February 12, 2011

Feb 12 – Charlotte, Queen of England and Ireland

Queen Charlotte

Certainly, in the UK, you cannot turn on the news, or walk by a newsstand, without seeing something about the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. It’s actually pretty exciting to me since I will be in London to watch the festivities; and had watched the wedding of the Prince’s parents on TV, when I was living in the US.


Someday, Prince William will presumably be King. His grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, is currently Queen of the United Kingdom and the monarch of 15, other sovereign states which comprise what is known as The Commonwealth. When you research Her Majesty’s ancestry, you will find her great-great-great grandmother, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and wife of King George III.

Charlotte was born in May 1744, and was directly descended from the fifth king of Portugal, Afonso III, who had a son with an African Moorish woman, Madalena Gil. When King George III ascended to the throne, upon the death of his father, King George II, it was expected that he get married. As suitable candidates were considered, the seventeen-year-old, Princess Charlotte, won the favor of a Colonel, who had been sent to Germany to find a wife for the King. He described Charlotte as not being a beauty, but possessing other, desirable qualities such as intelligence, a nice figure, bright eyes, lovely hair and a good sense of humor.

A young  Princess Charlotte

In September 1761, Princess Charlotte arrived in England, after nine, stormy days at sea, and speaking no English. The next day, she and King George got married, in St. James’s Palace, and Charlotte became Queen. That same year, King George purchased Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace), for his new Queen to serve as a comfortable, family home. The early years of their marriage were difficult because King George was busy with his duties, and her mother-in-law, the Princess Dowager, was not ready to relinquish control at the palace, having recently been Queen.  The situation eventually improved, and Queen Charlotte became a great patroness of the arts, including the works of Bach and Mozart (In 1765, an eight-year-old Mozart wrote and dedicated six sonatas, know as Opus 3, to The Queen). She was also a keen botanist – responsible for greatly expanding the collection at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Kew Gardens) – and introducing the Christmas tree to England, in 1800, by having the first one in her home and decorating it with sweet-meats, almonds and raisins in papers, fruit and toys.


Mozart's Opus 3 dedicated to Queen Charlotte

King George and Queen Charlotte were quite devoted to each other, and together, had fifteen children, including future Kings, George IV and William IV; and Edward, father of the future Queen Victoria.   Queen Charlotte remained true to King George, until her death in 1818, even after he very famously went insane.

King George III and Queen Charlotte with their six eldest children

Slavery was quite prevalent during much of Queen Charlotte’s life, and she was known to be quite against it, as the anti-slavery campaign grew. It is thought that this might be one of the reasons that Queen Charlotte’s African ancestry was not mentioned very often, or ‘played down’. In fact, some of the Queen’s portrait artists were told to ‘soften her features’; and some portraits were either rejected or made to be re-painted. However, some portraits appear to depict a ‘truer likeness’ – especially those by Sir Allan Ramsay, who interestingly was married to the niece of an abolitionist judge, Lord Mansfield (who also had a Black grand-niece, by marriage, Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsey).  Additionally, Queen Charlotte’s own physician, Baron Christian Friedrich Stockmar, described her has having a ‘true, mulatto face’.

Portrait of Queen Charlotte with 'softened features'

A 'truer likeness' of Queen Charlotte

Dido Elizabeth Lindsey with her cousin, Lady Murray

Some historians do not believe Queen Charlotte’s African ancestry (in fact, in the film, The Madness of King George, Queen Charlotte was played by the wonderful (but White) Dame Helen Mirren); but it has been proven by a professional genealogist, from Boston, Massachusetts, Mario Valdes,  and received a lot of media coverage in 2009.



There were also royal references to her ancestry, such as this poem written to commemorate Queen Charlotte’s marriage to King George III:

Descended from the warlike Vandal race,
She still preserves that title in her face.
Tho' shone their triumphs o'er
Numidia's plain,
And Alusian fields their name retain;
They but subdued the southern world with arms,
She conquers still with her triumphant charms,
O! born for rule, - to whose victorious brow
The greatest monarch of the north must bow.

Finally, even at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the Royal Household referred to both her Asian and African bloodlines in an apologia (a defense of one’s opinions, position or actions) which  it published defending her position as head of The Commonwealth.

Queen Charlotte was much-loved for her contributions to the United Kingdom and Ireland; and there are many streets, squares and hospitals, around the world, named after her. Also, Charlotte, North Carolina, in the United States, is her namesake and has two statues erected in the city center, to honor her. 

Statue of Queen Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina

She died, in the presence of one of her sons at Kew Palace, fourteen months before King George III died, and is buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Queen Charlotte


Sources:  Wikipedia, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, PBS, Google Images

15 comments:

  1. WHAT A WONDERFUL ARTICLE. WHILE TRAVELING WITH OUR GODYVA BOOK CLUB TO NOVA SCOTIA, WE ENCOUNTERED A PORTRAIT OF QUEEN CHARLOTTE IN A BLACK MUSEUM. THE BLACK POPULATION THERE SEEMED TO HAVE HAD SOME CONNECTION WITH HER AND I WONDERED IF YOU HAPPENED TO HAVE COME ACROSS ANYTHING IN YOUR RESEARCH THAT CONNECTS HER TO NOVA SCOTIA.--- REALLY LOVED YOUR ARTICLE!

