Useful Notes / The House of Windsor
Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour,
Long may she reign!
May she defend our laws,
And never give us pause
To sing with heart and voice:
"God save the Queen!"
— "God Save the Queen", third verse
On 8 February 1960, the Queen confirmed that she and her children would continue to be known as the House and Family of Windsor. Though the Royal House is named Windsor, it was decreed, via a 1960 Order-in-Council, that those male-line descendants of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip who were not Princes or Princesses of the United Kingdom should have the personal surname Mountbatten-Windsor. In practice all of their children, in honour of their father, have used Mountbatten-Windsor as their surname (although Princes William and Harry have "Wales" on their military uniforms, reflecting the long-standing tradition that when a surname is required, as for military service, a royal will use his most prestigious title as if it were a surname). Since becoming Queen, she is Elizabeth II, all other names are not used officially. There was a minor flap about her being the first Elizabeth to rule over Scotland (thus making her Elizabeth I there, if that rule were to be believed), but the Royal Family decided that when Scotland and England had different numbers of rulers of the same name, they would follow the higher one whether it was Scottish or English. As it happens, that is the rule that had (accidentally) been followed since the Act of Union 1707.note
A consequence of this is that if there were to be another King James, he would be James VIII (since James II of England was James VII of Scotland).
The Windsors were also monarchs of Ireland (till 1949 or 1937, depending on how one interprets the Irish constitution), India (till 1950), and Pakistan (till 1956). As noted below, the family was originally known as the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha), the name of the ducal house to which Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, belonged; this family also holds the monarchy of Belgium
and is descended from the late medieval Wettin Dukes of Saxony (the ones who, most famously, protected Martin Luther during the Reformation).note
George V later changed the name during World War One
to appease anti-German sentiment (his Belgian cousins did the same).
The House of Windsor, then, from most recent death to earliest:
- Born: 21 April 1926 note
- Parents: King George VI and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
- Reigned: Since 6 February 1952
- Consort: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
The current monarch, and her family
. Elizabeth is quite popular, to the point that some of the nations of the commonwealth have actually rejected
movements towards republicanism, preferring to retain her as their Head of State (even if only a ceremonial one). She is the longest-living British monarch in history, and as of September 9, 2015 the longest-reigning British monarch, beating the record formerly held by Queen Victoria
. She is also the longest-reigning and longest-lived female head of state in world history, and second only to the Sun King
in length of reign for the monarch of a European Great Power.
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
- Lived: 4 August 1900 — 30 March 2002
- Parents: Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck
- Consort: George VI
Pre-marital name Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, having been born the daughter of the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.note
Better known as "The Queen Mum", she lived for over 100 years
and died with a bank overdraft of ten million pounds, an impressive feat in these modern times—and an amusing one, since the press and the bank seemed to treat it as a kind of national joke once revealed rather than an indication of trouble. Well known for her dry wit and being a particularly lovable figure. Spitting Image
gave her a Birmingham accent—despite being ethnically Scottish
—and she was invariably caricatured as being mad keen on horse-racing and gin
. Which isn't actually that far wrong; by a conservative estimate, she had ten drinks a day minimum.note Also...
Then-Prince Albert had to propose to her three times before she said yes; she was afraid of the restrictions of royal life, but eventually decided he was worth it and agreed to marry him. It was her popularity that swung the decision in her husband's favour during the abdication crisis; Albert's younger brother Prince George was under serious consideration but it was ultimately decided that with Elizabeth beside him, Bertie could handle the job. (As noted below, Prince Albert chose "George" as his regal name when he was crowned, and so became King George VI.)
