Friday, September 13, 2013

The Royal Prerogative

     Following his defeat on the issue of British military intervention in Syria on August 29th, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron was asked by Edward Miliband, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, if he would consider invoking the powers of the Royal Prerogative to commit British military support to the Syrian conflict. Mr. Cameron responded to the House of Commons that he understood the will of the British people as expressed through their elected representatives in Parliament, and would respect it. He would not use the prerogative powers to overrule Parliament and join the United States in air strikes against the Syrian regime.

     So what exactly is the Royal Prerogative?

     It is the body of executive powers which belong to the reigning monarch – harkening back to the time when monarchs had near absolute authority in affairs of church and state. But with the development of the system of constitutional monarchy in Britain, most of these powers are in practice, exercised by the Prime Minister and the elected government in accordance to the interests and wishes of the people. Nonetheless, these powers are exercised in the name of the reigning monarch, and it is the monarch who must sign off on the use of them. Given the fact the Prime Minister is an elected official who is held to account by the British voters, whilst the monarch maintains his or her position through birthright, it is considered constitutionally improper for a monarch to use these powers without being advised to do so by his or her ministers.

     Because the Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party or governing coalition, as in Mr. Cameron’s case in the House of Commons, he or she is able exercise most of these powers on behalf of the reigning monarch (with notable exceptions including the appointment of a Prime Minister and the granting or refusing Royal Assent to parliamentary legislation, which only the monarch can do) without going to Parliament for a vote. However, he or she is held to account by Parliament in the form of the weekly Prime Minister's Questions, as well as mechanisms that can prematurely bring the parliamentary term and the minister's premiership to an end, which would then force a general election (as I will explain further on). The Prime Minister is also expected have a private weekly meeting with the monarch, known as an audience, at which the monarch and the Prime Minister have a discussion about the issues of the day. In this setting, the 19th Century writer Walter Bagehot believed that the monarch has the right to be consulted, to encourage, and to warn. The monarch's views on government matters are expressed, but by constitutional convention, he or she abides by the advice of his or her ministers.This power is now exercised on the behalf of the monarch by the UK Home Office through a subsidiary agency, Her Majesty’s Passport Office.

The Powers of the Royal Prerogative

The Royal Prerogative in domestic affairs 

The issuing and withdrawal of passports 

     This power is now exercised on the behalf of the monarch by the UK Home Office through a subsidiary agency, Her Majesty’s Passport Office.

The appointment of Queen's Counsel 

     A Queen’s Counsel (QC) is a leading and long-time barrister, 
Baroness Patricia Scotland, the first black female to become a QC.
advocate, or lawyer in the United Kingdom who are considered as "
Her Majesty's counsel learned in the law," and have precedence over other lawyers in a courtroom. These are the people who are often still seen wearing wings and traditional silk gowns (which is why the award of QC is known as taking silk). This honor is considered a high achievement in one's legal career in the United Kingdom (and also allows to honoree to charge higher fees in their private practice!). In practice, such appointments are made by an independent body within the Ministry of Justice, and are formally approved by the monarch. 

The granting of honors 

The Order of the Garter is the pinnacle of the British
Honors System, having been in existence since 1348.
     The monarch has the right to grant honors and distinctions to people for services they provide to the nation, society, their profession, or their communities. Almost all of these (including the largest and most junior of the orders of chivalry the Order of the British Empire) are approved by the monarch on the advice of ministers who actually make the decision on who receives honors. Notable exceptions include the Order of the Garter, Order of the Thistle, and the Order of Merit, which remain the personal gift of the monarch. 

The appointment and regulation of the Civil Service 

     As Head of the Civil Service in the United Kingdom, the monarch appoints individuals to the professional bureaucracy which supports and implements the programs of the government of the day. In practice, such individuals have to pass civil service examinations to prove competency, and are appointed under the auspices of the Office of Civil Service Commissioners on the basis of political impartiality and merit. The monarch merely approves of such appointments that are recommended to him or her by the Civil Service Commissioners. 

The commissioning of officers in the Armed Forces 

Tri-service badge
of the Armed Forces (Navy,
Army, and Air Force).

     As Head of the Armed Forces, the monarch has the sole power to commission officers for service in the armed forces of the United Kingdom. In practice, such decisions are made by the military leadership of the UK and the Prime Minister, and the monarch approves of them. 