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  2. Thank you so much! I'm honored that you enjoyed it.

    This is what I found in my research about Novia Scotia: Nova Scotia is one of Canada's Maritime Provinces. The area was granted by King James I to Sir William Alexander in 1621. This settlement was absorbed by the French. Nova Scotia was ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Many French Acadians were deported in 1755 (a story that is the theme of Longfellow's poem Evangeline), and the area was settled in the 18th century by Scottish Highlanders and, after the American Revolution, by Loyalists from the United States. Nova Scotia was separated from New Brunswick and established as a separate colony in 1784.

    Queens County, Nova Scotia was one of the first places named in honor of the young Queen Charlotte in 1761. The county, in the southwest of the province, has a land area of 983 square miles, and a population (in 1981) of 13,126. The county seat is the town of Liverpool.

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  3. Why did they use a white person to play Qeen Charlotte, I am sure they could have got a black person good enough for the part. So much for "Black History"

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    1. One word: Hollywood.

      Actually while that's true, it goes a bit deeper than that into mainstream audiences perceptions. People of color have effectively been written out of history where movies are concerned, particularly when it comes to their presence in Europe -- one could say it's even happening to their presence in their own homelands (A Mighty Heart anyone?). Of course now if you were to actually start to cast films correctly or look for those historical stories of Blacks and other races you'd get a large portion of filmgoers stating over cyberspace that the picture was ruined due to kowtowing to political correction and multi-cultural diversity. We really need to get a Hollywood alternative.

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  4. Zena,
    Thanks so much for sharing such a great post with so much information. I came across it as I was researching information about Queen Charlotte while planning a trip downtown to see the statue you have pictured here. My daughter is studying Charlotte/North Carolina history in school and I thought a trip downtown would be perfect today! I was aware that there was some discussion about the Queen having African heritage but now I am so much wiser! This also coincides with my recent study of Black History Month in United Kingdom which I am just becoming aquianted with. It has been great to learn so much more about Black History in UK this month (october)
    Thanks again for all the great research you have shared here. I will definitly send others this way especially during Feb.

    wishing you all the very best

    Jaelma
    http://www.themochalife.wordpress.com
    http://www.kiarablu.com

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  5. My pleasure, Jaelma! What a fun way for you to study with your daughter! Best wishes, Zena

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    1. Thank you for sharing your research with us. It was so good. I only came across your research when an ex colleague of mine mentioned on Face book that Queen Charlotte had black ancestry. So I went on Google and came across your story. I have a habit of reading and collecting old books and particular about the royal family. I also use them designing my cushions.. when I saw Queen Charlotte's photo, it really was striking and I had seen her face before, so I went digging amongst my books and found it. Queen Charlotte was in a book called Royal Heritage JH Plumb and Huw Wheldon.
      So I will dedicate to her. I am so excited. Thank you.

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    2. I was told this as a teenager and I will be 59 this year. I read about Juan Latino, a famous painter of Spain mixed with African ancestry before DNA. I read about Dumas and Puskin, Arthur Schomburg famous Historian of mixed African Descent There are so many but I thank Zena for giving me information about Eugene Chen where I read a little about Chen before ecountering Zena.This David Antonio Dorsey of sunshine by Day and the Moon on the Run at night in New York Try Queens , Thev Bronx . MANHanttan in Union Square Park

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  6. I am 64 and had no idea that there was a Queen Charlotte. Thanks for the history lesson. Will pass it on to my daughter and grandchildren and will look forward to seeing more articles in your name Zena. Thanks. I heard about Queen Charlotte on the Tom Joyner Show this morning and I believe your name was mentioned.

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  7. Great article! I had no idea that Queen Charlotte was of African ancestry, nor did I know that Charlotte, NC was her namesake.So much for teaching all of history in the schools. I am very annoyed that Helen Miran played her. I easily have seen Vanessa Williams in that role. Shame on you Hollywood.

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  8. Zena, we are once again celebrating Charlotte's birthday on May 19 here in Charlottesville VA (home of Thomas Jefferson). I expect to use some of your material for a public event at our city hall. I you would like to exchange info about this you can find me on FaceBook or email dembling@virginia.edu Bruce Dembling PhD

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  9. Zena, we are once again celebrating Charlotte's birthday on May 19 here in Charlottesville VA (home of Thomas Jefferson). I expect to use some of your material for a public event at our city hall. I you would like to exchange info about this you can find me on FaceBook or email dembling@virginia.edu Bruce Dembling PhD

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  10. There is a movie out called "Belle" which is about Lord Mansfield niece called Dido Elizabeth Lindsey...great article by the way.

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