Their descendants currently occupy the thrones of Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and of course the United Kingdom. At the beginning of the first World War, their grandchildren ruled: Denmark, Germany, Greece, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom. Few remember that Kaiser Wilhelm I was Queen Victoria's grandson through her eldest daughter (also named Victoria) and that the fabled Anastasia of Russia and all the children of Czar Nicholas II were also the great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria through their mother.
Makes for a tangled family tree, yes?
So what great royal families do you know?
This is an easy one. The Windsors are the current monarchs of Great Britain, though they were once considered the House of Hanover, the family house title was changed to Windsor after war with Germany. The head of the family is Queen Elizabeth II, her son Charles, Prince of Wales is the heir with Prince William and now Prince George to follow. The Windsors are the family most Americans know because we remain so closely tied with Great Britain.
The House of Habsburg was an important royal house of Europe and is best known as supplying all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1452 and 1740, as well as rulers of Spain and the Austrian Empire. Originally from Switzerland, the dynasty first reigned in Austria, which they ruled for over six centuries, but a series of dynastic marriages brought Burgundy, Spain, Bohemia, Hungary and other territories into the inheritance. The dynasty’s motto is “Let others wage wars, but you, happy Austria, shall marry”, which indicates the talent of the Habsburgs to have their members intermarry into other royal houses, to make alliances and inherit territory.
The Russian royal family dates back centuries and came to an abrupt end in one bloody night during World War I after the Bolsheviks rebelled and overthrew the royal family. The name Romanov however immediately conjures the image of Anastasia, the princess most hoped had survived the slaughter as rumors of her existence continued for years afterwards.
When Henry Tudor (House of Lancaster) married Elizabeth of York (House of York) it united the two warring factions (War of the Roses) and began a new dynasty. His son, Henry VIII is probably one of the most infamous kings in England's history. Henry VIII was married six times, and beheaded two of his wives. All three of his children that survived from infancy also ruled after his death. His son Edward VI died while a young man and his eldest sister Mary I took the throne. She tried to undo all the changes her father did (including the schism with the Catholic Church), but she died without issue and her sister, Elizabeth I ascended the throne. The last of the Tudors, Elizabeth ruled England for nearly forty-five years, longer than any other Tudor monarch.
Remember all the Shakespearean plays about the Plantagenets? Sure you do--look for any title that has a Henry in it. One of the longest ruling dynasties in England's history, the Plantagenet dynasty ended in the War of the Roses when the Houses of York and Lancaster (both cadet branches of the family) warred over who would hold the throne. It only took nearly wiping out most of the family to solve the issue and thus the House of Tudor was born from the ashes.
What do you know about them that didn't come from a Dan Brown book? The first Merovingians were Chieftains of the Franks (from which France gets its name) and among the Franks, when a Chieftain died, his possessions and holdings were divided among his sons. Needless to say, this caused some disagreements.
Other notable royal families:
Though they are better known by their first names: Prince Albert II (son of Prince Ranier and Princess Grace.) The Grimaldi's rule Monaco, a principality.
Not a royal family originally, this powerful Italian family rose to wealth and prominence through trade and banking. They sponsored some of the greatest artists of their age, had several Popes and Cardinals come from their line and married into the wealthiest families in Europe including an alliance with France through Catherine d'Medici when she married the King.