The appointment of Church of England officials 

     As Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the monarch 
Justin Welby, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury.
appoints bishops and archbishops to lead the various Anglican jurisdictions. The most important of these is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who
operates the Church on behalf of the monarch, and who also crowns the monarch in the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey. The appointment of such officials goes through a process of several stages by the Crown Nominations Commission, culminating in a shortlist of two, from which a candidate is chosen by the Prime Minister, with the monarch giving his or her final approval

The appointment of judges to the judiciary 

     As Head of the Judiciary, the monarch appoints judges to 
Middlesex Guildhall in London - home of the UK Supreme Court.
positions within the British judicial systems of England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Such appointments are made on the advice of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (for courts in England and Wales and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom), the First Minister of Northern Ireland (for courts in Northern Ireland), and the First Minister of Scotland (for courts in Scotland), which result from recommendations by the various selection commissions representing each legal jurisdiction. 

Granting Prerogative of Mercy 

     This power allows the monarch to grant pardons to, or reduce sentences for, convicted felons, and it is now exercised by government ministers on the monarch’s behalf. 

Granting charters for corporations 

     This power is now exercised on the behalf of the monarch by the Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills through a subsidiary agency, Companies House. 

The appointment and dismissal of a Prime Minister 

     Of all of the power with which the monarch is vested, the appointment of a Prime Minister is arguably the most important, because the Prime Minister is the elected official who runs the government on behalf of the monarch. The early prime ministers were appointed and dismissed at the will and pleasure of the monarch, but nowadays, the monarch’s role in appointing a Prime Minister is akin to that of a referee or game official awarding a trophy to the captain of the winning team of an athletic competition. Every five years, the United Kingdom holds a general election to elect Members of Parliament (MP’s) who sit in the House of Commons (the lower house of Parliament) and the leader of the party with a majority of seats in the Commons drives to Buckingham Palace to receive his or her official appointment as Prime Minister from the monarch. If the incumbent Prime Minister’s party loses the election, the Prime Minister tenders his or her resignation to the monarch, who is obliged to accept it, and the outgoing Prime Minister informs the monarch to send for the leader of new parliamentary majority. 

     In the event of a hung parliament no party achieving an overall majority  at least two scenarios may occur. The leader of the party with largest number of seats may be appointed Prime Minister and asked by the monarch to attempt to form a government. In this scenario, the Prime Minister remains in his or her position until he or she is defeated in the Commons on a money bill to fund the government, loses on a motion that expresses "regret" over the Queen's Speech (written by the Prime Minister) at the State Opening of Parliament, or receives a vote of "no confidence". These events can occur at any time during a parliamentary term ruling party attempts to govern without a majority. (The last time this happened was in 1979, when the minority government under James Callaghan lost a no confidence motion by one vote.) A second scenario is that a new governing coalition is formed by at least two parties, as did happen following the most recent general election in 2010, in which the incumbent Labour Party lost its majority and the Conservative (Tory) Party emerged with the largest number of seats, but no majority. The Labour leader, Gordon Brown, remained as Prime Minister for five days until a majority coalition was formed between the Tories and Liberal Democrats under David Cameron. At the end of the day, the goal of a monarch is to appoint someone who can command the confidence of the Commons, and the result is that the monarch follows the will of the people through their elected representatives in the appointment of his or her Prime Minister.

     By extension, the monarch also appoints and dismisses other ministers of the Cabinet (such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Home Secretary), but in practice the Prime Minister chooses his or her own Cabinet and government officers. 

William IV was the last monarch to
dismiss a Prime Minister, when he removed
Lord Melbourne from power in 1834.
     Dismissal of a Prime Minister has not happened since William IV removed Lord Melbourne in 1834, and it is now considered constitutionally unacceptable for a monarch to do so, unless extreme circumstances permit (such as a Prime Minister refusing to resign after receiving a "no confidence" vote). If a Prime Minister decides to resign before the parliamentary term has expired (due to health reasons, no confidence vote, or pressure to resign coming from within the party/coalition), it is expected that his or her party/coalition will have decided on a new leader, who then goes to the Palace to receive his or her appointment as the new Prime Minister. But in 1963, the Tory 
Harold Macmillan was accused of controversially using
the prerogative powers of the Queen to ensure the
succession of his choice for Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan resigned citing health reasons, and while he was in the hospital, he advised the Queen to appoint Sir Alec Douglas-Home as his successor without having a vote on the matter within his party. Many within the Tory Party, as well as some British constitutional scholars, believed that Macmillan had used the Queen to serve his own interests by advising her to appoint his hand-picked successor Douglas-Home, even though he was not the favorite among rank-and-file party members. Since then, all political parties are expected to have succession plans at the ready to avoid having the monarchy potentially drawn into politics. 

