As most royal watchers are already well aware, most members of the British royal family generally don’t use a last name but if they do, it is Windsor. Until Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne, this was the de facto last name for all royal descendants, but her marriage to the late Prince Philip changed all that. Now, there are four members of the royal family who use a new, more modern last name, which just might be the most exclusive in the world.
The Changing Last Name Of British Royalty
The last name of the royal family hasn’t always been Windsor. During the first World War, in 1917, King George V, Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, changed the family’s last name to the decidedly British surname of Windsor thanks to anti-German sentiment at the time.
Previously, the royal family had been known by their “house” name, and since many members of the royal family intermarried with royals from all over Europe, there were quite a few varieties of “houses.” At that time, the official surname for the royal family was “House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.” The last name was changed in order to cement British loyalty.
Surnames for members of royalty are largely a matter of formality, as most simply go by their title and their first name, like Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles, but the drastic change ensured that the people of Britain knew where their monarch’s true focus was: on them.
The Trouble With Prince Philip
When Queen Elizabeth, then only Princess Elizabeth, first married her late husband Prince Philip, there were naturally questions about what their children’s surnames would be. Traditionally, last names are determined by their father’s name, but it would be the queen who would sit upon the throne. There was also the trouble of Philip’s lineage, which was further complicated by World War II.
Philip was a prince of Greece and also had some German noble titles thanks to his mother’s side of the family. Shortly before he and Queen Elizabeth wed in 1947, he became a naturalized citizen of the U.K. and anglicized his last name to Mountbatten from the more Germanic Battenberg, a name that also came from his mother’s side.
The Modernization Of The Royal Family
After conferring with the Prime Minister and the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth initially determined that her children with Prince Philip would take her family’s last name in accordance with her grandfather’s decree. Philip, it was reported, was deeply unhappy with the decision, allegedly announcing that he was considered “nothing but a bloody amoeba” and was “the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.” His displeasure wouldn’t last long, however.
The decree from King George V set forth the rule that “all descendants in the male line of Queen Victoria, who are subjects of these realms, other than female descendants who marry or who have married, shall bear the name of Windsor.” Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip found a clever workaround, however, that led them to be able to distinguish their own descendants apart from all other royal family members.
Who Gets The Mountbatten-Windsor Surname?
In 1960, Queen Elizabeth declared that her descendants, except for those with the style of Royal Highness, the title of Prince/Princess, or female progeny who marry, would bear the surname of Mountbatten-Windsor. At this time, only four members of the royal family bear this name. Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, has two children whose last names are Mountbatten-Windsor as neither of them carries the title of Prince or Princess.
Prince Harry’s children are also members of the exclusive Mountbatten-Windsor club since neither are considered royal highnesses. Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie would also have been able to use the last name, but both have since married and taken their husbands’ names as their own. When Prince George ascends the throne, it’s very likely that his own siblings will use the Mountbatten-Windsor hyphenation for their own kids, creating a legacy that will last for generations.