Until the 1870s, the realm we now call Germany comprised dozens of mini-states. In Saxony, the lands of dead nobles were split between brothers, rather than simply being inherited by the firstborn.
Resulting territories included the large Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach plus smaller duchies of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Hildburghausen and Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
Prince Albert, the most famous member of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was born a Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. His great-uncle’s death in 1825 led to a baffling swapping of lands, creating four large Saxon states.
When Gotha-Altenberg became an extinct line, Gotha was exchanged for Saalfeld. So when Prince Albert married Queen Victoria in 1840, ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’ became the house of the British monarchy. There you have it, but why they couldn’t pick a simpler moniker is anyone’s guess.
This article was first published in the April 2015 issue of History Revealed and answered by one of our Q&A experts, Greg Jenner.