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  • Rachel Burchfield

The cast of characters


Photo: Modern day members of the House of Windsor, with the Queen as its head, on the famous Buckingham Palace balcony for Trooping the Colour last year. (See an upcoming blog post about the event, which this year will be on June 8.)

It is my goal for this blog to be an inclusive blog that caters to veteran Royal Watchers as well as newbies. I realized as I was driving home last night that there may be some of you who, quite frankly, have no idea who the hell any of these people are that I’m talking about. (That begs the question Why are you reading this blog?, but anyway.) I want everyone to enjoy the magic that is the British Royal Family, whether you have just become a fan because of Meghan or you’ve been rocking with The Firm since early Diana days or, heck, early Elizabeth days.

The British Royal Family goes back centuries and centuries. My interest area only lies in the House of Windsor, and, more specifically, from Queen Elizabeth on down the line. You’ll notice that most of my writing is about the two Duchesses Catherine and Meghan (hence the name of the blog, The Duchess Commentary) but I also find others fascinating like Diana or Fergie or, of course, the little ones George, Charlotte, Louis, and, now, Archie. You’re never going to catch me posting about, say, Queen Victoria. Don’t know anything about her really. So, that being said, let me introduce you to the cast of characters of the House of Windsor at a high level.

The House of Windsor is relatively young – only 101 years old and formed on July 17, 1917. The family’s name was Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (what a mouthful) but changed their name to the much more British and much less German Windsor after anti-German sentiment during World War I. The House of Windsor has only had four monarchs – three kings and, of course, our beloved Queen, who has been reigning since 1952 – for 67 years. I had a dream the other night that the Queen died. And before you accuse me of being morbid, she’s 93 years old, people – it’s going to happen within the decade. I don’t know what I’ll do.

So, the House of Windsor begins with George V – Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather. He was such a fan of little Lilibet, as she was called as a child, that he told a courtier “I pray to God that my eldest son [Edward] will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie [George V’s second son Albert, Elizabeth’s father] and the throne.”

Well, he got his wish.

George V was on the throne from May 6, 1910 – even before the House of Windsor was formed – until his death on January 20, 1936. The crown then passed to his eldest son, Edward VIII, who was only on the throne less than a year – 326 days – before he abdicated (resigned) the throne in a very, very controversial move to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. (See why it is so groundbreaking that, in less than a century’s time, Meghan, an American divorcee, is able to be in the Family?) Edward VIII abdicated on December 11, 1936, then passing the crown down to his younger brother Albert because he (Edward VIII) had no children. He married Wallis Simpson and was married to her until his death in 1972; they had no children, and after his abdication he was referred to as the Duke of Windsor.

Super interesting: Before he died, George V said “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself in 12 months.” Edward VIII sat on the throne for just under 12 months before he abdicated.

Albert, Queen Elizabeth’s father, chose to go by the name George VI on the throne (a nod to his father, George V) to restore confidence in the British monarchy, which had severely suffered because of the abdication crisis. I cannot overstate that enough – the monarchy was in serious trouble. Albert never wanted to be king and was, as the “spare,” never prepared to be king; Elizabeth to this day feels that the stress of being king killed her father long before he should have died (he died at just 56) and she forever resented her uncle, Edward VIII, for abdicating – it’s why she always said, and has maintained to this day, that she will never voluntarily leave the throne, and that only death will remove her from what she sees as her life’s responsibility.

George VI – who is brilliantly profiled by Colin Firth in the movie The King’s Speech – was married to the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and they had two daughters, Elizabeth, born in 1926, and Margaret, born in 1930. George VI died unexpectedly on February 6, 1952, when Elizabeth, his successor, was only 25; she has been on the throne ever since, the first and only Queen in the House of Windsor (which won’t change unless Prince George, who is currently five years old, has a firstborn child that is a daughter; the next three monarchs, Charles, William, and George, are all men).

Now, let’s take a look at the House of Windsor’s modern cast of characters:

First Generation

· Queen Elizabeth II, born in 1926, married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1947; to marry Elizabeth, Philip gave up his own royal titles and became Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, hence the beginning of the Mountbatten-Windsor name. Mountbatten was Philip’s mother’s maiden name. His is not king; only blood Royals can be. Instead, his title is the Duke of Edinburgh, but he is an HRH (His/Her Royal Highness). Elizabeth has been in love with Philip since she was 13 years old; he, at 97 now, won’t be long for this world, and I don’t expect she’ll live much longer after he passes. She is the longest-serving monarch in British Royal Family history.