She earned longstanding devotion from the Blitz Generation for her and George VI's refusal to flee the country during World War II
; when asked to send her children to Canada for safekeeping, she famously replied, "The girls won't leave without me, I won't leave without the King and the King will never leave
". After Buckingham Palace was bombed during the Blitz, she quipped, "Finally. Now I can look the East End in the face."note
She also a cruise liner named after her,note
as well as a famous expressway in Canada
(which you take to get to Niagara Fallsnote
). After her death it was discovered that she owned an impressive library of ska music. She has been played by Sylvia Syms in The Queen
(2006), Juliet Aubrey in Bertie and Elizabeth
(2002), Helena Bonham-Carternote
in The King's Speech
, and Victoria Hamilton in The Crown
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
- Lived: 21 August 1930 — 9 February 2002
- Parents: King George VI and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
- Consort: Antony Armstrong Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon
The Queen's little sister and in many ways her complete opposite
. In 1953 she wanted to marry her father's equerry, Group Captain Peter Townsend (not that one
, although frankly he would have been right up her alley; keep reading to see why). The only problem was that he was divorced, and at this time such a marriage would have been a Very Big Deal Indeed. She eventually decided against marrying Townsend and, years later, married a society photographer named Antony Armstrong-Jones (who was made the Earl of Snowdon on his marriage to her); ironically, they themselves divorced in 1978 after years of bitter acrimony and mutual recriminations. Famously a good-time girl in her younger days—one of her closest friends was Peter Sellers
- the rumour of her having an affair with Mick Jagger
Margaret died shortly before her mother in 2002. She once said that her greatest regret in life was not having been allowed to attend school; it has been remarked that her great tragedy was to be born with frightening intelligence and no outlet for it whatsoever. No wonder she drank.
Diana, Princess of Wales
- Lived: 1 July 1961 — 31 August 1997
- Parents: John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer and Frances Shand Kydd
- Consort: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
Pre-marital name Lady Diana Spencer. You've almost certainly heard of her, often as the technically incorrect 'Princess Diana'.note
She was a member of the ancient and venerable Spencer family
(making her a distant relative of Sir Winston Churchill
, and a member of the Sloane Rangers
, a 1980s group of young Tory upper-crust and professionals. She married Charles in 1981, in what was the last royal arranged marriage, and it made both of them thoroughly unhappy - Charles was already in love with his mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles, with whom he cheated on Diana nearly as soon as they were married. Diana was only 20 when she married her 33 year old husband, and while this isn't even close to the greatest royal age gap, it contributed significantly to the unhappiness of the marriage. In the end, she bore Charles two children (Princes William and Harry), cheated on him with half the army list and the England rugby captain (the former leading to persistent rumours that one of her ginger military boyfriends is the real father of the famously redheaded and military minded Prince Harry), divorced him, and then hooked up with Dodi al Fayed. Beloved by the public both in life and in death, but more recent looks into The British Royal Family
have some people believing that she was never really suited for life as royaltynote
. Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997; since then numerous Conspiracy Theories
have arisen. The details of her death and the latest conspiracy theories are, as of 2017, still featured in the Daily Express
on a nigh daily basis, and more occasionally in other tabloids The Sun
and The Daily Mail.
She was technically no longer an HRH or a member of the royal family when she died, having given up the styling and position when she divorced Prince Charles. But she remained Princess Diana in the minds of the public, which led to a furore because people didn't realize that Queen Elizabeth
wasn't making any statements because Diana was essentially a private citizen and that the Spencers should have been handling the arrangements.
