I’m not a royalist at all, I wasn’t raised that way, but I cannot pretend that when Prince Harry got engaged to Meghan Markle I wasn’t celebrating. I remember going into work and finding one of the only other black women I work with and doing the most. “Oh my god we’ve made it” “Huh?” “The royal family is going to be black! ”. I’m not going to lie, I may or may not have equated Meghan to Barack… what can I say I was excited. Funnily enough I didn’t watch the royal wedding, because again, I wasn’t raised that way, but I’ve seen numerous clips and Meghan did us proud.
In my search to find out more about black British herstory I discovered that Meghan isn’t actually the first black member of the royal family.
C is for Charlotte, Queen Charlotte.
On 19 May 1744 Charlotte was born to Duke Carl Ludwig Friedrick of Mecklengurg-Strelitz and Princess of Elisabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen. She was a German princess and when she was 17 she travelled to England to marry King George III. Queen Charlotte served as Queen of Great Britain and Queen of Ireland from her wedding in 1761, until her death in 1818 (in 1801 of the two kingdoms joined to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland). She had 15 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood, and is the grandmother of Queen Victoria. Queen Charlotte was a patron of Mozart and Mozart’s Opus 3 was dedicated to the Queen. She also founded Kew Gardens ensuring that travellers and explorers contributed to the garden.
By all accounts her start to life in England was strained. She had a difficult relationship with her mother-in-law, and her husband grew to suffer from mental illness. This left her fighting over the Regency with her son, the Prince of Wales, and for guardianship of the King. Prior to her husband’s ill health she was described as friendly and cheerful, but after the King’s decline became temperamental and stopped enjoying the musical concerts she had previously loved. Imagine having mother-in-law problems when your mother-in-law is the King’s mother and you’re in a foreign country. #richpeopleproblems
Her black lineage
Mario De Valdes y Cocom is a historian that set about discovering the heritage of Queen Charlotte after hearing rumours of the black queen from his Jamaican nanny. He discovered that Queen Charlotte was directly descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family through Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-century Portuguese noblewoman. In the 13th century Alfonso III of Portugal conquered Faro from the Moors. He married the governor’s daughter and had three children with her. One of his sons married into the de Sousa family who also had black ancestry.
A royal physician, Baron Christian Friedrich Stockmar described Queen Charlotte as “small and crooked, with a true mulatto face” and one prime minister described her features as “her nose is too wide and her lips too thick”.
Sir Allan Ramsay was responsible for a lot of Queen Charlotte’s portraits and as an abolitionist it has been argued that unlike other portraitists at the time he chose not to play down her African features. I have chosen one of his portraits as the title image above.
On history being erased
It’s so funny because this is not a part of British history that I know about, but according to a Buckingham Palace spokesman “It is a matter of history, and frankly, we’ve got far more important things to talk about.”* David Williamson, a co-editor of a guide to Britain’s barons, dukes and duchesses and other titled people went so far as to say “There is a lot of Moorish blood in the Portuguese royal family and it has diffused over the rest of the Europe. The question is, who cares?”.* So I’m going to borrow a phrase from our cousins across the pond and just say AW HELL NAH and I CARE! You mean to tell me the royal family have black ancestry and you all are really going to pretend that’s not an important part of history. Wait. Pause. Stop. You mean to tell me I have to learn all the names of the wives that Henry VIII married and
deaded killed but you’re not going to teach me the name of A BLACK BRITISH QUEEN, who gave birth to a ruling king?!?
I can’t help but laugh at how mad this fact is making people that they have really tried to dismiss and bury it as if it is not a big deal. Ok, you do that but I’m about to become a royalist and start repping the royal family now, at least when it comes to Queen Charlotte anyway. Black women are magic, we really are queens wherever we go.
C is for Charlotte, Queen Charlotte
*You can read these quotes in an article on Queen Charlotte published in The Independent on 28 November 2017.