The dissolution of Parliament and the calling of elections 

     These two powers have actually gone under sweeping changes in the last couple of years. It used to be that a monarch could dissolve 
The Palace of Westminster - home of the
Parliament of the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Parliament at will, but it became conventional for a monarch to do so only when a Prime Minister asked for Parliament to be dissolved so that an election could be called. This was necessary when a parliamentary term came to an end, as well as on occasions when the Prime Minister and the government suffered a parliamentary defeat in the Commons or were handed a vote of no confidence, leading to the resignation of the government and provoking a general election. But before 2011, the law only required the expiration of a Parliament up to five years after it had been summoned (resulting from an election). This meant that an election had to be announced and 
The interior of the House of Lords, with the Queen's
throne placed on top of the dais at the head of the chamber.
Parliament dissolved within the five year period from the election of the current Parliament. It also meant that some Prime Ministers asked monarchs to dissolve Parliament and call elections when it was politically advantageous (i.e., opinion polls indicating that their political party will win an election two or three years into a parliamentary term). But an Act of Parliament passed in 2011 instituted fixed-term parliaments of five years between elections. There are provisions which allow for Parliament to be dissolved and fresh elections called by the monarch (on the advice of ministers) if the Commons approves a motion of no confidence against the government or if two-thirds of the Commons votes to have an early general election. This means that Parliament can be still be dissolved prematurely by a monarch, but the rules and conditions for doing so are now set in statutory books, and are so strict that for all intents and purposes, this traditional Royal Prerogative has been removed. 

     However, it does remain the Royal Prerogative for the monarch to open each legislative session of Parliament (in May, or after a 
Arrival at the Palace of Westminster - home
of the Houses of Parliament. During the annual
State Opening of Parliament, the Queen reads a
speech from the throne prepared for her by her government.
It is only on this occasion (aside from her coronation in 1953)
that she wears the Imperial State Crown.
general election) during the annual State Opening of Parliament. On this occasion, which brings together the three elements of British governance – Crown, Lords, and Commons – the monarch reads a speech, which is
prepared by the Prime Minister, from the throne in the House of Lords (the upper house of Parliament) which outlines the agenda of the government for the current session. In this setting is another tenet of Walter Bagehot, who divided the British constitution into two components: dignified (the symbolic role exercised by the monarchy) and efficient (the actual running and operation of government).

The Royal Prerogative in foreign affairs 

The accreditation of foreign diplomats 

     As Head of State, the Monarch receives the credentials of diplomats to the United Kingdom. Every ambassador and high commissioner (diplomats in charge of the diplomatic mission of one Commonwealth government to another), must present their credentials – or letters of introduction in the case of high commissioners to the Sovereign, usually at Buckingham Palace. Foreign diplomats are not accredited to the United Kingdom, but instead to the Court of St. James, because St. James’s Palace is the official residence of the British monarch (and not Buckingham Palace, as I will explain further in a future posting). 

The recognition of foreign states and making of treaties 

     As Head of State, the monarch recognizes foreign states across the world and makes treaties with such countries. In practice, these powers are exercised by the Prime Minister, and decisions are rubber-stamped by the monarch.

The declaration of war and peace 

     Of all the powers most associated with a monarch, the power to declare war against other countries and to send/lead armies into battle comes to mind. Indeed, as Head of the Armed Forces, the
George II became the last British monarch to lead
his troops personally into battle in a victory over
the French at Dettingen, which is depicted in this
painting by John Wootton.
monarch has the power to make war and peace. But the last time a British monarch personally led troops into battle was George II in 1743 at the Battle of Dettingen, and like most other monarchical powers, the powers of war and peace are now exercised by the Prime Minister, who because he or she has the confidence of Parliament (by virtue of being the head of the majority party or coalition), is able to excise this and other powers without holding a parliamentary vote (though he or she is held to account by Parliament in the form of the weekly Prime Minister's Questions and the aforementioned mechanisms that can bring his or her premiership to an end). 

