Why Queen Charlotte of Britain Is Portrayed as Black In Bridgerton Series?

One of the portraits of Queen Charlotte

Okay, Bridgerton has just become the most-watched series on Netflix, amassing a viewership of 82 million households worldwide. 

Along its massive success, comes, the curiosity, interest and intrigue about the truth of Queen Charlotte's ancestry. She was depicted as a woman of mixed race in the series. 


It is an American period drama series created by Chris Van Dusen based on Julia Quinn's best-selling novels. It premiered on Netflix on December 25, 2020 with eight episodes.

Quinn's novels are set during the Regency era in London where debutantes, women from the upper-class making their first appearance in the fashionable society, are presented at the royal court.

Regency era means the period during the insanity of King George III and where the throne was under the regency of his heir, the future King George IV.

However, Queen Charlotte was not in the original books of Julia Quinn, Van Dusen just added it in the Bridgerton series. 

"Queen Charlotte opened up an entirely new world for us", Van Dusen beamed. "This was an opportunity to marry history and fantasy in an exciting, interesting way".

In the first season, the episodes were taken from Quinn's first book where four Bridgerton siblings are debutantes and prepares for the social season of arranging matches for marriage.

The eldest, Daphne Bridgerton, impresses Queen Charlotte and thinks she is a good match to her nephew, Prince Friedrich of Prussia. But standing in the way is Simon Bastings, Duke of Hastings, one of London's most eligible bachelors. 

The Controversy

The curiosity, however, did not come from the meeting and romance between Daphne and the Duke of Hastings but on the depiction of Queen Charlotte as a woman of color.

In an alternative history, Van Dusen tries to present the grandmother of Queen Victoria as a woman of mixed race, this was based on historical debate that the Queen consort of King George III, born Duchess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, might have an African ancestry, a claim that's still subject to historian's debate because it has not substantiated.

But well, forget Bridgerton, let's focus on Queen Charlotte.

Who was Queen Charlotte?

She was the Queen Consort of King George III of the United Kingdom. She married him when she was 17 and the king, 23.  They had 15 children of whom 13 survived into adulthood. Queen Victoria was one of their grandchildren.

Queen Charlotte portrait

Though Queen Charlotte and King George III were depicted in history as a happy couple who were faithful to each other, their sons were pictures of great contradiction. 

Most of their sons were referred by some historians as royal vampires, they were either involved in a series of scandals, took several mistresses or heavily buried in debts.

In 1817, when the only legitimate child of the Prince of Wales, Princess Charlotte, died from a difficult childbirth, all remaining bachelor sons of the king scrambled to find a suitable royal bride to provide the throne with legitimate heirs.

The king's third son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (who by then living with a non-aristocratic commoner), to marry the sister of of Princess Charlotte's widower (Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha), Princess Victoria. Their only child was born in 1819, the future Queen Victoria.

Queen Consort

Born Sophia Charlotte in 1744, she was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg, also Prince Mirow. Her mother was Princess Elisabeth of Saxe-Hildburghausen. 

Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a German duchy in the Holy Roman Empire and its rulers were considered as minor royals. They would soon rise to prominence when Charlotte married the King of Britain.

In 1759, the future George III was smitten with Lady Sarah Lennox, sister of the 3rd Duke of Richmond, both descendants of King Charles II. But she was not of royal blood, the relationship was eventually discouraged by his mother and palace ministers.

Portrait of King George III

Prince George was quoted saying "I am born for the happiness or misery of a great nation and consequently must often act contrary to my passion". He became heir-apparent when his father, Prince Frederick, Prince of Wales, died earlier.

In 1760, his grandfather, King George II, died, George at 22 became king and reigned as George III. As monarch needed to marry to provide the throne with legitimate heirs, his advisors were scrambling to find a suitable wife for the young king.

They went to Germany to scout for a royal bride, among the possible candidate was Duchess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. 

During medieval times, royals married within their circle to establish political alliances and extended territories, this dynastic marriage arrangement rarely happened in person, palace ministers did the negotiation, and well the wooing, and royals mostly met their future spouse on the day of their wedding.

