#17: More Royals!

17.1  I’m doing more on the Royals…it’s such a fine way to flex your kinshipological muscles. Last week we saw how Elizabeth and Philip are 2nd cousins once removed, as well as 3rd cousins, 4th cousins, 4th cousins once removed, and 5th cousins. Seems more likely than ever that they are related in other more distant ways, given the news that William and Kate themselves are related! Should have guessed.

17.2  How do you determine how distant cousins are, if you know all the ancestors involved? You can only be cousins if you share a common ancestor, we’ll call your CA. And to start with, let’s assume that you and your cousin are of the same generation…you are numbered cousins, with no removeds…so there are the same number of steps to the CA for each of you. The first thing you do is make a list of your direct line, starting with the CA, all the way down to you. At this point there are various ways to count.

17.3  You can count everyone in the list, including yourself and your CA, which would be counting the generations. You can count everyone except yourself, the steps up from you to your CA…or alternately, you can count everyone except your CA, the steps down from him to you. Or you can count everyone except yourself and the CA, the individuals in between.This last way gives you the exact number of your cousinhood. But unless you’re going to do this a lot, you really don’t need to have a predetermined system in mind. The casual observer can devise an ad hoc system by reflecting on the simplest cousin relationship, that of 1st cousins.

17.4  For 1st cousins, your list has just 3 people: you, your father and your grandfather. From your perspective, your cousin’s list has your cousin, your uncle, and your mutual grandfather. That’s 3 Generations for 1st cousins…so the cousin number is the total number people on your list minus 2. And this will work for any list, no matter how long. It even works for siblings taken as 0th cousins…2 – 2 = 0.

17.5  We’ve been assuming that you and your cousin are of the same generation, but it’s possible you’re of the same general age, but of different generations, and that in fact is the case for William and Kate. Here are their lists…

william and katey

17.6  As you can see, hers has a total of 14 names, his has 15. The rule is: The shorter list determines the number of the cousinhood. In their case, that would be hers with 14…so 14 – 2 = 12, giving you 12th cousins. Now from William’s list, Kate is a 12th cousin to his mother Princess Di. William is down one from Diana, so he and Kate are 12th cousins once removed. Had his list been 16 instead of 15, it would be twice removed…17, 3 times removed…see how it works?

17.7  But exactly how closely related are they, for practical purposes, genetically? To simplify slightly, if William and Kate were 12th cousins, each would have 8,192 11G grandparents…and of those 16,384 ancestors, the number they’d both be related to would be…2. But that’s only if all 16,384 slots were filled by separate individuals, which due to the phenomenon of Pedigree Collapse, they almost certainly wouldn’t be. Still, you can see how insignificant the shared genetic legacy between the newlyweds is likely to be.

17.8  Here’s a puzzle to work on for next week. One so-called expert declared that William and Kate were 14th cousins once removed. I suspect he simply misspoke, and meant to say 12th instead of 14th. But then he added that Kate was the Queen’s (William’s grandmother’s) 15th cousin! Huh? Shrinking down such a relationship to the simplest case, can you construct a Parental Tree where Abner is 1st cousin once removed to Zeke…and also 2nd cousin to Zeke’s mother? I’ll try it too, we’ll see what we come up with…


17.9  Dear Stolf: So do the Royals have a last name?…from Buster in Budapest…

17.10  Dear Buster: Short answer: yes, with a long explanation…because it’s a complex subject. Even the Official Webpage of the British Monarchy is confusing and contradictory in addressing this issue. I don’t hold myself up as an expert by any means, but here’s the story as far as I can piece it together.

17.11  Up until 1917, the Royal Family had no surname as such. Traditionally, European monarchs were known by their Christian or given name, and the domain over which they ruled, thus Leopold of Ruritania. An extended family or clan would be identified by a hereditary name, usually termed a House. So if Leopold belonged to the House of Krelman, he would be called Leopold of Krelman, or simply Leopold Krelman. Houses were formed, splintered, died out…thus a single House might have many branches, so one would have a choice of which specific House to be principally identified with.

17.12  With the Brits, the name of the Royal House changed when rival branches of the family attained the throne…you’ve heard of the Tudors, Stuarts, Yorks, Lancasters, etc. This is because a male Sovereign decides what the Royal House will be called during his reign. By tradition, he took the name of his father’s house, as we take the surname of our father. But he wasn’t bound by this, and depending on the politics of the day, he could change it, especially if the previous King had not been his father, but for example his uncle. On the other hand, if the Sovereign was a woman, the name of the Royal House traditionally would become that of her husband, despite the fact that he wasn’t the Sovereign, and for our purposes, this is relevant to Victoria and Elizabeth II.

