#117: Urgent Dispatches

117.1 Dear Stolf: I was reading #17: More Royals, about what the surname of the British Royals is and how it got that way…and I noticed a mistake. You say that when Victoria became Queen, she took the name of her husband Prince Albert’s hereditary family House, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, as the new name of the Royal House…yet everyone says that she herself was the last member of the House of Hanover to reign as sovereign…and it was her son Edward VII who was the first sovereign of the House of S-C-G. See the discrepancy?  …from Buster in Budapest

117.2  Dear Buster: Yeah, I went back and read it over…and I did find a mistake, altho not what you mentioned. Albert’s House of S-C-G was actually a cadet branch (one founded by a son other than the eldest) of the older Germanic House of Wettin…I had it the other way around, with the 2 houses reversed, so that’s been fixed. And I also reworded several parts that while correct, could have been misleading. But no, there really isn’t a discrepancy…it all has to do with the precise meaning of the term “Royal House.” 

117.3  Isn’t the Royal House simply the house to which the Royal Family belongs…monarch, monarch’s spouse, and their children? Not exactly, no. Strictly speaking, the Royal House is the house that the children…the heirs…belong to. And guess what…by tradition they belong to their father’s house! When the monarch is a hereditary King, no problem…he belongs to his father’s house, his children belong to his, all neat and tidy. When the monarch is a hereditary Queen, it’s more complicated.

117.4  In Victoria’s case, she was a Hanover for life…marriage didn’t change that…and during her reign, the monarchy could have been said to be in the hands of the House of Hanover. But her children were House of S-C-G, because their father was…which is why the monarchy switched to the House of S-C-G in 1901 when their son Edward VII succeeded Victoria…he was House of S-C-G, like this father…not house of Hanover, like his mother.


117.5  But as you can see above, when the occasion called for a putative surname, he was a Wettin. His surname and the name of the Royal House didn’t match because the Royal Family still didn’t have a surname in the modern legal sense. It was his son George V, Victoria’s grandson, who changed the name of his house from S-C-G to Windsor in response to Anti-German public sentiment during the First World War…and at the same time, for the first time, designated Windsor as the official Royal surname.

117.6  And if you wonder if I’m parsing all this correctly, consider what happened when Elizabeth II succeeded her father George VI, Victoria’s great grandson. She broke with tradition and decided that the Royal House would remain Windsor, her house…and her children would be surnamed Windsor. Phillip’s people expected that the Royal House would be Mountbatten, his surname, and were sorely disappointed to say the least. I refer you to Phillip’s famous complaint: “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.”

117.7  Phillip was mollified somewhat in 1960 when the Queen ruled that all of their descendants that did not hold a Royal title…that is, were not entitled to be called His/Her Royal Majesty…would belong to the House of Mountbatten-Windsor, which was thus established as a cadet branch of Phillip’s hereditary House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg, itself an offshoot of the House of Oldenburg. Now this change did not apply to Charles and his siblings…but in practice, they do use Mountbatten-Windsor when the formal need for a surname arises, and not Windsor, which remains their legal surname. If and when Charles ascends to the throne, there are several ways he could style the Royal House…going strictly by tradition, he could choose his father’s house…call it Mountbatten, Mountbatten-Windsor, Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg or even Oldenburg. But he could break with tradition as his mother did, and tab Windsor…it’s entirely His Royal Prerogative.

117.8  That having been said, I should mention that the official website of the British Monarchy is of the opinion that Charles will retain Windsor as the name of the Royal House…altho from what I can glean from the comments of Royal-watchers, the entire Royal Family considers themselves to be Mountbatten-Windsors, the Queen’s 1960 proclamation notwithstanding. It’s something that is endlessly debated amongst experts and amateurs alike…alongside the question of who exactly is entitled to be an HRM in the first place…and I guess that’s part of the fun of it…like baseball is to us Yanks.    

117.9  Dear Stolf: Why is it that your father’s brother is your uncle…and your uncle’s son is your cousin…but your father’s cousin is also your cousin. Aren’t the generations getting mixed up?  …from Auntie Maim, Thunderclap City KS

117.10  Dear Auntie: Right…and another way to look at it is: your father’s cousin is your cousin…but your father’s brother isn’t your brother, he’s your uncle, who’s also your cousin’s father. I suppose the bottom line is that people get the language they want…and in English, grouping a lot of people of different generations together as your “cousins” seems not to inconvenience enough people, hence it doesn’t change.

chart 418.png

117.11  Chart 418 shows our basic kinship terminology…brother and cousin are of your generation…father/uncle is one generation back…son/nephew is one generation forward…then grand and great are applied to father/uncle and son/nephew for further generations up and down. For your direct ancestors, direct descendants, and their siblings, it works out well.

chart 419.png

117.12  Chart 419 is what happens when everyone else in your tree gets labeled…they’re all some sort of “cousin”…thus, except for straight numbered cousins, like 1st, 2nd, 3rd,  the word “cousin” no longer means your generation. So why can’t you have brothers that are of other generations? Like, your father’s brother could be your brother once removed…your father’s uncle (your grand uncle or your grandfather’s brother) could be your brother twice removed.

117.13  What genealogists tend to forget I think is that in everyday speech, saying “my father’s 1st cousin” is clearer to most people than saying “my 1st cousin once removed ascending.” But then in real life, you have the advantage of centering all relatives via their relationship to YOU…”my this” and “my that.” In genealogy, you don’t generally have that luxury…you have to either say “A’s 1st cousin once removed ascending is B”…or “A and B are 1st cousins once removed.” Being more specific, you say “A is the 1st cousin of B’s father” or “B’s father’s 1st cousin is A.”

117.14  Another thing to bear in mind is that in everyday speech, you are likely talking about living people. The system allows for the possibility of “great great great great great great grandparents” and “cousins 8 times removed” but they aren’t often the topic of conversation. It’s the practical versus the theoretical. And when you think about it, the “removed” system that so many people find confusing is really just a specialized form of jargon used to standardize genealogical communication…and every field and endeavor has its jargon.

117.15  If you really don’t want to learn it, you can communicate just as well using everyday constructions like…”my grandfather’s 2nd cousin”…”my 1st cousin’s grandson”…etc. There’s obvious benefit in knowing the formal terms in our system of kinship, but you can do without them if you choose. Just don’t try to make them make “sense,” because they won’t….

117.16  …unless of course you’re speaking Spanish, where everyone of your father’s generation is an uncle…that is, your father’s 1st cousin is your 2nd uncle, your father’s 2nd cousin is your 3rd uncle…and similarly down the tree…your 1st cousin’s son is your 2nd nephew, your 2nd cousin’s son is your 3d nephew…and like that. Anyone who is called a cousin in Spanish really is your cousin…not your father’s or anybody else’s. 

117.17  And that’s the real secret: even if you don’t care to call people removed cousins, you can still understand what they are if somebody else says it…removed cousins are somebody else’s cousins…not yours. Next week…we address the real-life concerns of actual people…woo hoo!


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved



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