Lord North, the Tory Prime Minister
who was determined to keep America
in the Empire, and who lost his
premiership over the issue.
     In the recent case of David Cameron, he did not have to call Parliament back into session, and he could have decided to invoke the Royal Prerogative to support air strikes against Syria regardless of how the vote turned out. This is why Ed Miliband asked Mr. Cameron about the potential use of the prerogative following the defeat on the war resolution against Syria. From a historical perspective, it has been reported by several authorities that the vote against Syrian intervention may have been the first time that a Prime Minister had lost a parliamentary vote on an issue of war and peace in Parliament since Lord North was handed a “no confidence” vote and subsequently resigned his premiership following the British defeat at Yorktown during the American Revolutionary War. In fact, he was the first Prime Minister to forced from office due to a lack of confidence in his leadership. But thanks in part to the aforementioned Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, it does not appear that David Cameron will face the same fate as Lord North.

Queen’s Consent and Royal Assent 

Queen’s (or King's) Consent 

     This power covers both domestic and foreign issues. Before a bill which affects the Royal Prerogative can be debated in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords, it must receive the Queen’s Consent, and the same goes for bills which affect Crown interests (hereditary revenues, property, etc). This power is exercised by the monarch on the advice of ministers, and for the most part, has been granted to allow bills to go on to the next stage. 

     However, it has been refused in situations in which government ministers have advised the monarch to do so on the basis that it adversely affects his or her prerogative powers. A noteworthy example of this occurred in 1999 when Prime Minister Tony Blair advised the Queen to not consent to debate on the Military Action Against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval) Bill, which was a response to the US-UK military strikes against Iraq in December 1998. The bill sought to transfer the power to authorize any future military action against Iraq from the monarch (and in practice, the Prime Minister) to Parliament. The refusal of the Queen's Consent (on the advice of Prime Minister Blair) resulted in the bill being dropped from parliamentary consideration. 

Royal Assent 

The Queen's signature on this document signified her Assent to the legislation which removed the last pieces of constitutional power which the British Parliament could exercise over Australia.
     The power of Royal Assent covers both domestic and foreign issues, and it is the act of a monarch signing legislation (which has passed through both houses of Parliament) into law. Conversely, a monarch that refuses Royal Assent is akin to an American president vetoing legislation passed through Congress, but the difference is that unlike the American Congress, which can override a presidential veto by a two-thirds majority of both houses, the British Parliament cannot override a royal veto. A monarch may also reserve Royal Assent until a later time.

     However, it is expected that a monarch will go along with the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives in 
It has been 305 years since
Queen Anne refused Royal Assent.
Parliament, and refusal of Royal Assent has not occurred since Queen Anne withheld assent from the Scottish Militia Bill in 1708. Like the aforementioned prerogative power to dismiss a Prime Minister, the use of this one by a hereditary monarch is now considered constitutionally improper in a modern democracy. Modern monarchs are supposed to be politically neutral, and a refusal of Royal Assent (unless in an emergency, and on the advice of ministers) or any action that goes against the wishes of the elected government would make the monarch appear to be politically partisan since he or she will have effectively opposed the government of the day. This would result in the resignation of the government, the dissolution of Parliament, and a general election in which the withholding of Royal Assent would become the main issue of contention – effectively drawing the monarchy directly into partisan politics.

     This almost happened in 1936 when Edward VIII attempted to marry the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. His actions 
It appeared as though Edward VIII was
prepared to take on his Prime Minister, Stanley
Baldwin and his government. But he eventually
decided to abdicate, and averted a
greater constitutional crisis.
caused a constitutional crisis when he was informed that the governments of the United Kingdom and the dominions across the British Empire were against such a union, and that these governments would resign should Edward go ahead with his plans. They opposed the union partly on religious grounds since the Church of England, of which Edward was Supreme Governor, prohibited divorcee's from re-marrying so long as their former spouse was alive. Simpson was also though to be politically and socially unsuitable because of her two failed marriages, the fact that she was American, her alleged connections to German Nazi's, and because it was thought that she was a gold-digger. The king eventually decided to marry the woman he loved, but also to abdicate the throne in favor of his brother Albert, who became George VI. Edward's niece, Princess Elizabeth, became the heiress presumptive behind her father, and fourteen years later, she became Queen Elizabeth II.