George VI of the United Kingdom
- Lived: 14 December 1895 — 6 February 1952
- Parents: King George V and Princess Mary of Teck
- Reigned: 11 December 1936 — 6 February 1952
- Consort: Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Father of the current queen, husband of the late Queen Mum. Last King of Ireland and last Emperor of India. A well meaning but painfully shy and socially awkward man (rather like his grandson Charles) who led Britain through World War II. Had the misfortune to suffer a dreadful stammer which required considerable therapy, and coaching during public addresses, by Australian speech expert Lionel Logue. Only came to the throne due to the abdication of Edward VIII (which would partly explain the shyness, as he was never groomed and trained for kingship; he had expected to have a career as a military officer—in his case, in the Navy—as was the tradition for second sons). Until then he had been known as Prince Albert, Duke of York, and remained "Bertie" to the family. One of England's most beloved monarchs due to his steadfast leadership during the War, including his famous refusal to leave the country
during the Blitz. Colin Firth
plays him in the 2010 film The King's Speech
, about him and his speech therapist. James Wilby played him in the 2002 feature Bertie and Elizabeth
, which was part of the celebration of Her Majesty's 50th year as Queen. Samuel West played him in the movie Hyde Park on Hudson
. Jared Harris played him in the The Crown (2016)
. He appears in two 2017 biopics of Winston Churchill, Ben Mendelsohn
plays him in Joe Wright
's Darkest Hour
and James Purefoy
Edward VIII of the United Kingdom
- Lived: 23 June 1894 — 28 May 1972
- Parents: King George V and Princess Mary of Teck
- Reigned: 20 January 1936 — 11 December 1936
- Consort: Wallis Simpson
Elder brother of George VI and uncle of Elizabeth II. Much more forceful than his brother, caused a constitutional crisis by his desire to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Abdicated
after less than a year on the throne and became Duke of Windsor. Pathologically hated by quite a number of people, largely due to his being, by all accounts, both selfish and an absolute jerk. Often accused of not-exactly-latent fascist sympathies◊
, and was openly racist and anti-Semitic. In 1940, he was made Governor of the Bahamas essentially against his will - the Open Secret
being that the Caribbean kept him as far from the war in Europe as possible. Despite his regnal name, the family consistently called him David. He is played by Guy Pearce in The King's Speech
It was this anomaly in the succession that inspired the 1930s setting for Ian McKellen's film adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III
. Other elements of the story appear in the film; Richard's regime is unmistakably fascist, while Edward IV's wife is given an American accent.
George V of the United Kingdom
- Lived: 3 June 1865 — 20 January 1936
- Parents: King Edward VII and Princess Alexandra of Denmark
- Reigned: 6 May 1910 — 20 January 1936
- Consort: Princess Mary of Teck
Father of Edward and George, grandfather of Elizabeth II. Solid, reliable, conservative monarch, by no means intellectually brilliant but a steady capable hand (rather like Elizabeth II in fact). Also a keen philatelist. Last British monarch with facial hair
He led Britain through World War One
. Infamously denied his cousin (Nicholas II of Russia) asylum. Tragic personal life includes the premature death of a brother (Prince Albert Victor), and his youngest son (Prince John). Technically the first Windsor - he changed the family name from the bulky "Wettin von Saxe-Coburg and Gotha" during the war to appease anti-German sentiment (particularly after the name "Gotha" became infamous due to German bombers of the same attacking London
), despite ironically being as German as his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II. When H.G. Wells referred to Britain's "alien and uninspiring court" before the name shift, George is said to have responded "I may be uninspiring, but I'll be damned if I'm an alien!
Masterminded the royal family's media image.
Famous for having last words that may or may not be a Beam Me Up, Scotty!
: during his terminal illness, one of his advisors is supposed to have said that he would soon be well enough to visit Bognor Regis. George's response? "Bugger Bognor
." He also notably had a dragon tattoo.
He looked freaking identical to his cousin Nicholas II◊
, but historians are rather disagreeing on the matter.note
Was originally a Spare to the Throne
, his elder brother Albert Victor died of influenza shortly before his wedding to...
- Lived: 26 May 1867 — 24 March 1953
- Parents: Francis, Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge
- Consort: George V
Her full name being hugely bulky even by royal standards,note
her family was technically a junior branch of the royal family of Württemberg in southwestern Germany, but she was born and raised in Britain—which is why Victoria thought her a suitable wife for her grandson, as she was thoroughly English but also of royal blood. She was originally intended to marry Albert Victor, but when he died and she and George hit it off, the Royal Family decided Why Waste a Wedding?
Thus she ended up the Queen Mum to the Queen Mum. She was a kleptomaniac and a fanatic jewel collector. Was described by one politician as "magnificent, [...] worldly, in fact nearly sublime, but cold and hard", making it appropriate that she had an ocean liner named after her.note
- Lived: 1 December 1844 — 20 November 1925
- Parents: King Christian IX of Denmark and Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel
- Consort: Edward VII
Wife of Edward VII, she was a Danish princess before she married into the British royal family. Despite being related to German royalty, she was not a fan of Kaiser Wilhelm and firmly supported the British in World War I
—indeed, relations between Prussia and Denmark often led to tension within the family, particularly as Kaiser Wilhelm was her nephew (his father Frederick III was married to Edward's elder sister Victoria) and Alexandra did not forget that Denmark had lost Schleswig-Holstein in the German-Danish War of 1864. Other than that, she was most notable for her charitable work, for her status as a fashion icon, for her deafness, and for being the great-grandmother of the current queen. Physically she was in great shape and it is said that the lissome queen once almost split her sides laughing when she saw her portly husband and his fat mistress Alice Keppel taking a walk in the garden through the window. Oh, and for Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, formed in 1902, which served with distinction in both World Wars and was eventually folded into the British military itself.
