How the Royal Family Shook off Their German Roots the Queen and the Germans: A Right Royal History Lesson Meet the Family Formerly Known as the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas the Queen and the Germans: A Right Royal History Lesson How the British Royal Family Shook off Their German Roots A Right Royal History Lesson ; When the Queen Made a State Visit to Germany This Week She Was Reviving Ancestral as Well as Political Links. Allan Massie Explains Why the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas Decided to Become the Plain Old Windsors
Massie, Allan, The Independent (London, England)
You know what they call them on Deeside?" The wee man in the Glasgow pub thrust his face closer to mine. "The Germans, that's what they call them, the Germans." Though I lived for several years on Deeside, about 20 miles from Balmoral, and had never heard any locals refer to the Royal Family as "the Germans," I didn't argue. It was that sort of Glasgow pub, and the wee man had already told me about the knife he always carried. Besides, even if he wasn't absolutely right in what he said, he had a point, sort of, anyway.
Kings and queens are symbols of national unity. For royalists they even embody the nation. Yet they have rarely been thoroughgoing members of the nation or nations over which they reign. This is because from at least the early Middle Ages royals have chosen or been required to marry other royals, who have been almost inevitably foreigners.
So, for example, Spain came to be ruled by Habsburgs, who were German, and then by Bourbons, who were French. Elizabeth of England's rival, and sometime brother-in-law, Philip II of Spain, had only one Spanish grandparent, and, being blond, he took after his Flemish (or Belgian) grandfather, and didn't look Spanish at all. Our own Royal Family is no different. It is true that the Queen can trace her descent from the Saxon king Alfred, heroic defender of Wessex against the Danes and also from the 11th-century Scottish king Malcolm Canmore (the Malcolm of Shakespeare's Macbeth); but there have been rivers of foreign blood since. Royalty are among the most successful of immigrants.
The last monarch to have been as much as half-English by birth and heredity was Queen Anne (1702-14). Her father, James, Duke of York made what was considered a misalliance, marrying a commoner, Anne Hyde, whose father had been a mere lawyer, though as Charles II's chief minister (1660-67) he was created Earl of Clarendon. None of Anne's 17 children lived to adulthood. So, when the poor woman, who had suffered for years from gout and dropsy, died in 1714, it was necessary to import, as her nearest Protestant relation, George, Elector of Hanover. The British monarchy therefore became German. (His family name was Guelph, but they are usually known as the House of Hanover, or the Hanoverians.)
Of course George, a dull man of 54, unable to speak English, and with no desire to learn the language, wasn't 100 per cent German. His grandmother, who is generally, if confusingly, known as Elizabeth of Bohemia, was the daughter of James VI - the King of Scotland who in 1603 became also James I of England - and his Danish wife, Anne. Elizabeth was married to a German prince, Frederick, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, who in 1618 was offered the throne of Bohemia (the modern Czech Republic) and rashly accepted it, thus kicking off the terrible Thirty Years War.
George's line was established, and for the next century and a half their sons and daughters married only other Germans. There were two reasons for this: first, the rule that royals must marry other royals, and there was fortunately an abundance of princes and princesses in the numerous German states; second, the chosen wife or husband must be a Protestant, and this excluded all royals south of the Rhine.
The first two Georges were happy to be German and much preferred Hanover to England. But, despite the marriage requirement, the family was gradually assimilated, as in time immigrants usually are. George II's son, Frederick, Prince of Wales ("Poor Fred") died as a result of an injury received while playing cricket, which couldn't be more English. Fred's son, George III, declared that he "gloried in the name of Briton", using a word usually reserved for the chaps who painted themselves with woad in the days of the Roman Empire.
Nevertheless, this king came to be accepted as very English and was known as "Farmer George". His disreputable sons, despite having no English, Scottish or Welsh blood, except that filtered to them by way of Elizabeth of Bohemia, were all more English (or British) than German in outlook, habits and language; but they still had to take German wives. …