The British Royal Family is the family group of close relatives of the monarch of the United Kingdom. There is no strict legal or formal definition in the UK of who is or is not a member of the Royal Family, and different lists will include different people. However, those carrying the styleHer or His Majesty (HM), or Her or His Royal Highness (HRH) are normally considered members. By this criterion, the Royal Family will usually include the monarch, the consort of the monarch, the widows of previous monarchs, the children and male-line grandchildren of the monarch and previous monarchs, the children of the oldest son of the Prince of Wales, and the wives or widows of the monarch's and previous monarchs' sons and male-line grandsons.
Some members of the Royal Family have official residences named as the places from which announcements are made in the Court Circular about official engagements they have carried out. The state duties and staff of some members of the Royal Family are funded from a parliamentary annuity, the amount of which is fully refunded by the Queen to the treasury.
Since 1917, when King George V changed the name of the royal house from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, members of the Royal Family belong, either by birth or marriage, to the House of Windsor. Senior titled members of the royal family do not usually use a surname, although since 1960 Mountbatten-Windsor (incorporating Prince Philip's adopted surname of Mountbatten) has been prescribed as a surname for Queen Elizabeth II's direct descendants who do not have royal styles and titles, and has also sometimes been used when required for those who do have such titles.
On 30 November 1917, King George V issued Letters Patent defining the styles and titles of members of the Royal Family; the text of the notice from the London Gazette is:
Whitehall, 11th December, 1917.
The KING has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, bearing date the 30th ultimo, to define the styles and titles to be borne henceforth by members of the Royal Family. It is declared by the Letters Patent that the children of any Sovereign of the United Kingdom and the children of the sons of any such Sovereign and the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales shall have and at all times hold and enjoy the style, title or attribute of Royal Highness with their titular dignity of Prince or Princess prefixed to their respective Christian names or with their other titles of honour; that save as aforesaid the titles of Royal Highness, Highness or Serene Highness, and the titular dignity of Prince and Princess shall cease except those titles already granted and remaining unrevoked; and that the grandchildren of the sons of any such Sovereign in the direct male line (save only the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales) shall have the style and title enjoyed by the children of Dukes.
In 1996, Her Majesty The Queen modified these Letters Patent, and this Notice appeared in the London Gazette:
The QUEEN has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm dated 21st August 1996, to declare that a former wife (other than a widow until she shall remarry) of a son of a Sovereign of these Realms, of a son of a son of a Sovereign and of the eldest living son of the eldest son of The Prince of Wales shall not be entitled to hold and enjoy the style, title or attribute of Royal Highness.
On 31 December 2012, Letters Patent were issued to extend a title and a style borne by members of the Royal Family to additional persons to be born, and this Notice appeared in the London Gazette:
The QUEEN has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm dated 31 December 2012 to declare that all the children of the eldest son of The Prince of Wales should have and enjoy the style, title and attribute of Royal Highness with the titular dignity of Prince or Princess prefixed to their Christian names or with such other titles of honour.
Members and relatives of the British Royal Family historically represented the monarch in various places throughout the British Empire, sometimes for extended periods as viceroys, or for specific ceremonies or events. Today, they often perform ceremonial and social duties throughout the United Kingdom and abroad on behalf of the United Kingdom. Aside from the monarch, their only constitutional role in the affairs of government is to serve, if eligible and when appointed by letters patent, as a Counsellor of State, two or more of whom exercise the authority of the Crown (within stipulated limits) if the monarch is indisposed or abroad. In the other countries of the Commonwealth royalty do not serve as Counsellors of State, although they may perform ceremonial and social duties on behalf of individual states or the organisation.
The Queen, her consort, her children and grandchildren, as well as all former sovereigns' children and grandchildren hold places in the first sections of the official orders of precedence in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Wives of the said enjoy their husbands' precedence, and husbands of princesses are unofficially but habitually placed with their wives as well. However, the Queen changed the private order of precedence in the Royal Family in favour of Princesses Anne and Alexandra, who henceforth take private precedence over the Duchess of Cornwall, who is otherwise the realm's highest ranking woman after the Queen herself. She did not alter the relative precedence of other born-princesses, such as the daughters of her younger sons.
^The Prince of Wales' first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in 1997. They had divorced in 1996. She lost style of Royal Highness but remained a member of the Royal Family to reflect the fact she was the mother of the second and third in line to the throne, Prince William and Prince Harry.
Burke's Guide to the Royal Family. Burke's Peerage, 1973.
Cannon, John Ashton. The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy. Oxford University Press, 1988.
Churchill, Randolph S. They Serve the Queen: A New and Authoritative Account of the Royal Household. ("Prepared for Coronation Year") Hutchinson, 1953.
Fraser, Antonia (ed). The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England. Revised & updated edition. University of California Press, 1998.
Hayden, Ilse. Symbol and Privilege: The Ritual Context of British Royalty. University of Arizona Press, 1987.
Longford, Elizabeth Harman (Countess of Longford). The Royal House of Windsor. Revised edition. Crown, 1984.
Weir, Alison. Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. Pimlico/Random House, 2002.
Royal Family (1969) is a celebrated and reverential BBCdocumentary made by Richard Cawston to accompany the investiture of the current Prince of Wales. The documentary is frequently held responsible for the greater press intrusion into the Royal Family's private life since its first broadcast.
The generations indicate descent from George I, who formalised the use of the titles prince and princess for members of the British Royal Family. Where a princess may have been or is descended from George I more than once, her most senior descent, by which she bore or bears her title, is used.