If you've ever seen a Victorian play where a female character affects a fake limp, you can thank Alexandra for that. A post-partum bout with rheumatic fever left her lame in one leg; within days the "Alexandra Limp" had become fashionable.
Edward VII of the United Kingdom
- Lived: 9 November 1841 — 6 May 1910
- Parents: Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Queen Victoria
- Reigned: 22 January 1901 — 6 May 1910
- Consort: Princess Alexandra of Denmark
Great grandfather of Elizabeth II. Lent his name to The Edwardian Era
. Prior to his coronation, known as Albert Edward, and called "Bertie" by the family even after he became King. In his fifty-nine years as Prince of Wales, he earned a reputation as a cigar smoking
(he apparently once lit up from a church candle during a service)note
, womanising, gambling, food-loving and generally lively
playboy, and was widely expected to be utterly incapable of reigning properly
, but surprised everyone by being a pretty good king.
A famous Francophile—he had loved France, the French, and French culture ever since coming with his mother and father on their only state visit abroad (to Paris in 1855), and regularly holidayed at the resort of Biarritz in the French Basque Countrynote
—paved the way for the British alliance with France (and ultimately Russia). As Prince of Wales, he also started the traditions of the British monarch and royals making public "make-a-speech-cut-the-ribbon-and-kiss-the-babies"-type public appearances and going on numerous state visits to strengthen Britain's ties with foreign states;note
in other words, it's fair to say he invented the modern role of the British monarch and royal family (since those two things occupy more of a modern royal's public exposure than anything else).
As noted, Edward was long noted for his love of a good time. He had a number of mistresses, many of them high profile (including the actress Lilly Langtry;note
Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick;note
and the society hostess Alice Keppelnote
) and a number of scandals (some involving his mistresses and some not) as Prince of Wales. He has the dubious distinction of having had to appear as a witness in not one but two high-profile and very scandalous trials, the first being the divorce trial of an MP
(where the issue was the MP's wife's cheating on him with the Prince while her husband was at sittings of Parliament) and the second case involved gambling
(and had the added indignity of his being forced to testify, rather than willingly taking the stand as he had the previous time). He was also, outside of his mistresses, a truly notorious
womanizer; he had liaisons with numerous society women (including Winston Churchill
's mother Lady Randolph Churchill and actress Sarah Bernhardt), and also had special rooms in some of the top brothels of Paris, including one with a specially-designed siège d'amour
("love chair") so even with his great weight he could take two prostitutes at once.
In the end, though, all of that was, if not forgotten, then easily forgiven—more of a national joke than an embarrassment, especially given how the rest of the late Victorian upper classes carried on. It helped that his wife didn't really mind; for all the cheating, he appears that he was actually a pretty caring and decent husband otherwise (by her lights, anyway). He was also a great lover of food—especially French food—and ended up with a 50-plus-inch waist
; again, fate spared him, and of the whole long line of fat British monarchs (i.e. every single one from George I until him), he carried it best. He was also (thus far) the last
fat British monarch; his marriage to the slender Alexandra of Denmark seems to have had the lasting effect of ensuring reasonably svelte monarchs for the next five generations. Also, peculiarly for someone so thoroughly in love with fine French cuisine, he was the one who cemented
the English tradition of eating roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and potatoes for the Sunday roast
In the end, of his numerous vices, it was his smoking (twelve cigars daily, plus twenty cigarettes) that caught up to him, and he died of heart disease after nine years on the throne in 1910. His funeral was noted by Barbara Tuchman in The Guns of August
to be the greatest assemblage of royalty in history. He was the longest-serving heir apparent in British history, until Charles beat Edward's record on 20 April 2011. Probably the only Windsor to actually enjoy being a monarch; the others seem to regard it largely as a duty.
