The Royal Surname

The Royal Surname

The late Queen Elizabeth II declared in Council on 9 April 1952 that she and her children would be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor, as was her father, King George VI. In this she followed the example, among others, of the Imperial Houses of Habsburg and Romanov and the Royal House of Orange.

All these reigning houses had passed through the female line to scions of the Houses of Lorraine, Holstein-Gottorp and Mecklenburg-Schwerin respectively. But, although the descendants belonged paternally to these Houses, in each case they continued the original House names of their predecessors in the female line. Despite the Queen’s surname having been Mountbatten since her marriage in 1947 as Princess Elizabeth, this was then abandoned two months after her accession on the advice of Sir Winston Churchill. 

On 8 February 1960, there was a declaration in Council that descendants of the Queen should bear the surname of Mountbatten-Windsor, other than those bearing Royal attributes and female descendants who marry into other families. This followed a sermon by the Bishop of Carlisle (the Rt Rev Thomas Bloomer) delivered shortly before Prince Andrew’s birth. The Bishop said that he did not like to think that any child born in wedlock should be deprived of his father’s family name, a right and privilege that every other legitimate child possessed. 

At the same time as the Queen’s Declaration, the Press Secretary at Buckingham Palace issued a statement: 

The Queen has always wanted, without changing the name of the Royal House established by her grandfather, to associate the name of her husband with her own and his descendants. The Queen has had this in mind for a long time and it is close to her heart. 

The late Mr E. F. Iwi, an eminent constitutional lawyer, expressed the view that there was a distinction between the House and Family of Windsor collectively and members of the Royal Family as individuals. Consequently when, in 1973, Princess Anne married Captain Mark Phillips, her surname on her marriage certificate was shown as Mountbatten-Windsor. Thus, the intention was to give a wider interpretation than that precisely stated in the 1960 Declaration. 

Historic Surnames

The house and family name of Windsor was adopted by King George V in 1917 on the suggestion of his Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, after many proposals had been rejected. This was a happy choice, for Windsor Castle has been a seat of the Royal Family since William the Conqueror. The Norman and early Plantagenet kings usually were known by nicknames or names bearing allusions to their parentage, such as William Rufus, Henry Beauclerc and Henry FitzEmpress. From the early 14th century, it became customary to style members of the Royal Family by their birthplaces, such as Edward II, who was known as Edward of Caernarvon, Edward III and Henry VI who were known by their birthplace at Windsor and John of Gaunt who was born in Ghent. 

It was only with the father of Edward IV that the name of Plantagenet as a surname came into being. The first recorded use of this name was in 1448. The origin goes back to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, the father of Henry II, who was nicknamed Plantagenet from his adoption of a sprig of flowering broom or Planta genista as his badge. 

The Tudors take their name from Henry VII’s great-grandfather, Maredudd (Meredith) ap Tudur (Tudor). The Welsh did not have surnames at this time, sons bearing the qualification ‘ap’ (meaning ‘son of’), followed by their father’s christian name. Henry VII’s grandfather, Owen Tudor, son of Meredith, was also known sometimes as Owen Meredith.  

In Scotland, both the Bruces and Stewarts had these surnames before their succession to the throne. The Stewarts were so called from their hereditary office of High Steward of Scotland. In the time of Mary, Queen of Scots the French form of Stuart was first used, but her husband and kinsman, Henry, Lord Darnley, belonged to the Lennox branch of the Stewarts. Their son, James VI and I, also adopted the French spelling. 

There has been controversy as to the surname of members of the Houses of Hanover and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, but since both families were of ruling status before surnames came into being, they did not possess one. Nevertheless, dynastic names, as distinct from surnames, came to be used. The House of Hanover is sometimes held to have the dynastic name of Guelph and sometimes that of Este. Their ancestors were lords of Este, a small feudal principality in Lombardy, from the 9th century. On marriage to a Bavarian heiress of the House of Guelph (Welf), they moved from Italy to Germany. The children of Queen Victoria’s uncle, The Duke of Sussex, by an irregular marriage, used the name of d’Este, but another uncle, later William IV, was sometimes known as Guelph when he joined the Royal Navy. A former Clarenceux King of Arms dismissed as absurd the idea that his name was Guelph, and Queen Victoria sent a memo to dispute that this name should be used for an exhibition of treasures of the House of Hanover.  

The family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha has been traced to Thierry (Dietrich) of Buzici, a Thuringian noble living in 950, who founded the line of the Counts of Wettin, a small town on the banks of the river Saale in Saxony. The dynastic name of this family as Wettin thus cannot be regarded as a surname. 

The late Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, belonged paternally to the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, which, in turn, is a branch of the House of Oldenburg. When Prince Phillip became a British subject in 1947 he possessed no surname and one had to be selected. Oldcastle from Oldenburg was suggested but rejected. Eventually he chose Mountbatten, the anglicised form of his mother’s name of Battenberg. The Battenbergs were descended from the Grand Ducal Family of Hesse through the morganatic marriage of Prince Alexander of Hesse and the Rhine to Countess Julie von Hauke, who was created Princess of Battenberg. The Grand Ducal Family of Hesse descends in the male line from Regnier, Count of Hainault, who died in 915. The Percys, Earls of Northumberland belonged to the same male stock until 1670. 

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