History is chock full of monarchs who haven’t cared much about public opinion. But what to do when you’ve got a royal PR problem that you just have to take care of — the kind of issue that isn’t about some rogue prince doing something dense or a queen causing some minor embarrassment? What do you do when your whole family is in a pickle?
Such was the predicament of England’s ruling House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (a German name) during World War I.
“How did British royalty get a German name?” you might ask. Well, to help solidify strategic alliances between powers, European royalty often intermarried. And so it was that Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840 (and that their children and grandchildren married extensively into royal families across the continent, earning Victoria the nickname ‘the grandmother of Europe’). But since royal heirs take the surname of their father, Victoria was the last monarch in the House of Hanover when she died in 1901, and her kids inherited Prince Albert’s House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
At the time, this wasn’t a problem. But then World War I happened. And with anti-German sentiment already high, King George V (Victoria and Albert’s grandson) really had a PR issue when the Germans began launching bombings of London using an aircraft called the Gotha G.IV in March 1917. Add to that the abdication of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II (George’s first cousin you won’t be surprised to learn!), and the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha felt under enough threat to divest the surname and “all other German degrees, styles, titles, dignatories, honours and appelations”.
“Windsor” had a nice ring to it, so they switched to that. And that is the House to which Queen Elizabeth II belongs.
So I think the lesson here is if you’ve ever got a PR issue, don’t panic– try rebranding the problem (if possible with a patriotic sounding name) and you should be all set.