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The Royal Family: History, Roles & Powers

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  • 0:06 The Royal Family
  • 0:57 Windsor History
  • 2:14 Today's Windsor Family
  • 3:49 Role of the Royal Family
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will discuss the British royal family, the Windsors. We will study the family's history, meet its current members, and discover its primary roles and powers.

The Royal Family

You're so excited you could bounce off the walls. You've just received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet with a member of Britain's royal household and ask a few questions. Your enthusiasm diminishes only slightly when you find out you won't be able to talk to a member of the royal family but instead one of the queen's butlers, a man by the name of Jenkins.

You still figure that he can tell you plenty about the royal family because, honestly, you know next to nothing. You even look up the phrase 'royal family' to make sure you know exactly what it means. The British royal family, you discover, refers to the closest family members of the monarch. It consists of the monarch's spouse, children with their spouses and families, siblings with their spouses and families, and cousins with their spouses and families. The family name of the current royal family is Windsor.

Windsor History

The big day has finally arrived, and you find Jenkins to be a pleasant man who seems to genuinely enjoy talking to you about the family he has served for over 20 years. You begin by asking him to tell you a little about the history of the Windsor family.

Jenkins tells you that the famous Queen Victoria, the last member of the royal Hanover family, was succeeded by her son Edward VII, who ruled until 1910. Edward was officially a member of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family, his paternal line descending from Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. During World War I, Edward's son and successor, George V, replaced their German-sounding family name with the more British Windsor.

George's son, Edward VIII, assumed the throne at his father's death in 1936, but he abdicated after only a few months to marry the woman he loved, who was a commoner and definitely not approved by the royal family. Edward's brother Albert took his place, reigning under the name George VI and successfully guiding Britain through World War II. George's daughter, Elizabeth II, began her reign in 1952. As the years passed, the monarchs' political powers declined, but they embraced their role as symbols of national unity and morale, and they became the public face of the United Kingdom.

Today's Windsor Family

You then ask Jenkins about today's Windsors. He produces a handy family tree chart to help you see how everyone is related. Queen Elizabeth II holds the top spot with her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, next to her.

Their four children appear below them: Charles, Prince of Wales, who was once married to Diana and now to Camilla Parker Bowles; Princess Anne; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Essex. Charles, Jenkins reminds you, is next in line for the throne, followed by his eldest son, William, Duke of Cambridge. William is married to Kate Middleton, and their son, Prince George, born in July of 2013, follows his father in the line of succession. Charles also has a son named Harry, whose name is really Prince Henry. He takes his place in the line of succession after his brother and nephew.

Charles' siblings also have children, Jenkins goes on. They are, of course, grandchildren of the Queen and also have a place in the line of succession although they are less likely to ever assume the British throne. Princess Anne has two children: Peter and Zara Philips. Zara was an Olympic equestrian and silver medalist. Prince Andrew has two daughters: Beatrice and Eugenie. Prince Edward also has two children: Louise and James.

Rounding out the royal family are the descendants of the Queen's younger sister, Princess Margaret, who passed away in 2002, and the Queen's cousins Richard, Duke of Gloucester; Edward, Duke of Kent; Prince Michael of Kent; and their families.

The Role of the Royal Family

Your head is spinning a bit by now, so you change course. You ask about the role of the royal family. What do all those princes, princesses, and dukes do anyway? Jenkins quickly responds that the royal family plays a very important role in British life. He begins making a list of the family's responsibilities and powers. The members of the royal family, he says, work closely with the Queen to help her carry out her official duties.

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