     Throughout her reign, the powers of the Royal Prerogative have become increasingly known and they cover virtually all areas of British domestic and foreign policy. Similar, but varying powers are 
Elizabeth II - her image seen here on
Canadian money as Queen of Canada -
been careful to avoid interference
in politics throughout her reign.
exercised in the other Commonwealth realms of which the British monarch remains head of state (Canada, Australia, etc.) by their respective prime ministers through the monarch’s representative in those countries, the Governor-General. Such powers harken back to the time when monarchs maintained near absolute authority over their subjects, but with the development of democracy, most of them are now exercised by elected officials on the monarch’s behalf. However, it is permissible for a monarch to exercise these powers on his or her own without receiving advice from ministers to do so. After all, ultimate authority and sovereignty technically remains with the monarch, and none of the non-statutory constitutional conventions that have been established over the centuries are legally binding. 

     In certain situations, it is possible for a monarch to take personal command of the Armed Forces, refuse Royal Assent, dismiss ministers, refuse to dissolve Parliament, or in the event of a political vacuum (such as a hung parliament), personally run the government. This has led to calls for a codified and written constitution for the United Kingdom which clearly define the powers of the monarch and when such powers can and cannot be used. Some proposals have suggested that the monarch be stripped of all political power, and reduced to a ceremonial figurehead with no active role in the governing of the nation. For now however, the monarch does retain political power, but does not use in a way that blatantly circumvents the democratic process in Britain, for if such a thing did happen, there may well be more radical calls for a republic and the abolition of the monarchy altogether. Not wanting to become the next King Charles I, British monarchs up to and including Elizabeth II have learned, for the most part, to maintain the fine line of political impartiality and to adhere to the constitutional conventions that circumscribe the use monarchical power. It is expected that future monarchs will continue to do the same.

     What does not appear to be disputed is that the basis upon which British governance rests is the monarchy, which has allowed for the establishment of a modern and vibrant parliamentary democracy through which the people express their will, which was made clear in the UK Parliament on the issue of Syrian intervention. In the future, it may be necessary to make reforms to the Royal Prerogative so as to preserve the monarch's political impartiality and to strengthen democratic principles in the United Kingdom. However, the recent Syrian debate and its outcome is an example of how Britain's democracy has become an essential component within the framework of its constitutional monarchy.

Photo Credit: Virtualstuart via Wikimedia Commons cc, Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons cc, Ministry of Defence and Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons cc, Andy Mabbett via Wikimedia Commons cc, GAC, Number 10/Past Prime Ministers, and Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons og, DaniKauf via Wikimedia Commons cc, SimonEast via Wikimedia Commons cc, Carissa Rogers via Flickr cc

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Memoriam: September 11, 2001

     The following is the statement written by Queen Elizabeth II and read aloud by the British ambassador to the United States at the time, Sir Christopher Meyer, at the prayer service in St. Thomas Church, New York City on September 21, 2001.
     You come together today in St. Thomas Church in New York united in sorrow by the terrible events of last week. Each and every one of us has been shocked and numbed by what we have witnessed in these recent days.

     But none of us should doubt the resilience and determination of this great and much loved city and its people. Men and women from many nations, from many faiths and from many backgrounds were working together in New York City when this unimaginable outrage overtook them all.

     At your service today, we think especially of the British victims. For some of them, New York was simply a stopover on some busy travel schedule. For others it was a workplace of excitement and of opportunity. For many it was a familiar second home.

     These are dark and harrowing times for families and friends of those who are missing or who suffered in the attack - many of you here today. My thoughts and my prayers are with you all now and in the difficult days ahead.

     But nothing that can be said can begin to take away the anguish and the pain of these moments. Grief is the price we pay for love.

     May we never forget those whose lives where lost that day twelve years ago, nor the lives of those who have perished in acts of terrorism or have made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of liberty and freedom since. 

     May God bless the United States and the United Kingdom, and may the Special Relationship between our nations be forever strong and enduring.

Photo Credit: Rocky Lubbers via Flickr cc 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Royal Surnames and House Names: Part II - The House of Windsor

To see my explanation on how royal house names and surnames evolved up to the 20th Century, please read Part I.

