Today in 1917, the House of Windsor was born. Taking its name from the ancient castle which stands at the heart of the Monarchy, George V was trying to distance himself from his family’s German relations at a time of war.
The King and Kaiser were cousins, but now at war thanks to a series of complicated treaties and alliances. As many Royals throughout Europe today, George had familial connections in countries that were no longer friends of Britain, thanks to Queen Victoria’s matches for her children.
Sensing the mood of the country, after huge losses and the bombing of London by the Germans’ new Gotha G.IV during World War One, the King knew he and his family had to prove themselves to be British – and the name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha didn’t cut the mustard.
Earlier that year, Nicholas II, Emperor (Tsar) of Russia and George’s cousin, was forced to abdicate, too. An intuitive King, with a good advisor in Lord Stamfordham, George could see where Europe was heading: to the abolition of monarchies. 27 were taken down through the course of the war and afterwards.
Taking his inspiration from Windsor Castle, whose history stretches back to the Norman Conquest of 1066, and is an enduring symbol of the British Monarchy. The Round Tower in the Middle Ward even features on the house’s badge, surrounded by the leaves from an English oak.
It was on 17th July 1917, that a royal proclamation was issued by George V, declaring:
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….
The declaration also renounced the right to German titles – just to be on the safe side:
[we] relinquish and enjoin the discontinuance of the use of the Degrees, Styles, Dignities, Titles and Honours of Dukes and Duchesses of Saxony and Princes and Princesses of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and all other German Degrees, Styles, Dignities. Titles, Honours and Appellations to Us or to them heretofore belonging or appertaining.
Along with this, George issued decrees that a dozen or more of his German relatives would be stripped of their British titles – to the approval of his people. He and his consort, Mary, also then encouraged their children to marry into British aristocratic families, and not foreign Royalty.
It was partly this change, and George’s foresight, that has ensured the stability and continuity of the British Monarchy; he knew that to survive, they had to change with the times – even if he and Queen Mary were very conservative Victorians!
WWI had brought about so much change, he knew that the world would not be the same again: the women’s suffrage movement, the huge loss of life in a modern war and much more besides.
This is why George was the first Monarch to address his people over the radio, beginning the traditional Christmas speech, which The Queen continues – now on TV. He also created honours for ordinary people, The Order of the British Empire, which continues today, and pioneered mingling with his people, believe it or not. Before this, Royals would not have visited factories and industrial towns; but George knew that being seen was to be believed; papers would report on the activities of the Royal Family, but it meant nothing if they could not see their King and Queen.
George V was truly a maker of the modern Monarchy, and the father of the House of Windsor.