He was also known to be a surprisingly liberal man for his time (though, considering his personal life, this is perhaps less surprising than it might be), famously taking a severe dislike to the way Indians were treated in the British Raj, saying that to the Foreign Minister of the time, Lord Granville, "because a man has a black face and a different religion than our own, there is no reason why he should be treated as a brute." At the same time, he happily included Catholics, Jews and the nouveau riche in his circle of friends, at a time when all three groups were very much persona non grata and was genuinely concerned by the plight of the poor (though, it should be noted, this was more a case of feeling feudal obligation than desiring reform). He tended to also be privately vaguely sympathetic to the Liberal Party; he counted William Gladstone
as a personal friend and mentor (to the annoyance of his mother, who greatly preferred Disraeli and rather detested Gladstone on a personal level) and generally had better relationships with his Liberal PMs (Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith) than with his Tory ones (Lord Salisbury and Balfour).
Depictions in fiction
- Edward VII (as the Prince of Wales) turns up as a character in the Flashman series, notably in Flashman and the Tiger (1999). Specifically, the tale depicts the Royal Baccarat Scandal of 1890, when Edward testified in court against card sharp Sir William Gordon-Cumming, 4th Baronet (1848-1930).
- Young James Bond in By Royal Command meets several of the house's members in the 30s, and ends up saving their lives later.
- The crime writer Peter Lovesey wrote three light-hearted novels featuring "Bertie", Prince of Wales, as an amateur detective.
- The Netflix series The Crown depicts Elizabeth II's life and reign, starting (barring flashbacks) with her marriage to Prince Philip. Various members of the House appear; in particular, the Queen Mum and Princess Margaret are regular characters from the beginning, Edward VIII is a recurring character, and both George VI and Queen Mary are regular characters in the first season (Queen Mary is a regular through to her death in the fifth episode; George VI actually lingers posthumously through copious flashbacks after he dies in the second episode). Incidentally, Jared Harris' turn as George VI has earned him much acclaim for playing the good-hearted, loving, conscientious, constantly aching monarch so perfectly.
- ITV aired a twelve-part biographic miniseries on Edward VII in 1975, titled fittingly Edward the Seventh. Incidentally, the title role was played by Timothy West, whose son Samuel would later play George VI in Hyde Park on Hudson.
- Edward VIII appears while Prince of Wales in the 1923-set Series 4 Christmas Special of Downton Abbey, in which his dalliance with Freda Dudley Ward gets the Crawleys caught up in a mess. The Crawleys fix it, and so the Prince (at Mrs Dudley Ward's insistence) attends and opens Lady Rose's ball (which he is only too happy to do, as although he is unaware of how the Crawleys have saved his reputation, he rather liked Rose's father's reception for him in India and rather likes the look of Rose herself).
- George V (and Queen Mary) also shows up briefly, when Rose is presented. He even talks to Rose, mentioning her father's service.
- Call the Midwife: Chummy, coming from an upper-class background (her father was a colonial civil servant in India and later knighted), has met a few of the royals, and manages to get Princess Margaret to formally open the Poplar Community Centre in Series 3 (1959). We only see Princess Margaret from the back, though, and she has no lines (although she clearly talks to Chummy, we don't hear what they say).
- Spitting Image: Arguably the funniest depiction of the British Royal Family in the 1980s and 1990s, though it has been rumored that they all hated it. Not surprising, really!
- UK Channel 4 sitcom The Windsors portrayed the family as a soap opera like Dallas or Dynasty, with Camilla and Pippa as villainesses, Wills and Kate as nominal heroes and the rest of the family as either deluded or incompetent. It mixes real events with soap opera tropes such as amnesia, long-lost twins and dream sequences.
- The second season of FX's Feud (Feud: Charles and Diana) will focus on the relationship between Princess Diana and Prince Charles.
We go back any further, we're into the Hanover dynasty