     By 1910, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha had reigned in the United Kingdom and the British Empire for nine years. That 
King Edward VII was the latest of a line of monarchs beginning with
George I in 1714 who were of German origin or descent.
year, the first monarch of that house, Edward VII, died and was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, George V, who had served in the Royal Navy and considered himself to be patriotically British. Yet the royal house to which he belonged was anything but British. It was the ancestral house of his grandfather Prince Albert, based on the German ducal lands his family held. Even so, the fact that the royal family was of immediate German origin was not a secret, and it did little to diminish the overall affection that the public had for them. World War I however, would change that.

     As the “war to end all wars” dragged on, Germans and Britons of German descent became increasingly suspect in the eyes of the British public, who were being fed stories about German war atrocities and cartoon images of blood-thirsty German soldiers. The anti-German mood became so toxic, that it manifested itself in riots and vandalism at homes and businesses owned by people with Germanic names. This led to the forced resignation of Prince Louis of Battenberg a German prince who was a decorated British naval officer of 40 years and a cousin of the royal family from his office of First Sea Lord (which is the professional head of the British Naval Service). Eventually, the British Royal Family itself was suspected of having too close of a connection with the enemy Hun, and not being full-heartedly supportive of the British war effort against Germany. In fact, only the opposite was true, but it certainly did not help being a first cousin of the German kaiser, Wilhem II, as George V was (because both men were grandsons of Queen Victoria). It also did the royal family no favors that it had a German royal house name – Saxe-Coburg-Gotha – and held German titles. The writer H.G. Wells criticized George for having an “alien and uninspiring court,” to which the king responded, “I may be uninspiring, but I’ll be damned if I’m an alien!” But the final straw came when Gotha G.IV planes were dropping bombs on London.

King George V (center), with his two eldest sons:
Prince Edward (the future Edward VIII)
on the left and Prince Albert
(the future George VI) to the right.
     It soon became apparent that there needed to be a change in name for the royal family. George did not know what his actual surname might be, so the College of Heralds was consulted, and they reported that his name was either Guelph (the ancestral house of the Hanoverians) or more likely Wettin (the ancestral house of the Saxe-Coburg’s). Either way, these names did not sound British, so a search began for new name. Proposed names included those of former royal dynasties: Plantagenet, Lancaster, and York. Tudor-Stewart was also suggested as a way to pay homage to the House of Tudor, which ended the fratricidal Wars of the Roses in England, as
Arthur Bigge, Baron Stamfordham,
the man who suggested Windsor
as a family name for George V
and his family in 1917.
well as the House of Stewart/Stuart, the Scottish royal house that brought the British Isles together under one monarch. These names were written off as either too English-oriented (in a kingdom which included the Scots, Irish, and Welsh) or backward-looking for a royal family attempting to re-christen itself as being a model, modern, and thoroughly British family. Eventually, George’s private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, suggested Windsor, after the king’s favorite residence of Windsor Castle, which has been a seat of the monarchy since the days of William the Conqueror, and used by Scottish and British monarchs since James VI & I ushered in the Union of the Crowns. There was also some historical basis for using the name, since Edward III of England was known as “Edward of Windsor” in his early years.

Windsor Castle. Built by William the Conqueror, it has been a royal residence since Henry I of England, and extensively modified and enlarged by successive English and British monarchs.

     On July 27, 1917, King George V issued a proclamation in which he renamed his royal house and family Windsor and renounced the German titles that he and his family held. The proclamation
Good Riddance: King George V
sweeping away his titles
"Made in Germany"
was significant as it allowed male-line descendants of Queen Victoria without the dignity and style of HRH Prince or Princess to use Windsor as their surname. This was necessary for two reasons. Firstly, George also issued Letters Patent that limited the dignity and style of a British prince and princess to children of a monarch, male-line grandchildren of a monarch, and the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. Secondly, George V and Queen Mary had decided to allow their children to marry native British men and women, because hitherto, it was largely unheard of for royalty to in effect, marry their subjects, which explained the tendency to marry members of other royal families (particularly Protestant ones based in Germany). These two reasons guaranteed that there would be descendants of reigning monarchs without princely titles who would require a surname.

     In practice however, the name has been used by titled members of the royal family for birth registrations, marriage certificates, and other purposes. For example, the reigning queen’s father – the future George VI, who was then styled as His Royal Highness Prince Albert, Duke of York – was listed as “Windsor, Albert F.A.G. (Duke of York)” in an official index of registered British marriages in 1923. The initials F.A.G. stand for his middle names, Frederick Arthur George, and the maiden name of his bride, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, is listed in the column next to him.
The marriage of Albert F.A.G. Windsor (the future George VI) to
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon as listed on an official marriage index.

