How German are the British royals?

Europe’s royal houses have shared close family ties for centuries. The British royals have more German roots than you might think.

About 300 years ago, on August 1, 1714 — the English Queen Anne died. As a result, the German Elector George Louis of Hanover was proclaimed king of Great Britain in absentia.  He was the only possible heir to the throne and the first German to ascend an English throne.

Manners please.

At the beginning, his British subjects were not amused. The German king did not set foot on English soil until two months after his proclamation and was crowned King George I on October 20, 1714. A divorcee, he publicly flirted with two mistresses. George hardly spoke any English — and he had no manners.
In fact, legend has it a protocol instruction for banquets asked to not hurl pieces of meat at the servants.

King George I

However, the British soon realized that George I, did a great deal for the kingdom — he put down one of several Jacobite rebellions, established the two-party system that is still in place today, created a well-functioning navy and expanded the British Empire.

George II and George III

His son George II left the British their national anthem, “God Save The King,” which later became “God Save The Queen.”

His grandson George III was the first in the line of German kings to be born in England, with English being his first language. He married the German Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The couple had 15 children.

Cartoonists made fun of George III

George III suffered from a metabolic disorder, his health deteriorated and he became mentally ill. This made the popular monarch, who supported the arts and sciences, increasingly incapable of ruling. He is mostly remembered as “Mad King George.”

George IV, a low point for the royal family’s reputation
His eldest son, foppish Georg August Friedrich, took over during his father’s lifetime in 1820. A year later, he was crowned George IV, the next king with a predominantly German bloodline.

His extravagant lifestyle did not endear him to his subjects. The obese monarch was not mourned much when he died. His eccentricity had managed to severely damage the reputation of the royal house. He left behind no particular political legacy, but a cultural one: Buckingham House was expanded into a palace and a building was erected in the seaside resort of Brighton that is still unique in Europe in terms of opulence — the Royal Pavilion.

The Royal Pavilion in Brighton

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

In 1837, George IV’s niece Victoria, who also had a partly German bloodline, was crowned. She married her cousin, the German Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Initially, the British wondered why their queen would choose a provincial German prince, but they soon changed their minds.

Queen Victoria ruled for almost 64 years
Albert stood up for the people and allegedly initiated in England the German custom of putting up Christmas trees. He established the first World’s Fair, in London in 1851, while also reforming administration and construction in the kingdom. Thanks to the Queen’s consort, the British royal family regained its reputation. A magnificent statue of Albert stands in the center of London and Albert Bridge in London was named after him, as was the famous Royal Albert Hall concert hall.

‘Grandmother of Europe’

Meanwhile, Queen Victoria carried out representative functions in addition to her role as mother of nine children. Her influence in foreign policy was primarily grounded in her kinship relations with the leading ruling houses of Europe.

She made sure her children married into other European royal courts — little wonder that today her descendants sit on the throne in many European royal houses, including Queen Margrethe of Denmark, Kings Harald of Norway and Carl Gustav of Sweden, the former Spanish royal couple Juan Carlos and Sophia — all the way to Elizabeth II.

Victoria was nicknamed the “Grandmother of Europe” and at the time, with 64 years on the throne, she was Britain’s longest-serving monarch. The Victorian era, named after her, saw the growth of the British Empire to a global industrial power, as well as advances in the arts and sciences, along with societal changes.

Some 120 years later, her length of rule was surpassed by her great-great-granddaughter, Elizabeth II.

Saxe-Coburg renamed Windsor

Queen Victoria died in 1901, succeeded by her eldest son Edward VII, the first English king from the German dynasty of Sachsen-Coburg and Gotha. To make the name easier to pronounce for the English, the house was renamed Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Just a few years later, in 1910, his son George V became king. He was married to Maria von Teck who also had German blood and who became known as “Queen Mary.”

His reign coincided with the World War I, which was waged against his cousin, German emperor Wilhelm II. In England, attitudes toward all things German changed — after all, the German Empire was seen as the main aggressor. In 1917, George V decided to change the German family name to Windsor. George also renounced all German titles, as did his cousin Ludwig von Battenberg, who renamed his family Mountbatten. Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip came from this family.

The royals and the Nazis

George’s son Edward VIII became king in 1936. He abdicated for love and married Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. His brother Albert ascended the British throne as George VI. At the time, the Nazis and Adolf Hitler had long since gained a firm grip on Germany as the world watched the Third Reich with skepticism and interest. Edward and Albert’s mother, Queen Mary, insisted that her sons not forget their German roots. They also had plenty of relatives in Hitler’s Germany. Edward openly showed sympathy for the Nazis. One photo shows him and his wife smiling and shaking hands with Adolf Hitler.

1937: The Duke of Windsor and Wally Simpson visit Adolf Hitler
Just a few years ago, a video emerged showing Edward and his sister-in-law practicing the Hitler salute with two little girls — Margaret and Elizabeth, with the latter one day becoming the queen of England. The snippet was filmed by Elizabeth’s father, King George VI. To this day, the British do not like to be reminded of the at times cordial relations of the British aristocracy with the German Nazis, trying as much as possible to keep evidence of such connections under wraps.

How German is King Charles III?

The mother of Queen Elizabeth II was British, so she was only partly of German descent, even if she did display some stereotypical German virtues throughout her life, including discipline and a sense of duty.

Her husband Philip, however, had predominantly German ancestors and spoke fluent German. In 1947, he became a British citizen and, shortly before his marriage to Elizabeth, relinquished his German title of nobility and called himself only “Mountbatten.”

Their eldest son, the new King Charles III, has a bloodline made up of roughly half German ancestors.

Although King Charles III has many German ancestors, he is British through and through
He and his first wife, the British Diana Spencer, had two sons: William and Harry. Prince William’s wife Kate has no German ancestors at all; Harry’s wife Meghan is the daughter of an American with Irish roots and is said to have German ancestors.

It is extremely unlikely that a person of German descent will ever again ascend the English throne — even if there still is a direct German descendant whose lineage goes back to George I, the first British king from Germany. Her name is Karin Vogel, and she is 4,973rd in line to the British throne.

This article was originally written in German.


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