresses like Sarah Bernhardt herself. He was in a relationship with Lady Randolph Churchill, the mother of Winston Churchill. Her lust was matched only by her overweight, and cabinetmaker Louis Soubrier made her what he called “the love chair” so she could have sex at the Le Chabanais brothel.

Edward VII was a lusty bon vivant who had multiple lovers, while his son George had to face World War I.

Eduardo reigned less than a decade, a few years of peace and abundance that his heirs would not enjoy. In 1910, JorgeV succeeded his father and had to face the Great War, to the loss of prestige of her family and the change of name that kept her on the throne. Not only that, but she suffered from the bloody civil conflict in Ireland in the 1920s that would lead to the partition of the island and the serious economic recession that affected the world in the 1930s.

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Queen Victoria flanked by her son, the future Edward VII on the left of the image, and her grandson, George V, on the day of the christening of the latter’s eldest son (which the queen is holding), the short-lived Edward VIII.

Photo: The Print Collector/Heritage Images/Cordon Press

A villain and a hero

The convulsive years 30 would also mark the very short reign of his son and heir Eduardo VIII. accused of having too much sympathy with the Nazi regime –once again the German ghost loomed over the British royal family–, Eduardo reigned between January 20 and November 17, 1936 and abdicated in the face of political and family pressure so that he could choose between the throne or his fiancée, Wallis Simpson, a divorced American commoner. He eventually relinquished the throne and spent the rest of his life in Paris, with little contact with the royal family.

The successor of this ephemeral king was his brother, who ascended the throne with the name of George VI, and became the antithesis of the hated Edward VIII. George VI did not expect to ascend to the throne and is known to have overcome his diction and stuttering problems and is considered, along with Winston Churchill, a hero who knew how to keep the country united and resistant to the harsh years of World War II. A heavy smoker, Elizabeth II’s father died of lung cancer in 1952, at the age of 52.

The future

With the death of Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch in the history of the United Kingdom, an era of the English monarchy closes. The same has not happened to Carlos III as to her grandfather Edurado VII, since Elizabeth II and her husband, Philip of Edinburgh, agreed that his direct descendants would retain the surname Windsor onwards.

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The family tree of Elizabeth II and her direct descendants.

Photo: National Geographic Story

Elizabeth II’s fame as the grandmother of all English It will not be able to be matched by his son and successor and who knows if he will return to plan the possibility of the end of the monarchy as it was about to happen at the beginning of the century. But the current royal family has secured the line of succession, in the figure of William, who became Prince of Wales and that of his eldest son George, second in line to succession, right now.

If something were to happen, her brothers Carlota and Luis should be the next ones to have the responsibility of reigning. The following in the line of succession should be sought in Prince Henry and his children. Faced with the very remote possibility of having to leave the line of the current monarch, Carlos III, it would be necessary to resort to the descendants of his brothers. This may not be seen as a real possibility, but it is just what happened to the German great-grandson of James I when, a century into his reign, the Stuarts were left childless and they had to go to Germany to look for her to find what would become the first Hanover, George I.

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The Windsors, the royal family of England who wanted to hide their German past