After settling with Duchess Charlotte, the royal wedding was set and she was summoned to England accompanied by her brother, Duke Adolphus Frederick, and the palace ministers who negotiated the marriage. 

They were met by King George III and his family at the garden of St. James's Palace. It was the first time Charlotte met the king.

The palace wasted no time. Within six hours of Charlotte's arrival, she and the king were married at the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace. Less than a year later, she gave birth to their eldest child, the future King George IV. 

Despite meeting only on their wedding day, the king developed great affection towards his wife and became extremely devoted.

He remarkably did not take mistress unlike his father and grandfather and other kings in the continent. he and his queen developed affinity towards country living and would spend quiet weekends at Kew Palace where they indulged into country life pursuits.

King George III later purchased Buckingham house, which stood Buckingham palace in present time, as a family retreat but maintained St. James's Palace as his official working place.

African ancestry

Just when and how the theory over Queen Charlotte's black ancestry started? 

In early 20th century, an American writer cited in his book that Queen Charlotte must have a "Negro strain" due to her thick lips and broad nostrils as depicted in the 1761 portrait by Allan Ramsay.

This assumption was inflated into a series of discussion about her possible African ancestry because she was small in stature, crooked with a mulatto face.

Queen Charlotte with her two children

Eventually, the discussion expanded into a debate and claims that she might be of mixed-race. This theory inspired historian, Mario De Valdes y Cocom, to conduct a genealogical research about Queen Charlotte's ancestry.

He claimed that Charlotte directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a 15th century Portuguese noblewoman whose ancestry was traced to King Alfonso III of Portugal and his mistress, Madragana.

Madragana, however, was not of African race but  Moorish or Mozarab, the Iberian Christians who lived under Muslim rule.

Valdes also observed that some portrait of Queen Charlotte depicted her as dark-skinned and curly hair, which gave rise to suspicion that she might have an African ancestry.

The claims about Queen Charlotte's mixed-race remained a rumor and was never substantiated. And many observers, who pointed to his royal portraits and descriptions, agreed that her appearance was of a typical Northern European woman.

Role in Regency Era

The close relationship between the king and his queen shattered when several years later, he first showed signs of madness. He would talk for hours without stopping and most of his words were incoherent.

Eventually, his doctors suspected his behavior was caused by a blood disease called porphyria that affected the nervous system. Other monarchs in the continent diagnosed of porphyria were Queen Mary of Scotland and the mad queen of Portugal, Queen Maria. 

His bout of maladies worsened in 1810 after the death of his favorite child, Princess Amelia, who died from complications when she fell from her pony.

Triggered by stress over the death of Princess Amelia, the king sunk into depression and would cry everyday. "Melancholy was beyond description", according to the private nurse of the young princess, describing the situation of King George III. 

He was eventually prone to violent rages and terrifying tantrums. Unable to perform his duty as king, the palace ministers believed there was a need for a regency.

The Regency Act of 1811 was established in which the king agreed. His eldest son, the Prince of Wales was appointed as Regent while he was indisposed. 

However, many theories would appear later that it was actually Queen Charlotte who would suppose to act as Regent, but it was met with strong opposition from the Prince of Wales who wanted full control of the Regency.

The Prince of Wales eventually became Prince Regent and Queen Charlotte left to absorb the pressure of taking care a mad husband.

Nonetheless, she acted as the primary Lady of the Throne as the Prince of Wales was estranged from his wife, Queen Caroline. 

She would endure more traumatic events later as most of her sons were involved in scandals and refused to settle down with a suitable wife.

In 1817, their only legitimate grandchild and heiress to the British throne, Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only child of the Prince Regent, died from difficult childbirth.

Queen Charlotte deeply mourned the death of her granddaughter and she thoroughly lived a life in seclusion at Windsor Castle, disheartened by the fact that her husband was unable to recover from his insanity.

