A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What did Prince Andrew's superiors in the Royal Navy call him?

October 16, 1987

Dear Cecil:

It's great to see Prince Andrew doing his part for noblesse oblige, but his decision to become a Royal Navy career man raises a perplexing question: what do his superior officers call him? They can't simply refer to him by his rank and last name, because he doesn't have a last name. And somehow it's hard to picture his squadron commander in the pitch of battle barking out, "If you please, Your Royal Highness, move your bloomin' arse!" Cecil, only you can resolve this question.

Cecil replies:

It probably will not surprise you to learn, Dwight, that the British armed forces have a special office, the Defence Services Secretary, whose solemn duty it is to issue instructions to the troops regarding the proper form of address for members of the royal family. (War may be brutal, the British feel, but there is no reason it has to be impolite.) The DSS's most recent pronunciamento, issued when Andy was still a mere prince, said he was to be introduced as "Lieutenant His Royal Highness, the Prince Andrew." (Naturally, since the British cannot stand to pronounce anything the way it is spelled, they say leftenant.) You, in turn, addressed him as "your royal highness" the first time around and thereafter, assuming you were his superior, as "Prince Andrew," "Lieutenant," "Andrew," or if all else failed, "hey, you."

Recently, however, Andrew was promoted, which naturally changes everything. The consensus among British officialdom is that he must now be introduced as "Lieutenant His Royal Highness, the Duke of York." On second reference, "Duke Andrew" being decidedly unkosher, "Prince Andrew" remains the preferred form.

Still, what folks are supposed to call him doesn't necessarily have much to do with what they do call him. Though one of Andy's old COs avers that everybody said "Prince Andrew," Cecil has it on good authority that the kid is known among his buddies as "H," short for HRH, His Royal Highness. As for the enlisted men — well, that's something else altogether. Cecil was chatting recently with a Royal Navy officer who had served on board the royal yacht when the King of Norway happened to visit. While inspecting the yacht's shipboard telephone directory, the officer was startled to find the king listed under N, for "Norway [King of]." And Rodney Dangerfield thinks he's got problems.

The Teeming Millions think they know better

Dear Cecil:

I always enjoy reading your column and was happy to be enlightened regarding the various titles applied to HRH Prince Andrew. However, your dope was not entirely straight. It is true that in the British army the word "lieutenant" is pronounced "leftenant," but in the Royal Navy it is pronounced much as it is in the United States, sounding something like "l'tenant." The Royal Navy hand salute is also similar to that of the U.S. armed forces and is different from the palm-out salute of the British army and air force.

Cecil replies:

Time to lay off the sake, Don. A captain with the British naval staff in Washington says the {leftenant} pronunciation is used in all branches of the British armed services, the navy included. You're right about the salutes, though.

Dear Cecil:

I'm amazed that you let slip by DS's comment that Prince Andrew has no last name. The family's last name is Windsor (changed from Hanover during World War I).

Cecil replies:

Where do I start? For one thing, the royal family name isn't Windsor, it's Mountbatten-Windsor, having been changed from Windsor in 1960. Second, prior to 1917, the family name wasn't Hanover, it was "Saxe-Coburg and Gotha." It was changed because it sounded too Teutonic for the taste of the British public during World War I.

Finally, while it's true British royals have family names, they don't have last names in the strict sense, that is, a name you would properly append to your given name(s) in formal usage. Prince Andrew's grandchildren in the male line, assuming no titles are bestowed on them, will be So-and-so Mountbatten-Windsor, but the prince himself is merely Andrew, period. That's the way he signs documents. (His mother signs Elizabeth R, for Regina, "queen.") His passport says Andrew plus all his other given names, followed by "Prince of the Royal Blood."

To some degree this business about titles supplanting last names also applies to nonroyal peers, such as your run-of-the-mill dukes. But it gets pretty complex, and if it's all the same to you, Cecil would just as soon quit while he's ahead.

The question that would not die, round 3

Dear Cecil:

I'm confused after reading your explanation of the changes in British royal family names over the years. Are you sure that before 1917 they used the surname Saxe-Coburg and Gotha? Saxe-Coburg and Gotha is the duchy in Germany where Queen Victoria's husband Albert was born. Prince Albert's father and older brother were known as Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but according to Stanley Weintraub, who published an exhaustive biography of Queen Victoria last year, Albert's family name was actually Wettin. Did Edward VII, Victoria's successor, take the name of his father's birthplace as his own family name?

Cecil replies:

Why I ever got into this I'll never know. To tell you the truth, nobody is quite sure what the royal family name was prior to 1917. Certainly not the British, whose befuddlement in these matters is legendary. Part of the problem is that royal family names do not necessarily coincide with surnames. Queen Victoria was a member of the House of Hanover, but her family's surname, seldom if ever used, was Guelf, sometimes spelled Guelph.

Her marriage to Prince Albert confused things even more. Prior to 1917 it was generally supposed that Albert had belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. This irked the British public during World War I, when Albert's grandson George V was king. The writer H.G. Wells, for one, complained about Britain's "alien and uninspiring court," prompting George's famous remark, "I may be uninspiring, but I'll be damned if I'm alien."

Eventually George agreed to change his family name. No sooner had he done so, however, than it was discovered that no one was exactly sure what his family name was. "Was it 'Saxe-Coburg and Gotha'?" one historian wrote. "No, thought the College of Heralds, it was probably 'Wettin' or, even more outlandish, 'Wipper.'"

One giggles with glee at the vile puns one could work up on Wettin and Wipper, but no matter. They were swept out by royal proclamation in 1917 and replaced with Windsor, and for once the royal family name and surname were identical. Elizabeth II, however, could not bear to have this monotonously sensible state of affairs continue. In 1960 she proclaimed that while hers would remain the House of Windsor, her descendants would bear the surname "Mountbatten-Windsor." The traditional muddle was thus restored, and there the matter rests today.

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