July 17, 1917.
HM King George V
Anti German feelings were running high in the United Kingdom during World War I. Ever since the death of Queen Victoria, who was a member of the House of Hanover, the name of Britain’s royal house was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, named after the German duchy where Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, had originated. Under this pressure King George V decided to change the name of the royal house and to relinquish all German titles for himself and extended family members living in the United Kingdom. As members of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha they were also titled Duke or Duchess of Saxony.
By Royal Proclamation on this date HM King George V changed the name of the royal house to Windsor.
Now, therefore, We, out of Our Royal Will and Authority, do hereby declare and announce that as from the date of this Our Royal Proclamation Our House and Family shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor, and that all the descendants in the male line of Our said Grandmother Queen Victoria who are subjects of these Realms, other than female descendants who may marry or may have married, shall bear the said Name of Windsor.
Windsor Castle had long been associated with the Monarchy and naming a dynasty after a Castle did have precidence in Europe. Both the Habsburg and Hohenzollern royal families were named after castles.
Descendants in the female line from Queen Victoria (or in the case of the Teck family were descendants of George III in the female line) also had to relinquish their German styles and titles. The Battenberg family anglicized their name to Mountbatten while the Teck family, which Queen Mary belonged, became the Cambridge family stemming from their maternal descent from HRH Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, 7th son of King George III.
HSH Prince Louis of Battenberg (married to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine) and his children relinquished their German titles and on November 7, 1917 King George V created Louis, Marquess of Milford Haven, Earl of Medina, and Viscount Alderney in the peerage of the United Kingdom. At this time his younger three children, Louise, George and Louis also dropped their princely titles and adopted the surname Mountbatten. The youngest son, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, was Britain’s last Viceroy of India. The eldest daughter, Alice, had married prince Andrea of Greece and never bore the surname Mounbatten. However, her son, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, did choose Mountbatten has his surname when he became a British subject in 1947.
The Duke of Teck, Prince Adolphus, brother of Queen Mary, became Adolphus Cambridge and was made a Peer of the Realm by King George V as Marquess of Cambridge, Earl of Eltham, and Viscount Northallerton. Queen Mary’s younger brother, Prince Alexander of Teck, was married to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Alice of Albany, created him as Earl of Athlone and Viscount Trematon. Princess Alice was allowed to keep her royal title as she was a male line descendant of Queen Victoria.
The name of the dynasty will remain the same during the reign of a Queen Regnant. For example, Queen Mary I 1553-1558, remained a Tudor despite being married to a Habsburg. Queen Anne remained a Stuart despite being married to a Danish prince of the House of Oldenburg. The same with Queen Victoria, the name of the Royal House did not change from Hanover to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until the accession of her son. King Edward VII, in 1901. However, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s uncle, wanted the Queen Elizabeth II to issue a proclamation in 1952 changing the name of the royal house to that of Mountbatten. Queen Mary was a wee bit upset about this maneuver and spoke to Prime Minister Winston Churchill about the issue. Later that year the queen did issue her own proclamation affirming the name of her family and royal house as that of Windsor. This was slightly amended in 1960 where the queen proclaimed that male descendants of her and Philip who are not titled Prince or Princess of the United Kingdom will carry the surname Mountbatten-Windsor. This did not change the name of the Royal House.
What about the future? This is from the website of the British monarchy.
A proclamation on the Royal Family name by the reigning monarch is not statutory; unlike an Act of Parliament, it does not pass into the law of the land. Such a proclamation is not binding on succeeding reigning sovereigns, nor does it set a precedent which must be followed by reigning sovereigns who come after.
The tradition would have it that when Charles becomes king the name of the Royal House would change. Philip was a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a branch of the House of Oldenburg. Charles could keep the name Windsor or the name of his Father’s royal house or the name Mounbatten or Mountbatten-Windsor. Being the traditionalist that I am I was all in favor of changing the name to reflect the new royal house on Charles’s accession. However, I have changed my mind. Given that the British monarchy will change to cognatic primogeniture where the eldest child succeeds to the throne regardless of gender it makes more sense to retain the name Windsor. In the future we could have the same situation as the Dutch where three Queen Regnants have reigned. It would just be silly and cumbersome to change the royal house each and every time. The Dutch remain the House of Orange-Nassau. Besides, Windsor is a very British sounding name and so associated with the monarchy that I now think it should remain…forever.