17.13  Queen Victoria was born Alexandrina Victoria [House of] Hanover. This House originated with George III and was also known in Britain as the House of Guelph, an anglicized form of the name Welf, the ruling family of the German state of Hanover. Throughout her life, Victoria used Guelph as if it were her surname, altho technically she didn’t have one, or even need one. When she married Albert [House of] Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, she did not take that as her surname, nor did she take Wettin, which was the ancient Germanic House of which Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was a then recent cadet branch, having been formed in the 1820s….Victoria and Albert were married in 1840.

17.14   In this context, “cadet” refers to any son except the oldest. When it was custom that the first son stood to inherit the bulk of a House’s wealth and titles, younger sons sometimes, but not always, formed their own branches, while still falling under the auspices of the parent House. So while the offspring of Victoria and Albert chose Wettin as their putative surname, the Royal House was now known as the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

17.15  Confused? It can be summarized this way…neither Albert nor Victoria had true surnames. When they were identified by more than just their Christian names, the proper usage was the name of their House, with or without the “of”…Saxe-Coburg-Gotha for him, Hanover for her. When an actual surname was called for, there was as yet no formal standards…so he chose Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, she preferred Guelph, and the kids were Wettins.

 17.16   Queen Victoria was succeeded by her son Edward VII in 1902, and her Grandson George V in 1910…both unofficially surnamed Wettin…and the Royal House remained the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. But the idea that in the modern age even the Royals needed an official surname was gaining traction. Then World War I came along, and in 1917, as part of his renunciation of his German titles and holdings, Edward decreed that henceforth both the name of the Royal House and the Royal family’s legal surname would be Windsor, the name of their principle castle of residence. In fact, this applied to all descendants in the male line of Victoria except for married females and those who were not British subjects…thus many who had considered themselves Wettins or Saxe-Coburg-Gothas were now Windsors.

17.17  That’s the Cliff Notes version…there are deeper…or perhaps “fussier”…issues concerning the Royal House and the Royal Family, which I intend to address at some point. But now we move on to the fascinating second part of the story.


17.18  Prince Philip was born on the Greek island of Corfu as Philippos [of] Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a member of the Royal Houses of both Greece and Denmark, altho his family was exiled from Greece when he was a child. In order to marry Elizabeth in 1947, he had to become a naturalized British citizen, and his original choice of a surname was Oldcastle, from Oldenburg, the German name of the Herzogs from whom his Father’s Danish ancestors were descended. All and sundry prevailed upon him to go instead with Mountbatten, an Anglicized version of his Mother’s maiden name Battenberg. “Sounds more British” was the consensus, and we’ll have to take their word for it.

17.19  By tradition, the offspring of Elizabeth and Philip would have been Mountbattens…that would have become the name of the Royal House…and  Philip’s family anticipated this with relish. But…Elizabeth’s grandmother Queen Mary [of Teck] prevailed upon Prime Minister Winston Churchill to intercede in favor of retaining Windsor, and that was what came to pass…in 1952 Elizabeth declared that they would instead remain Windsors. This order was modified in 1960 to allow those descendants not bearing a royal title to use the surname Mountbatten-Windsor. This was done because she and Philip wished to distinguish their direct descendants from other Windsors, without going so far as to change the name of the Royal House.

17.20  It’s worth mentioning, and I do so without prejudice…well perhaps just a little…that this modification came several years after the death of Queen Mary…and the resignation of Churchill. It was no doubt also done to assuage Philip, who had complained: “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children. I am nothing but a bloody amoeba.” Such is life backstairs at Buckingham Palace.


17.21  It’s also interesting to note that what they essentially did was create a cadet branch, that of Mountbatten-Windor, of the Philip’s hereditary House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, itself a branch of the House of Oldenberg. This did not impact the House of Windsor per se…. for example, descendants of Elizabeth’s sister Princess Margaret remain Windsors, as does for that matter the Queen herself. Topic for discussion: If and when Charles becomes King, will he establish the House of Mountbatten-Windsor as the Royal House. I’m guessing not, but who knows?

17.22   So here’s how things stand today: Princes Charles, Andrew, and Edward (and their sister Princess Anne before she was married) are legally surnamed Windsor…they are not covered by the 1960 modification since they have royal titles: they are styled HRM, His/Her Royal Majesty. In practice however, they all use Mountbatten-Windsor in deference to their father. Less formally, they can use their hereditary titles of nobility as surnames, thus Charles [Prince of] Wales, Andrew [Duke of] York, and Edward [Earl of] Wessex. As for the next generation…both William and Harry currently use the surname Wales. So much for What’s in a name?

17.23  BTW… here’s a mnemonic to remember the ranks of the peerage: Do Men Ever Visit Boston? which stands for Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, and Baron.

Wicked Ballsy


The first flag (after 17.17)  is Philip’s personal “standard”…the second (after 17.20) is the Queen’s…and to give you an idea how complicated these Royal Banners can get, here’s one of a Queen consort from the 1800s. Did they get everyone in the “photo,” I wonder?


Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved



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