The centenary of the creation of the House of Windsor

house of windsorIn 1917 the House of Windsor came into being, as King George V set about disclaiming his German inheritance. Here's how The London Gazette documented this historic change of name in the summer of 1917.

German titles

The process of severing the royal family’s links with their European titles was well advanced when the King visited the army in the field before the start of the third battle of Ypres.

News about changes to the royal names began to be reported in a Court Circular of 19 June 1917, which explained that two of the King’s cousins would stop using the suffix ‘of Schleswig-Holstein’ and be known simply as Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise. The following day, the press explained that ‘the King has deemed it desirable, in the conditions brought about by the present war, that those Princes of his family who are his subjects and bear German names and titles, should relinquish these titles and henceforth adopt British surnames’ (The Times, 20 June 2017, page 7).

The King held his last major investiture as head of the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 30 June, when he presented the insignia of a knight of the Thistle to the Duke of Buccleuch. He then set off for France bearing a similar set of insignia for Sir Douglas Haig, the field-marshal commanding the British Expeditionary Force. Haig discussed Ypres plans with the King, who also invested Haig with his Thistle, and presented the grand cross of the Bath (GCB) to the French general, Pétain.

On the day that the King returned to London the changes continued, as he authorised five relatives to relinquish their names and titles in the grand duchy of Hesse, the kingdom of Württemberg and the German empire, and to take the names Cambridge or Mountbatten. He then granted four new peerages and created the House of Windsor.


The name Cambridge was taken by Princes Adolphus and Alexander of Teck, the sons of Princess Mary of Cambridge (granddaughter of King George III) and the Duke of Teck, and brothers of the King’s wife, Queen Mary.

Prince Adolphus had inherited the dukedom of Teck, and was the governor of Windsor Castle by the start of the war. He relinquished his German titles and was created marquess of Cambridge on 16 July 1917 (Gazette issue 30374, page 11592). His eldest son inherited the peerage, but it became extinct when he died in 1981. The next brother, Lord Frederick Cambridge, was killed in action in France in 1940, while one sister became duchess of Beaufort and another was married to Colonel John Gibbs, and so the Cambridge name did not pass beyond the second generation in the senior Teck line.

The Duke of Teck’s younger brother was the husband of the King’s cousin, Princess Alice of Albany, and as recently as June 1917, appeared in The Gazette as Prince Alexander of Teck on joining the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) (Gazette issue 30111, page 5459). One month after receiving the CMG for war services, the prince set aside his old titles, took the name Cambridge, and was created earl of Athlone (Gazette issue 30374, page 11593).

Lord Athlone’s public career included terms as governor-general of Canada and South Africa, but the Cambridge name did not survive for long in the junior Teck branch, as his son died after a motoring accident and his daughter ceased to use her royal name when she married Captain Henry Abel Smith. The Earl of Athlone’s widow – Queen Victoria’s last surviving granddaughter – was the final member of the Teck family to use the Cambridge name when she died in 1981.


The second wartime name, Mountbatten, was assigned to the descendants of Prince Alexander of Hesse and Julia, Princess of Battenberg, who married into the British royal family.

The senior Mountbatten line involved the couple’s elder son, Prince Louis of Battenberg, whose wife was one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters. He became a British subject and entered the Royal Navy, serving as first sea lord when the war broke out. Prince Louis resigned his naval appointment in October 1914 because of concern about his ties with the German emperor, and became Louis Mountbatten on 14 July 1917, a few days before being created marquess of Milford Haven (Gazette issue 30374, page 11594).

Milford Haven had two sons. The elder son succeeded his father as marquess – a title which still exists – while the younger son, Louis, had a distinguished public career, including service as viceroy of India and matching his father’s achievement of becoming first sea lord. Lord Louis Mountbatten gained many honours, including the Garter and an earldom (Gazette issue 38109, page 5074), which descended to his daughter Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, who died in 2017.

Milford Haven’s elder daughter, Alice, had no immediate need of the Mountbatten surname, as she was married to Prince Andrew of Greece, while her younger sister was known as Lady Louise Mountbatten until 1923, when she married the Crown Prince of Sweden, later King Gustaf VI Adolf.

The junior Mountbatten line related to the Marquess of Milford Haven’s brother, Prince Henry of Battenberg, who was married to Queen Victoria’s daughter, Beatrice. The 1917 declaration did not affect all of their children, as Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg was the wife of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and her brother Maurice had lost his life during the retreat from Mons in 1914.

Princess Beatrice’s eldest surviving son Prince Alexander of Battenberg became Alexander Mountbatten on 14 July 1917 (Gazette issue 30374, page 11593) and marquess of Carisbrooke. His younger brother was initially transformed into Sir Leopold Mountbatten, as he was already a knight grand cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) (Gazette issue 30374, page 11593), and the King later authorised him to use the style of a marquess’s younger son, so he became Lord Leopold Mountbatten (Gazette issue 30551, page 2632).

The new names appeared in public shortly after their introduction, as the Court Circular which reported Prince Alexander’s marriage on 19 July 1917 referred to his Carisbrooke peerage, while the press noted the presence of the Marchioness of Milford Haven and Lady Louise Mountbatten, just days after they surrendered their Battenberg inheritance.

The Marquess of Carisbrooke was Queen Victoria’s favoured grandchild during the closing years of her reign and her last surviving grandson. He served with the Grenadier Guards during the war and was the last in a small group of members of the royal family to receive the civil grand cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) (Gazette issue 33280, p3605), but he had no son and the peerage became extinct with his death in 1960.

