Bridgerton's big question: was Queen Charlotte really our first black royal?
Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte in Netflix's' Bridgerton - LIAM DANIEL / NETFLIX
It's slowly becoming a habit. Netflix has found itself caught up in yet another controversy over historical accuracy, this time over its raging Regency drama Bridgerton.
At first glance, it seems like the bodice busting show for color blind casting has popped up. It's an established theatrical practice - and it's becoming increasingly popular in films like Armando Iannucci's recent Dickens adaptation, The Personal History of David Copperfield.
But the cast of black British actress Golda Rosheuvel (49) as Queen Charlotte seems to have been a deliberate allusion to a weak historical theory - that George III. Consort was the first black queen of Great Britain. This is especially telling as Queen Charlotte is the most prominent real life character on the show. The dueling families the drama revolves around are fictional.
"Many historians believe she has an African background," said Julia Quinn, the American writer whose romance line-up inspired the show. "It's a very controversial point and we can't test it for DNA so I don't think there will be a definitive answer. What if she used that position to put other people of color in positions of power? How would the company have looked like? "
That there is debate about Queen Charlotte's ancestry will come as a surprise to those whose main encounter with this somewhat forgotten character was Helen Mirren's heartfelt performance to Nigel Hawthorne in The Madness of King George, 1994.
Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte in Bridgerton - Netflix
Still, the idea that Charlotte von Mecklenburg-Strelitz was black has proven stubborn. The historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom pointed this out; His reasoning is based in part on historical portraits, including Sir Allan Ramsay's famous portrayal, which shows them with stereotypical African features.
However, critic and historian Lisa Hilton has pointed out that this portrait is far from conclusive.
"The Ramsay portrait shows a reddish-haired woman with blue-gray eyes, a big nose, a heavy chin and full lips," she says. "Such features were considered unattractive by the standards of beauty of the day, and since royal portraiture is not known for its harsh realism, other painters may have tempered these features without necessarily obscuring the color of Charlotte's skin. "
She also notes: “None of the other major portraits, for example works by Zoffany and Gainsborough, indicate mulatto blood. It is unlikely that at a time when cartoonists depicted the royal family in the most whimsical of situations (sex, defecation), there shouldn't be any other visual clue as to what would have been a pretty surprising feature after all. "
A portrait of Queen Charlotte, great-great-great-great-grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II - Getty
Cocom untangles the cradle of a cat's bloodlines to argue for Charlotte's African heritage. Although the Queen was German, he claims she was descended directly from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family. This "black" legacy goes to the ruler Alfons III. From the 13th century and his lover Madragana back, who was a Moor and therefore - according to Cocom's assessment - was black.
However, "moor" was not synonymous with African ancestry. According to Hilton, this was “a general term for the inhabitants of the Moorish Empire in North Africa and Spain. In addition, the 500 years between Mandragana and Charlotte would suggest that any African bloodline would have been significantly watered down. "
Cocom provides two additional pieces of evidence. The first is that Queen Charlotte's physician, Baron Stockmar, described her as "a true mulatto face" at birth. However, Stockmar's eyewitness testimony becomes less convincing when it is recalled that he was born in 1787 - 43 years after the birth of Queen Charlotte in May 1744.
Second, Cocom quotes a poem written for her wedding to George III and his coronation:
Descending from the warlike vandal race, she still keeps this title on her face. To shine their triumphs over Numidia's plain, and the Andalusian fields keep their name; They conquered the southern world only with arms. She still conquers with her triumphant charms, Ö! born for rulership - before whose victorious forehead the greatest monarch of the north must bow.
The Vandals, however, were a conquering tribe; Their presence in "Numidia's Plain" speaks of itchy expansionism, not of African ancestry. In addition, the quirky literary atmosphere of the court - happily captured in Bridgerton - would have made the warlike vandals a shrewd allusion to a poet who wanted to poke fun at the new queen's German heritage. Even so, the poem is cited on 100greatblackbritons.com as evidence of Charlotte's inclusion on this list.
Queen Charlotte - regardless of her skin color - experienced a bruise on the historical record. For the historian John H. Plumb, it was “plain and undesirable”. And in the opening of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities she remarked, memorable: "On the throne of England was a king with a big jaw and a queen with a plain face." A courtier even purred from the elder queen: "The Her Majesty's ugliness has pretty much faded. "
An 18th century portrait of Charlotte von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, painted by Allan Ramsay - Getty
However, their legacy should not be based on their physical appearance. Despite finding herself queen of a foreign land when she was only 17, she became a patroness of the arts, founded Kew Gardens, and possibly commissioned Mozart. She also gave birth to 15 children, 13 of whom survived into adulthood.
Maybe Golda Rosheuvel embodied this impressive woman best? Quinn said she sought "historical plausibility" rather than accuracy in her Bridgerton novels. and Golda Rosheuvel has a dreadnought splendor that is entirely tailored to the role.
In fact, Queen Charlotte is celebrated as a heroine in Charlotte, North Carolina. There are two statues in the city, including one in which she has particularly black features. She is considered an inspiring figure, even though her husband declared war on America in 1775.
"We believe [she] is speaking to us on many levels," said Cheryl Palmer, director of education at the Mint Museum. "As a woman, an immigrant, a person who may have had African ancestors, a botanist, a queen who opposed slavery, she speaks to Americans, especially in a southern city like Charlotte that is trying to redefine itself."
There is an element of nudge-nudge camaraderie in Queen Charlotte's embrace across town. "I believe the African American Charlotteans have always been proud of Queen Charlotte's legacy and honor it with a smile and a wink," said Eula Watt, wife of the first African American in the House of Representatives. "A lot of us are enjoying a little 'I told you' now that the story is out."
So she may not have been Britain's first black queen. But as the city that bears her name proves, Queen Charlotte's recognition is long overdue.
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