In 1818, Queen Charlotte died from natural cause in the presence of the Prince Regent.

She was Britain's longest-living consort from 1761 until her death in 1818. In 2010, her record was surpassed by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

King George III, who became blind from cataract, sunk deeper into his madness. He was unaware that his wife died in 1818, and if ever he was informed, he was oblivious of the situation.

The king died in 1820 and was buried beside his wife in Windsor.

The claims of Queen Charlotte's black ancestry remained unsubstantiated and historians only relied on presumptions and theories.

The Queen's Charlotte Ball

Bridgerton is a fiction, presenting an alternate history in the writer's imagination. However, its highlight of organizing a "debutante ball", where the plot of the first season largely evolved, is actually a classic British social tradition founded by King George III in honor of Queen Charlotte. 

Debutante Ball has been part of the coming of age introduction of the elites to the London society. It is a social party where women from the upper-class are presented in a formal ball, marking its first appearance in the fashionable society and somewhat "declaring its availability to be wooed or married" by eligible bachelors.

The dress code is always an evening white dress with white opera gloves. And debutantes must adhere to a specific instruction about social etiquette.

In the British royal court, the ball began on May 19, 1780 called The Queen Charlotte's Ball organized by King George III for his wife to mark her birthday.

Originally, it was organized as a fund-raiser for Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea hospital but progressed to a social formal ball event where debutantes from the upper-class are presented in royal court. It then became an enduring  royal tradition. 

Succeeding British monarchs and its consorts hosted the ball where young women from noble and landed gentry families were presented as debutantes in front of the monarch at the royal court.

Debutantes presented during the formal ball would curtsy to the monarch and would stand beside a large cake in honor of Queen Charlotte

Discontinued by Queen Elizabeth II

However, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the ball received criticism from her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and her sister, Princess Margaret. who disapproved of organizing such event.

Prince Philip was heard saying, "bloody foolish", and insisted the ball must never held again at Buckingham Palace. While Princess Margaret complained "Every tart in London is getting in". 

The criticism from two royals came following information that candidates were bribing former debutantes to gain sponsorship. Having sponsor was required to participate the formal ball.

Thus, in 1958, Queen Elizabeth II announced she would no longer have debutantes presented at court. In the 1970s, the Queen Charlotte's ball around the United Kingdom received fewer participates leading to its discontinuation in 1976.

Revival of The Queen's Charlotte's Ball

However, in the 21st century, the Queen Charlotte's Ball was revived by a former debutante, Jenny Hallam-Peel, citing its importance for building network, fundraising, social etiquette awareness and the need to connect with the society.

She began recruiting girls from private schools and elite background to be presented as debutantes. The modern ball's focus however shifted, from making first appearance in the society, the ball now aims to foster social connection, building social and business skills and fundraising for charities.

Debutantes of the modern Queen Charlotte's Ball

However, there is a stark difference for the current Queen Charlotte's Ball. In the past, participants were young women from the aristocracy and landed gentry, presented to the monarch at Buckingham Palace in an immaculate white gown to announce their coming of age entry into the society.

Today, it's no longer an event for the upper-class and is now open to anyone who can afford it. This new version of Queen Charlotte's ball is now welcoming upper-middle class in and out of the country. The requirement should be "ladies are already attending universities". 

They are required to participate in England's traditional society scenes like Royal Ascot, Henry Royal Regatta among others. 

They are also trained in etiquette that involves diplomacy and the order of precedence in the United Kingdom and other countries.

The modern Queen's Charlotte Ball is no longer hosted by the British monarch and its consort but hosted by the Duke of Somerset and his wife, the Duchess of Somerset. 

It has still patronages from royals, the current being Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia, a great niece of Prince Philip, and Princess Olga Andreevna Romanov, a distant cousin to both Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II.

The tradition of curtsying is still practice at the ball but instead of curtsying to the monarch, which no longer hosted the ball, the debutante will curtsy to a large cake and will cut a slice with a ceremonial sword. The event will choose a "Debutante of the Year" at the conclusion of the ball.

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