Second Generation

· Philip and Elizabeth have four children. The oldest is HRH the Prince of Wales, Charles, born in 1948 (he’s had that title since he was nine years old in 1958 and has held that title longer than any of his predecessors). His first marriage was to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, who, upon her marriage, became Princess of Wales; they divorced in 1996 and she was killed in a car accident in 1997. They have two sons, Prince William, born in 1982, and Prince Harry, born in 1984. He married his second wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in 2005. He is the heir presumptive (batter on deck) to the throne.

· Philip and Elizabeth’s second child is HRH Princess Anne, born in 1950. She married Captain Mark Phillips in 1973; they divorced in 1992, but had two children, Peter Phillips, born in 1977, and Zara Phillips, born in 1981, neither of whom carry a Royal title. She remarried Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence in 1992, to whom she is still married today.

· Philip and Elizabeth’s third child is HRH Prince Andrew, born in 1960. He married Sarah Ferguson in 1986 and upon their marriage they became the Duke and Duchess of York. Like Diana, when Andrew and Fergie, as she was commonly known, divorced in 1996, she was stripped of her HRH title. They have two daughters, Princess Beatrice, born in 1988, and Princess Eugenie, born in 1990. After his divorce, Andrew never remarried.

· Philip and Elizabeth’s fourth and final child is HRH Prince Edward, born in 1964. Upon his marriage to Sophie Rhys-Jones (no relation to bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, who was severely injured but the only passenger of the car not killed in Diana's Paris car crash) in 1999, he became Earl of Wessex (Sophie is Countess of Wessex). He is by far the member of the Royal Family who is the least dramatic; I will rarely write about him. Edward and Sophie have two children, Lady Louise Windsor, born in 2003, and James, Viscount Severn, born in 2007.

Third Generation

· Charles’ two sons, William and Harry, are both married now, and their families will be the ones most covered on this blog. In 2011, William married Catherine “Kate” Middleton, and upon their marriage were named Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They have three children: Prince George, born in 2013; Princess Charlotte, born in 2015; and Prince Louis, born in 2018. In 2018, Harry married Meghan Markle, and upon their marriage were named Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Their (so far) only child, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, was born in 2019; he carries no Royal title.

· Anne’s two children, Peter and Zara, are also both married with children. Peter married Autumn Kelly in 2008, and their eldest daughter and the Queen’s first great-grandchild, Savannah Phillips, was born in 2010. Their second daughter, Isla, was born in 2012. Zara Phillips married Mike Tindall in 2011 and they too have two children – Mia, born in 2014, and Lena, born in 2018.

· Andrew’s two daughters are more well-known than Anne’s children but certainly less well-known than Charles’. Eugenie married longtime boyfriend Jack Brooksbank last October; Beatrice is still single.

· Edward’s children, Louise and James, are just 15 and 11.

That is so much, I know. Here’s a breakdown of names and titles:

· Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

· His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

· His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales

· Diana, Princess of Wales (was stripped of her HRH title upon her divorce in 1996)

· Her Royal Highness Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall

· His Royal Highness Prince William, Duke of Cambridge

· Her Royal Highness Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

· His Royal Highness Prince George

· Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte

· His Royal Highness Prince Louis

· His Royal Highness Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

· Her Royal Highness Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

· Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

· Her Royal Highness Anne, Princess Royal

· Captain Mark Phillips

· Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence

· Peter Phillips

· Autumn Phillips

· Savannah Phillips

· Isla Phillips

· Zara Tindall

· Mike Tindall

· Mia Tindall

· Lena Tindall

*Note the absence of Royal titles; this was a deliberate choice made by Mark and Anne and carried on down through the third generation.

· His Royal Highness Prince Andrew, Duke of York

· Sarah, Duchess of York (was stripped of her HRH title upon her divorce in 1996)

· Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice

· Her Royal Highness Princess Eugenie

· Jack Brooksbank

· His Royal Highness Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex

· Her Royal Highness Sophie, Countess of Wessex

· Her Royal Highness Lady Louise Windsor

· His Royal Highness James, Viscount Severn

The second block of names above is what this blog will discuss 98 percent of the time. Beatrice and Eugenie make the news sometimes, and there will always be the possibility of me reporting on some of the others, but Charles’ sons and their wives and children are the bulk of what The Duchess Commentary is.

Long live the House of Windsor!

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