The following article is published with the kind permission of the author George Wilson, Hertfordshire Constabulary Great War Society and Dr. F.R.J. Newman PhD - editor of Trench Foot Notes.
JULY 1917: BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY
CHANGES NAME TO WINDSOR
In July 2017 various newspapers and news organisations recounted that one hundred years ago on 17th July 1917, by proclamation, George V announced the name of Windsor is to be borne by his Royal House and Family and relinquishing the use of All German Titles and Dignities. The result was an unambiguous severing of any connections of the British royal family to their German counterparts including the King’s cousin - Wilhelm II the Kaiser.
I summarise the family relationships of the British and German royal families prior to the outbreak of the Great War. Queen Victoria – was the last monarch of the house of Hanover and Great Britain on the British throne; when she married Prince Albert on 10th February 1840, he was a duke of Saxony and a prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Their son King Edward VII was the first British monarch of the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha through his father.
Throughout the four years of the conflict, both in Great Britain and the Empire, anti-German
feeling frequently surfaced, no doubt exacerbated by the heavy casualties suffered by the allies before Germany was defeated. In Great Britain the sinking of the liner Lusitania in 1915 by a German submarine with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives, prompted days of anti-German rioting in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and elsewhere, causing wholesale destruction of German owned businesses. The trial and execution of Nurse Edith Cavell for alleged spying also aroused revulsion with predictable consequences.
An early harbinger of resentment against the close family connections between the royal family and their German relatives resulted in strident criticism from some newspapers that Austrian-born Prince Louis of Battenberg, a key member of the royal circle in 1914 was the First Sea Lord. His position became untenable and he resigned. Shortly afterwards the family changed their name to Mountbatten.
It was the King’s private secretary Lord Stamfordham who suggested the name ‘Windsor’, which had never been used before, and was approved by George V. Why the decision was made nearly three years after the outbreak of the war is a matter of conjecture; however various sources suggest the catalyst for change came with raids by German bombers in southern England, particularly in the London area. These attacks resulted in loss of life and serious damage to civilian homes, which had no strategic importance to the British war effort. On 13th June 1917, during one of the first attacks, 18 children were killed when a bomb fell directly onto Upper North Street School in Poplar, south London. The German bombers were of Gotha type – by coincidence the same name as the royal Family.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday 18th July 1917, in addition to publishing the full text of the proclamation, commenting on the adoption of the name ‘Windsor’, said there were several names which had been considered – Plantagenet, York, Lancaster, Tudor, Stewart. D’Este and FitzRoy, but there were reasons (not specified) which stood in the way of any of them being revived.
The decision by King George V was declared at a meeting of the Privy Council on 17th July and immediately circulated to government departments and overseas to the dominions and colonies, and published in the London Gazette and widely reproduced in newspapers. The wording of the proclamation is set out below.
“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
And WHEREAS We have further determined for Ourselves and for and behalf of Our descendants and all other descendants of Our Grandmother Queen Victoria of blessed and glorious memory to relinquish and discontinue the use of German Titles and Dignities:
And WHEREAS We have declared these Our determinations in Our Privy Council:
NOW, THEREFORE, We, out of our Royal Will and Authority, do hereby declare and announce that 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 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 be married, shall bear the said name of Windsor.
And do hereby further declare and announce that We for Ourselves and for and on behalf of Our descendants and all the other descendants of Our said Grandmother Queen Victoria who are subjects of these Realms, relinquish and enjoin the discontinuance of the use of the Degrees, Styles, Dignities, Titles and Honours of Dukes and Duchesses of Saxony and Prince and Princesses of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and all other German Degrees, Styles, Dignities, Titles and Honours and Appellations to Us or to them heretofore belonging or appertaining.
Given at Our Court at Buckingham Palace, this Seventeenth day of July, in the year of our Lord One Thousand nine hundred and seventeen, and in the Eight Year of Our Reign.
GOD SAVE THE KING”
Newspapers: Daily Telegraph and The Guardian
Websites: National Archives
The House of Windsor
The Crown Chronicles
BBC News Channel