Queen Charlotte wasn’t really black, many historians say

  • TV shows like “Brigerton” and the upcoming Netflix spinoff portray a black Queen Charlotte.
  • They lean towards a theory spread by a historian who claims she was bisexual.
  • But other scholars are highly skeptical of the theory, pointing out inconsistencies in the claim.

Queen Charlotte in “Bridgerton”, played by Golda Rochevel, commanded the screen with her icy gaze, towering wigs and sumptuous gowns. She also stood out for her role as a black monarch who reigns over a reimagined, racially integrated London.

The upcoming spinoff show, “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story,” goes back in time and explores the love story of Charlotte and King George III and “how it sparked a social change, creating the world of tone that the characters in “Bridgerton ,” Netflix announced in September.

But the real Regency era from 1811 to 1820 was not as diverse as representations had made it out to be. Slavery was abolished in England by 1833 and people of color were relegated to domestic work.

“Bridgerton” leans toward one historian’s theory that Queen Charlotte was descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family.

But other scholars have since disputed that claim.

“The problem with the theory is that it’s been around the Internet, it’s been reported by the New York Times, and it’s earned a blanket of respectability,” historian Lisa Hilton told Insider.

“But one can say that there is absolutely no credible evidence that she was Black.”

India Amarteifio as Young Queen Charlotte in Netflix spinoff series Bridgerton.

India Amarteifio stars as young Queen Charlotte in the upcoming “Bridgerton” spinoff.

Netflix



Who was Queen Charlotte?

Princess Charlotte was born into the royal family of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in a small duchy in Germany. As a minor German princess with great political influence, she was seen as a match for George III, who inherited the British throne in 1760.

Within six hours of her arrival in London on September 8, 1761, Charlotte married King George III and became Queen of Great Britain.

The new queen did not speak English at first, but she quickly learned the language and acclimated herself to British society, winning the approval of her subjects.

“She was quite popular at the time: a good, pious Protestant who had a successful marriage to King Charles,” Hilton said.

When King Charles’ mental and physical illness worsened in 1788, Queen Charlotte stepped in to rule effectively as regent, although she was never formally appointed as such. She supported her husband throughout his mental illness until her death in 1818.

One historian popularized the idea that Queen Charlotte was biracial

The theory that Queen Charlotte was biracial emerged in 1997.

Mario de Valdes y Cocom, who described himself as a “historian of the African diaspora”, claimed that “at least 492 lines of descent can be traced from Queen Charlotte” to the “illegitimate son of King Alfonso of Portugal and his Moorish mistress . “

Cocom based this argument on what he perceived as “subtleties in the color and structure of the facial bones of persons of African descent”, showing a portrait by the official royal painter Allan Ramsay.

Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Alan Ramsay

Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay, 1762.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons



But other historians have argued that Cocom’s theory is imprecise.

Hilton said his claim that Queen Charlotte is part “Moorish” is “completely unfounded” as the term did not necessarily refer to a person of African descent. Rather, it was a general term used for the inhabitants — Black, white, or otherwise — of the Moorish empire in North Africa and Spain.

“Even if that were the case, after 500 years, it is extremely unlikely that traces of genetic makeup would have appeared in the features of an 18th-century princess,” Hilton said.

Hilton further dispelled Cocom’s theory, which she said inaccurately referred to a doctor who described her as having “a true mulatto face” at birth. The doctor in question was born in 1787 — 43 years after Queen Charlotte was born.

Fact-checking website Snopes rated the theory that Queen Charlotte had African ancestry as “unproven”.

Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte in season two, episode six

Golda Rochevel as Queen Charlotte in “Bridgerton” season two, episode six.

Liam Daniel/Netflix



Buckingham Palace and some historians have dismissed the theory’s significance

Cocom’s theory resurfaced when Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in 2018, which continues to spark debate about the British royal family and race.

But many of the stories published by the media at the time cited Cocom as their sole source for the theory.

“I found it abhorrent that black women should be considered alien and different and that precedents had to be set for [Meghan Markle] within the royal family,” Hilton said. “There are far more interesting stories about race in British history than looking for misspelled names in the British royal family.”

Buckingham Palace echoes Hilton’s sentiment about the importance of the theory that Queen Charlotte was black.

“This has been rumored for years and years. It’s a matter of history and frankly, we have much more important things to talk about,” a spokesperson told the Boston Globe in 1999.

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