Who Was the Real Queen Charlotte?
If you’ve become enamored with the love story at the center of Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, you’ve likely questioned just how much of the period drama is based in fact versus the fantastical mind of creator Shonda Rhimes, given the opening disclaimer from Lady Whistledown that the series “is not a history lesson” but rather “fiction inspired by fact.” While there’s no denying the masterful storytelling of Rhimes — the six-episode Bridgerton prequel was a runaway No. 1 among all titles on Netflix in its first week — the real-life story of the 18th century British royal provided great source material.
Queen Charlotte, née Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was born on May 18, 1744, in Mirow, a small town in north-eastern Germany. She was the daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Princess Elizabeth Albertina of Saxe-Hildburghausen, and at the age of 17 she did in fact marry King George III, heir to the British Monarchy.
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According to Historic Royal Palaces, Charlotte “was “well enough” educated and spoke French, and she excelled in music, while Royal Collection Trust notes she was “a protestant with a good character.” Her personality was characterized as “sweet and good-humored, with a “lively but equable temper.” Charlotte died at Dutch House in Surrey, which is now known as Kew Palace, on Nov. 17, 1818, at the age of 74, and the true details of her life are as fascinating as the hit series she inspired. Here’s what we know about Britain’s longest-serving queen consort.
The Question of Moor Blood
While in the series, Charlotte is portrayed by biracial actresses India Ria Amarteifio and Golda Rosheuvel, historians generally agree that there’s no conclusive evidence of Charlotte’s rumored African ancestry. In a PBS Frontline article titled “The Blurred Racial Lines of Famous Families,” Charlotte is described as “directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a Black branch of the Portuguese royal house,” noting “at least 492 lines of descent can be traced from Queen Charlotte through her triple ancestry from Margarita de Castro y Sousa to Martin Alfonso de Sousa Chichorro, the illegitimate son of King Alfonso of Portugal and his Moorish mistress, Oruana/Madragana.” This explains the scene in Queen Charlotte when King George III’s mother Princess Augusta says to one of the members of Parliament, “You did not say she would be that brown,” to which he responds, “I did say she had Moor blood.”
However, Nylah Burton, in an article on Vox, points out, “There are almost no records of anyone explicitly saying that Charlotte, born into the royal family of the northern German duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had Black parents, Black siblings, Black cousins or Black ancestors on either side.”
What does exist are conflicting portraits of Charlotte, some depicting her as having more European features and fair skin, others showing a darker complexion with a fuller nose and mouth. Queen Charlotte attempts to address this discrepancy in a scene in which Charlotte tells the artist painting her that her skin is too light and he should paint it darker “as it actually is.” However, Princess Augusta intervenes, directing him to “Paint her skin lighter. Pale,” adding, “His Majesty wants her to glow.”
According to Frontline, Sir Allan Ramsay was responsible for the majority of Queen Charlotte’s paintings and his representations were the most African in nature, which may be a biproduct of his anti-slavery ideology. Still, as Burton explains, “King Alphonso I was born in 1109 or 1111, and Queen Charlotte was born in 1744. That’s more than 600 years of distance between Queen Charlotte and her rumored African ancestor Madragana — who cannot conclusively be proven to be Black or related to Queen Charlotte.”
Her Marriage to King George III
George and Charlotte met for the first time on their wedding day on Sept. 8, 1761. George became king at 22 years old after his grandfather, King George II, died unexpectedly on Oct. 25, 1760, and his unmarried status became a “matter of national alarm,” National Geographic states. George’s father, Frederick, Prince of Wales, died from a pulmonary embolism in 1751.
Charlotte married George at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace just six hours after she arrived in England, and at the time she spoke no English. Their Coronation took place two weeks after their wedding on Sept. 22, 1761. Despite the nature of their arrangement, by all accounts, Charlotte and George are said to have had a loving marriage, as evidenced by a letter she wrote to him on April 26, 1778 — 17 years after they married — that reads:
You will have the benefit by your voyages to put spirit in every body, to be more known by the world, and if possible more beloved by the people in general. That must be the case, but not equal to the love of her who subscribes herself your very affectionate friend and wife Charlotte.
Charlotte was reportedly kept in the dark when George suffered his first bout of mental illness in 1765, though he put a regency bill into effect on April 5 of that year that would grant either her or his mother specific powers should he become insane and declared unable to lead, according to Georgian Papers. In 1788, King George III’s mental condition declined to the point he was moved to Kew and kept separate from his family due to his bouts of mania, depression, hallucinations and sexual violence. Charlotte’s hair is said to have turned white by 1789 due to the stress of his illness. In 1811, George accepted the Regency Act he’d put into place and his eldest child, George IV, became Prince Regent on February 5 of that year and held that position until his father’s death on January 29, 1820, at the age of 81.
Charlotte bore a total of 15 children, 13 of whom survived into adulthood. Fourteen of the king and queen’s children were born at their Buckingham Palace residence which became known as “The Queen’s House.”
Charlotte and George’s first child, George, Prince of Wales, was born on Aug. 12, 1762. The remaining children were born as follows: Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (b.1763), Prince William, Duke of Clarence (b.1765), Charlotte, Princess Royal (b.1766), Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (b.1766), Princess Augusta Sophia (b.1768), Princess Elizabeth (b.1770), Prince Ernest, Duke of Cumberland (b.1771), Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (b.1773), Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (b.1774), Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (b.1776), Princess Sophia (b.1777), Prince Octavius (b.1779), Prince Alfred (b.1780) and Princess Amelia (b.1783).
George IV is thought to have been Charlotte’s favorite child with more than 300 letters she’d written to him remaining in the Royal Archives. “These cover a range of subjects from motherly advice, updates on other family members, birthday wishes, his daughter Princess Charlotte, and general comments on current affairs,” according to the Royal Collection Trust.
As depicted in the series, a number of Charlotte’s children either had no children of their own or fathered what were considered illegitimate children. In 1792, Queen Charlotte purchased Frogmore House in Windsor Park as a country retreat for her and her unmarried daughters. When King George IV died on June 26, 1830, he was succeeded by his younger brother William, as his only child, Princess Charlotte of Wales, died in 1817 and George III’s second son, Frederick, died childless in 1827.
Her Personal Style and Interests
In episode three, Charlotte’s ladies in waiting come to Buckingham Palace to hear a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart play for her, which he did in real life and again at the celebration of the fourth anniversary of The King’s accession in 1764 when he was just 8 years old. Johann Christian Bach, the eleventh son of famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach, also served as Charlotte’s music master. According to an article by Melian Solly for Smithsonian Magazine, “The king and queen shared a love of music, often playing duets together, with Charlotte on the harpsichord and George on the flute.”
While in Queen Charlotte, the king is referred to as “farmer George” because of his love of gardening, she, too, took an interest in botany as well as books. Charlotte also had a flair for luxury. According to the Royal Collection Trust, “She assembled an impressive collection of furniture, Sèvres porcelain and oriental decorative arts, in ivory, porcelain, embroidered silk and lacquer and she also collected jeweled and gold boxes.” When she purchased Frogmore, she commissioned Mary Moser, a founder member of the Royal Academy, to decorate the walls and ceiling.
Despite rejecting George’s gesture when he gifts her a Pomeranian in his absence, Charlotte was actually quite fond of the dog breed and brought two with her, named Phoebe and Mercury, when she moved to England. She’s also said to have frequently gifted dogs to her courtiers.
When Queen Charlotte died, her eldest son claimed her jewels, while the rest of her belongings were sold at auction from May to August of 1819. She remains the longest-serving female consort, having served a total of 57 years and 70 days, and the second-longest-serving consort in British history after Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
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