House of Windsor

The King turned from dealing with his Teck and Battenberg relatives to determining his own name. The formal steps were taken at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday 17 July 1917, when he made a declaration at a meeting of the Privy Council, the body – composed mainly of senior politicians – which performed a range of statutory and other functions. Meetings were usually attended by three or four counsellors, but given the historic nature of what was planned, a larger audience was summoned, as reported by the clerk of the Council:

'The important Council was held to-day. By the King’s direction a representative gathering was summoned, including the Duke of Connaught, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Prime Minister [David Lloyd George], the three ex-Prime Ministers, Lord Rosebery, Mr. Asquith, and Mr. Balfour, Mr. Barnes representing Labour, and General Smuts, Messrs. Fisher and Schreiner the Dominions beyond the seas. ...

'It was a little unfortunate that neither Arthur Balfour nor Asquith obeyed the summons; the first, as it appeared, because his Private Secretary, treating it as “a scrap of paper,” had taken no trouble to bring it to his notice; the second, because he thought it of no particular importance: an oversight for which, it is fair to say, he afterwards made humble apology. Lord Rosebery, on the other hand, took special pains to be present.' (Sir Almeric Fitzroy, Memoirs, Vol. II, page 656)

The Gazette published the King’s declaration that ‘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... Queen Victoria who are subjects of these Realms, other than female descendants who marry or may have married, shall bear the said Name of Windsor’ (Gazette issue 30186, page 7119). The choice of name reflected the royal family’s enduring connection with the settlement of Windsor, which housed one of the King’s principal castles and the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter, as well as the burial place of many of his ancestors.

The King also declared that he and all other descendants of Queen Victoria ‘who are subject of these Realms’ would relinquish the use of their German ‘Degrees, Styles, Dignities, Titles and Honours’, including those of duke and duchess of Saxony and prince and princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. His sons were princes and so a surname was of limited relevance to them, at least for the time being. And because the Windsor name did not attach to married daughters, the King’s first grandchild – the son who was born to Princess Mary and Viscount Lascelles in 1923 – was Gerald Lascelles, rather than a Windsor.

Other changes

The 1917 changes included two more elements: provision for the descendants of Queen Victoria’s half-sister, Princess Feodore of Leiningen, and the removal of British dignities from the King’s enemies.

Princess Feodore’s grandson, Count Gleichen – a major-general in the British army – relinquished his German titles in September 1917 and was granted the style of the son of a marquess, becoming Lord Edward Gleichen (Gazette issue 30551, page 2632). His sisters received styles associated with the daughters of a marquess: Lady Feodore and Lady Helena Gleichen did not marry, while their sister, Lady Valda Machell, was the widow of Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Machell. This royal line ended with her death in 1951.

Parliament also worked to deprive enemy peers and princes of their British honours, a process that followed the expulsion of the Austrian and German emperors from the Order of the Garter in 1915. The Titles Deprivation Act of 1917 provided for a committee of Privy Councillors to advise the King about who should be affected, but their advice was not acted upon until after the war when, by Order in Council of March 1919, the dukes of Albany and Cumberland and Prince Ernest of Cumberland were deprived (Gazette issue 31255, page 4000).


The name Windsor emerged in a formal setting shortly after King George’s death, and was later used to commemorate the union of two royal families. The initial link arose at his son’s accession council in December 1936, when King George VI declared that his first act on succeeding his brother – the former King Edward VIII – would be to confer on him the dukedom of Windsor (Gazette issue 34349, page 8111), a peerage which became extinct with his death in 1972.

Queen Elizabeth II an Prince PhilipA decade later, the Windsor and Mountbatten families were united when Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip of Greece, the son of the Marquess of Milford Haven’s daughter, Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece. Prince Philip took his maternal grandfather’s surname on becoming a British citizen in 1947, and was later created duke of Edinburgh.

The 1917 provision about married descendants applied to Princess Elizabeth as duchess of Edinburgh, which meant that on her accession to the throne in 1952, she was a Mountbatten, rather than a Windsor. The Queen decided to revert to her grandfather’s name and so, at a meeting of the Privy Council at Clarence House on 9 April 1952, she declared that she and her children would be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor and her descendants – other than female descendants who marry and their descendants – would bear the name of Windsor (Gazette issue 39513, page 2013).

The Queen’s Mountbatten inheritance was acknowledged more fully on 8 February 1960, when she further declared that her ‘descendants other than descendants enjoying the style, title or attribute of Royal Highness and the titular dignity of Prince or Princess and female descendants who marry and their descendants shall bear the name of Mountbatten-Windsor’ (Gazette issue 41948, page 1003).

None of King George V’s descendants needed to use the name Windsor before the Queen’s Mountbatten-Windsor declaration, and in practice, the 1917 scheme only started to come into play in 1962 with the birth of the (second) Duke of Kent’s son, George Windsor, who is known by the courtesy title of Earl of St Andrews. The name has since been used by two more Kent children – Lady Helen Windsor and Lord Nicholas Windsor – and by the children of Prince Michael of Kent and the (second) Duke of Gloucester.

The 100th anniversary of the House of Windsor passed on 17 July 2017 without any major state events, although the Queen approved the issue of coins to commemorate the centenary of her grandfather’s historic declaration (Gazette issue 61733).

About the author

Russell Malloch is a member of the Orders and Medals Research Society and an authority on British honours.

Image: Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip,1947, Everett Collection Historical/Alamy