The birth of Elizabeth A.M. Windsor (the future Elizabeth II),
as listed on an official birth registration index.

Queen Elizabeth II herself – titled and styled at birth as Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York – is listed as “Windsor, Elisabeth [sic] A.M.” in an official index of registered British births in 1926, with A.M. being the initials of her middle names, Alexandra Mary.
The names of Philip Mountbatten and Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor
as written on the marriage register of Westminster Abbey.
In 1947, her name appeared as “Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor” on the marriage register, and still later, Prince Charles was listed as “Windsor, Charles P.A.G.” on the birth registration index of 1948, with P.A.G. standing for his middle names, Philip Arthur George.
The birth of Charles P.A.G. Windsor (Prince Charles)
as listed on an official birth registration index.

     But upon Elizabeth II’s accession in 1952, the question of the name of the royal family was re-opened. She had married Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh (formerly Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark), and like most women, it was thought that she would take her husband’s name and that Mountbatten – the name of Philip’s maternal relatives in Britain which he adopted upon his naturalization as a British citizen – would be the name of their descendants. After her accession, Philip’s uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten (known as “Dickie”), boasted at a dinner party that the House of Mountbatten now
Queen Mary was not amused about the prospect of the royal family
becoming the House of Mountbatten.
reigned. This insolent comment got around to Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary who convinced Prime Minister Winston Churchill that Windsor – the name chosen by her husband George V back in 1917 – and not Mountbatten ought to be the name of the royal family. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (Elizabeth II's mother) agreed with Churchill and Queen Mary, and the new reigning queen herself wished to stick to the name of her father and grandfather. On April 9, 1952, she issued a statement reaffirming that her house and family would continue to bear the name Windsor.

     In reality however, the House of Windsor would have continued throughout the Queen’s reign. Traditionally, female monarchs reigned as members of the house/surname into which they had been born, while their successors reigned as members of the house/surname of their husband. For example, Queen Victoria was born into the House of Hanover, and reigned as the last monarch of that house in the United Kingdom. Her son, Edward VII became the first monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the ancestral house of his father and Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. So by convention, the House of Mountbatten would not have come about until the accession of Prince Charles (or his male-line heirs).

     But in 1952, there were members of the British establishment who had been suspicious of Philip from before his marriage to Elizabeth. He had been a penniless Greek prince who came from a Germanic background having been born into the German-Danish House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Gl├╝cksburg and his sisters had all married German princes, some of whom had Nazi connections. Philip did have an honorable record serving in the Royal Navy during World War II, but his foreign background and brash temperament made him an outsider to the British establishment (which hoped that he would simply do no harm to the monarchy). His Uncle Dickie
Lord Lionel Hastings Ismay, Prime Minister Winston Churchill,
Lord Louis Mountbatten, and President Franklin Roosevelt.
Churchill liked Mountbatten for his service in World War II,
but came to loathe him for his role as the last Viceroy of
India and overseeing the process of Indian independence.
Mountbatten was a generally well-liked and respected member of that establishment (being a skilled and effective military leader and statesman), who exuded charm, confidence, and charisma. But Mountbatten was also viewed as pompous and arrogant, always shamelessly using his connections to lobby for jobs and positions he wanted. Mountbatten was also thought to hold views to the left of the political spectrum, and his role in Indian independence did nothing to endear him to the arch-imperialist Churchill (who as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914, had forced Mountbatten's father, Prince Louis of Battenberg, to resign from his post as First Sea Lord). It was also feared that Mountbatten could use his 
The Duke of Edinburgh wanted to have a name
representing his side of the family, but the
young Queen sided with her establishment
adviser's and stuck to the Windsor name.
connections with the royal family to create a more
progressive monarchy that would shape government policy. So the establishment simply did not want the Mountbatten name to be plastered on the monarchy in the generations yet to come, and wanted the Queen, in writing, to state that Windsor would be the name of her house and the name that her descendants would carry. (Mountbatten would eventually have his own last laugh against Churchill and the establishment by becoming First Sea Lord some forty years after his father's forced resignation.) For his part, Philip was not enthusiastic about the Mountbatten surname, but nonetheless believed in the general principle that his children and future descendants ought to take his name, and he explained the traditional passing of royal house names to Churchill and members of his cabinet (see previous paragraph). Though Philip was historically correct, the Cabinet rebuffed this, as well as his attempt to find a compromise with names such as Edinburgh and Edinburgh-Windsor (based on his title, Duke of Edinburgh). He bitterly complained to a friend that he was nothing but “a bloody amoeba,” unable to pass his name on to his children like other men.

