Royal Weddings: England's Ruritania

Michael Bloch tells the story of one of the more unusual dynasties related to the Windsors.

Of all the European royal houses from which Prince William is descended few were more colourful than that of Mecklenburg-Strelitz: William’s five-times great-grandmother was Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who in 1761 became the queen of George III. Tiny, remote and anachronistic, Mecklenburg-Strelitz might have been the model for Ruritania in Anthony Hope’s 1894 adventure novel The Prisoner of Zenda.

Mecklenburg occupies a large but desolate area of north-eastern Germany, bordered by Holstein, Brandenburg, Pomerania and the Baltic Sea. Its ruling dynasty, holding sway in unbroken descent from the 12th century to 1918, was one of the longest-reigning in Europe, there being little competition for control of this flat, sandy, windswept region. Like other German principalities it sometimes became partitioned between different branches of the dynasty and in the 17th century (during which the staunchly Lutheran Mecklenburg was devastated by fighting between Austrians and Swedes in the Thirty Years War) it consisted of two duchies: Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Güstrow, named after their respective capitals.

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