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A Royal Change of Name – House of Windsor Centenary

Photo: King George V (centre, mounted) inspects 29th Division in March 1915 prior to the division's deployment to Gallipoli. The division's commander, Major General Hunter-Weston, rides alongside the King.

 

On 17 July, 100 years ago, a proclamation by King George V stated:

By the KING. A PROCLAMATION declaring that the Name of Windsor is to be borne by his Royal House and Family and Relinquishing the Use of All German Titles and Dignities.

This began the House of Windsor, the name proposed by the private secretary to the King, Lord Stamfordham, and a name as established and timeless as that of past royal houses, such as Tudor or Plantagenet. The change of name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha transpired because King George V felt it inappropriate for the Royal House to use the name while at war with Germany. The name Windsor itself came from the long association of the Berkshire town, and the castle, with the Royal Family. An association which has continued, the castle’s famous ‘Round Tower’ later forming part of the design of the new House’s badge.

HRH King George V (holding telescope) observes the 1916 Battle of Pozieres. [NLS]

With the outbreak of war, many were quick to change their Germanic names. Anti-German sentiment grew rapidly as years of tension turned into war, the invasion of Belgium and atrocities conducted there providing ample fuel for propagandists to alter perceptions. In Russia, St Petersburg became Petrograd, while in Britain businesses with Germanic names were attacked. Dachshunds, known to be a favourite of Kaiser Wilhelm II, were used to ridicule the leader in cartoons, and some attacked by frenzied aggressors. The German Shepard was also ‘rebranded’ as Alsatian.

King George V presents Corporal George Julian “Snowy” Howell, 1st Battalion, AIF, with his Victoria Cross and Military Medal, 21 July 1917. [AWM]

The Gotha surname of the Royals survived, however. Tradition protected them, the name being in use since 1840, as did the unquestionable patriotism of the King and his Queen, Mary, an austere and thrifty couple seen to be un-extravagant in hard times. The King was the public face of a monarchy at war and a national figurehead vital to public morale, he assiduously inspected soldiers from across the Empire and Commonwealth, visited the Western Front, toured factories and hospitals, and decorated thousands of worthy men.

A Gotha raider, depicted on 7 July 1917. Destination, London.

However, in March 1917, the British faced a new threat, the Gotha G.IV. The deadly bomber which shared its name with the King, and much harder to stop than the Zeppelins preceding it. As raids grew in destructiveness, the King opted to distance his house from its German roots. In accordance to the proclamation, the change of name to Windsor applied to all British descendants of Victoria and Albert in the male line, except for women who married into other families.

King George V and Queen Mary visit Taplow Hospital, August 23, 1917. [Library and Archives Canada]

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