Facts About The British Royal Family

royal family
royal family
(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

The British royal family are undoubtedly one of the most famous in the World. Officially, 'the royal family' is comprised of the ruling monarch and all of their close relations - including the consort (husband or wife), their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The British royal family have belonged to the House of Windsor since 1917, and Queen Elizabeth II has ruled as Head of State since 1953, amassing a huge 65 years. Prince Charles is the heir apparent, and will eventually succeed the Queen. Prince William is second in line, whilst his son Prince George is third.

We see them on television and read about them in the media. But how much do you really know about the British royal family? Take a look at our ultimate fact file, to find out everything you've ever wanted to know...

List of British monarchs

Our current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the longest reigning monarch ever. But who preceded her?

Edward VII began the Queen's royal house, reigning from 1901 - 1910. George V came after that, ruling for 26 years, from 1910 - 1936, and was succeeded by Edward VIII.

However, Edward VIII abdicated soon after coming onto the throne, leaving his brother to take up the responsibility, George VI. The Queen's father reigned until his death in 1952, when Elizabeth II took up the role and became the ruling monarch.

Royal family names

Prior to 1917, members of the British royal family didn't actually have a proper surname. Instead, they simply belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

But the royal family did later change their surname to Windsor, when King George V announced that he and his family would become part of the House of Windsor.

It's thought that this name change was brought about to give the British royal family a more English-sounding last name, due to the ill feelings towards Germany during the Second World War.

However, since 1960, after a long drawn out debate, Prince Philip and the Queen were granted permission to give their direct descendants the name Montbatten-Windsor, combining his and her surnames.

Prince Charles' full name

The heir apparent's full name is Charles Philip Arthur George. The royal is now officially referred to as Charles, Prince of Wales, which is his widely used name. But in Scotland, he is known as the Duke of Rothesay, while in South West England, he's referred to as the Duke of Cornwall.

The Queen's surnames

The Queen's full name at birth was Elizabeth Alaxandra Mary although she was often referred to as Lilbet by loved ones, when she was young. It's widely accepted that the Queen doesn't have a surname, or one that is widely used - let's face it, if you're a Queen, do you really need one?

Since the ascension in 1952, Windsor has generally been accepted.

Where do the royal family live?

The royal family have both private and ‘crown-owned' residences, the latter being their official royal residences, which will be passed down throughout the monarchy over the years. The private residences are owned by the family members themselves, and will stay with the Windsors.

So where do each of the royal family members live? Well, first and foremost, the Queen and Prince Philip have four royal residences - Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse, and the little known Hillsborough Castle, in Northern Ireland, which can also be used by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

And those are just the crown estates. Her Majesty's private properties consist of Sandringham House, where she famously spends Christmas, Balmoral Castle, Craigowan Lodge in Balmoral, and Delnadamph Lodge, also in Balmoral. The latter is currently being rebuilt for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall though.

(Kensington Palace)

Unlike his mother, Prince Charles (or the Prince of Wales), resides in just one official crown estate, Clarence House in London.

But, three other official residences are available to him and the Duchess, which consist of Highgrove House in Gloucestershire, Llwynywermod, the Welsh residence of the Prince of Wales, and Tamarisk, which is on the Isle of Scilly.

However, the Prince and Duchess of Cornwall have just one private residence, Birkhall in Balmoral, near to the Queen's favourite private residence.

The younger royals aren't gifted with quite as many properties unfortunately. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have just two residences at their disposal - Kensington Palace and Anmer Hall in Norfolk.

And Prince Harry has just one royal residence, Kensington Palace, where he's installed at the modestly sized Nottingham Cottage.

What does the royal family do?

For many people, there's an air of scepticism around the role of the royal family, and what they actually do in day to day life. But, according to the official site of the royal household, the monarchy hold an important place in the United Kingdom.

The Queen is the Head of State, and while she doesn't hold an executive or political role, she is a clear representative for the country. On a day to day basis, the Queen represents a united image of the UK, and is often the face of international relations, meeting other heads of states constantly.

She also recognises "success and excellence" - in other words, giving honours - and signs off on all important Parliamentary matters - such as the recent Brexit bill.

The rest of the royal family's role is to support the Soverign in all matters.

How does the royal family speak?

We know them well for their refined and polished accents, but it's recently come to light that there are some words members of the royal family would never utter.

According to an interview with Hello! Magazine, Kate Fox, author of Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, there are a few words the royals would never say, and the words they would say instead. So what are they?

Pardon. This is a word that we've been taught is generally the most polite way of responding if you don't hear someone, but it's actually deemed very inappropriate in upper class circles. Instead, they say ‘sorry?' or ‘what?', if they hadn't heard someone properly. Who knew?

Incredibly, another word off limits is 'perfume'. The female members of the household instead prefer to call it a ‘scent'. Toilet is also strictly off limits, lavatory or loo are the official preferred terms.

Ironically, perhaps the poshest family in the UK would never actually use the word posh. Instead, they would say ‘smart', and posh would only ever be used in a jokey way.

Where do the royal family spend Christmas?

Generally, the entire royal clan will spend Christmas at the Sandringham estate, which is big enough to house the whole lot of them. The Queen and Prince Philip will usually go there first, by train, with the rest of the family following afterwards, normally arriving on Christmas Eve. The Cambridges will stay at their own Sandringham home, Anmer Hall and in recent years have been joined by the Middleton family. Then the family as a whole go to Church in Sandringham, and always have a traditional dinner together.

What traditions do the royal family have?

Like most other families, the royal family have a host of weird and wonderful traditions they stick to. But unlike most other normal families, their traditions are on a bit of a bigger scale than simply breakfast in bed on a Sunday morning, or settling down to watch the Queen's speech on Christmas Day every year.

One tradition is based around a security fear. It's common protocol in the royal family to not allow family members of the same line to travel in the same airplane together, to prevent wiping the lineage should the worst happen whilst in the skies.

Up until recently, that rather scary tradition had been adhered to. But Prince William became one of the first to break the rules, when he travelled to Canada in the same plane as son Prince George, who is primed to succeed him one day.

Another pretty intense tradition is the fact that the royal household will take a hostage every time the Queen attends the State Opening of Parliament. Yes, you heard that right - a hostage.

The strange rule harks back to the time when the royal household and Parliament didn't get on all that well, and in order to guarantee the safe return of the Queen to Buckingham Palace, they'd take a member of Parliament for the duration of the ceremony to bargain with - just in case. And the tradition is amazingly still upheld to this day, but don't worry. The chosen MP is always well-looked after.

Are there any other, less scary traditions? Yes, there are. In fact, the royal family have a Christmas tradition that's so normal, you might well do it yourself come the festive season.

The family famously exchange cheap and funny presents amongst each other - with the tackiest winning the prize. Apparently, Prince William once famously gifted his grandmother a bath hat with 'Ain't life a bitch?' written on it, whilst Princess Anne once gave her brother Prince Charles a white leather toilet seat.

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on womanandhome.com.