     The issue remained a sore point for Philip in the early years of the Elizabeth’s reign. But by 1960, with the death of Queen Mary in 1953, the resignation of Churchill in 1955, and the withdrawal of much of the old guard at the Palace and in government, the Queen decided to make an attempt to lay the issue to rest. On February 8, 1960, after extensive talks with her ministers and advisors, the Queen announced a compromise in which her royal house and family would continue to be known as Windsor, but that her and Philip’s male-line descendants without the style and dignity of HRH Prince or Princess would bear the surname Mountbatten-Windsor. (It should be noted that this change did not affect the Queen’s male cousins through George V and Queen Mary – the Duke of Gloucester, Duke of Kent, and Prince Michael of Kent – or their descendants, whose surname remained Windsor). But the effect has
Mountbatten-Windsor is listed as Princess Anne's
maiden name on the birth registration list
containing her son, Peter Phillips.
been that the surname has been available for use by all of the Queen’s children and her descendants with British princely titles on occasions when a surname may be necessary (such as on birth and marriage certificates). Princess Anne signed her name as Mountbatten-Windsor upon her 1973 marriage to Captain Mark Phillips, and her maiden name is listed as such on the 1977 birth registration index containing their son, Peter Phillips. The children of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex – who do not use the royal titles afforded to them by birth – are styled as children of an earl: Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor and James Mountbatten-Windsor, Viscount Severn. (Prince Edward’s secondary title is Viscount Severn, and it is customary for the eldest son of a man with aristocratic titles to use the secondary title, known as a courtesy title).

     But there is one more wrinkle in all of this: members of the royal family who have territorial titles (i.e., Prince of Wales) can use the territorial designation of such titles as an informal surname. For example, Prince Edward was known as “Edward Windsor” during his time working in the entertainment industry, but upon becoming Earl of Wessex in 1999, he became professionally known as “Edward Wessex.” Prince William – whose formal title before 
Flight Lieutenant William Wales
becoming Duke of Cambridge was Prince William of Wales – decided to be known as “William Wales” while he attended the University of St. Andrews as well as during his military career, and
Prince Harry has done the same (owning to the fact that their father is the Prince of Wales). The recently-born Prince George of Cambridge will probably be informally known as “George Cambridge” for similar purposes. This is why members
of the royal family are sometimes referred to as the Wales's (Prince of Wales & family), Cambridge’s (Prince William, Duke of Cambridge & family), York’s (Prince Andrew, Duke of York & family), Wessex’s (Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex & family), as well as the Kent’s and Gloucester’s (who are the Queen's cousins through George V and Queen Mary), and so on.

     In the final analysis (and to give a straight answer), Mountbatten-Windsor is the surname of the royal family of Queen Elizabeth II, but the members of the family with the style and dignity of HRH Prince or Princess are not required to use it except perhaps for circumstances in which a surname may be necessary, such as signing birth and marriage certificates. Such members can use informal surnames derived from the territorial designation of their titles or just the titles themselves without any surname at all, which explains the absence of a surname on Prince George’s birth certificate. 

On his birth certificate, Prince George was written in as
His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge.

     It should be noted that the name of the royal house and family can change at any time, either at the behest of a reigning monarch, or by the accession of a monarch with a different house and family name than the previous one. Upon Prince Charles becoming king however, it is not expected that he will make changes to the name of the royal family, and that the he and his family will continue to be of the House of Windsor, whilst the formal surname will continue to be Mountbatten-Windsor.

The Badge of the House of Windsor

Photo Credit: Mark S. Jobling via Wikimedia Commons cc, German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) via Wikimedia Commons cc, BiblioArchives/Library Archives via Flickr cc, Robert Payne via Flickr cc, Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons cc 


Marr, Andrew. The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. New York: St. Martin's Press. 2012. Print (Pages 22-25, 50-53, 74-77, 88, 135-137).

Smith, Sally Bedell. Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch. New York: Random House. 2012. Print (Pages 146-147).