Many people have been asking me if Queen Charlotte was black – or telling me that she certainly was. Wouldn’t that be an amazing piece of history? It would also be fascinating, from my perspective, to write a book about a queen who secretly concealed the colour of her skin. But sadly, the I have to say that most of my research seems to prove that popular theory is largely unfounded. Here is a list of the reasons that I believe we are still waiting for England’s first black queen.

A good starting place is this Guardian article from 2009. As it explains, there’s a historian called Mario de Valdes y Cocom who claims Charlotte was descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family, related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-century Portuguese noblewoman nine generations removed. Although it has some flaws, I support this theory that there were African roots in Charlotte’s blood. Her features, more prominent in her youth, do suggest an African ancestry somewhere along the line. Most of us have a rich and mixed heritage in our blood, and that’s one of the many reasons racism and xenophobia are so ridiculous.

While Valdes’ ideas give me no problems, I cannot find evidence to support the other theory: that Charlotte was an illegitimate child, whose father was black, and thus earned the eighteenth-century term “mulatto”. Going by the standards of the day, it is hugely unlikely that Charlotte’s mother, in a prominent position, would be unfaithful with a servant – even less likely that her cuckholded father would agree to take on and raise such a child as his own. But moreover, I think the marriage of King George III to the illegitimate princess would have caused huge panic in the family . Obviously, it would depend on how dark Charlotte’s skin actually was, but surely the family would have been horrified at the chance of their secret being revealed? Why would they agree to give Charlotte in marriage and not push for her elder, unmarried sister to wed the King in order to save the family name?

Even supposing all these hurdles could be overcome, there’s George himself. While certainly a sympathetic and kind man, I can’t imagine him agreeing to cover up such a secret for Charlotte. He was disappointed with her looks at first, and discovery of illegitimacy would have been a great excuse to get rid of her. Moreover, neither George nor Charlotte would have been able to hide the truth from the servants. Gossip would have spread far and wide. George’s mother Augusta would have found out – and, I verily believe, sent Charlotte packing. But in fact, there were no contemporary speculations about the Queen’s ethnicity. At a time when the royal family hovered on the brink of revolution and came in for a good deal of battering and satire in caricatures, who would let the suspicion that the Queen was half black slide? The observation that she had ” a true mulatto face” referred to in the article wasn’t followed by any questions about her ancestry. It seems the horrible person was using the term as an insult.

If Charlotte was mixed race, it seems strange that it didn’t rub off on the children. The majority of Charlotte’s fifteen offspring were blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls with porcelain skin. I’m not sure this would be the case if she was half black. It is genetically possible, of course, but what are the chances it would happen like this fifteen times? On the topic of children, I also have to highlight Charlotte’s son, William, who spoke out loudly in favour of the slave trade? Would he really do such a thing with a mulatto mother?

An interesting possibility we can list for the sake of thoroughness is that Charlotte was an albino mulatto. I found this very interesting article with some beautiful pictures. But it’s a stretch for me to believe that, as well as the unlikely illegitimate conception and cover up, Charlotte had a rare genetic condition. Anything is possible, but some things are not probable.

If Charlotte was illegitimate and happened to veer on the side of dark skin, the amount of make-up she would have to use in order to “paste for white” would be phenomenal. Remember the tragic society beauty Maria Gunning, who died in 1760 after using too much ceruse? Well, her beauty routine would have been mild compared to Charlotte’s. Again, depending on the shade of her skin, she would have needed to cover every inch of her body day and night, for there would hardly be a moment when she didn’t have ladies in waiting in attendance.  Over-use of this paint or paste often resulted in hair loss, tooth decay and premature death. But Charlotte showed none of these symptoms and lived to a ripe age of seventy-four. In fact, talking of hair loss, we have existing specimens of her hair. They are, as George III described the one sent to him before their marriage, “light and remarkably fine.”

Here are some images of Charlotte that have given rise to speculation.

Charlotte with George and Frederick1769_Dance_QCharlotteCharlotteCh1scharlotte1And here are pictures of Charlotte’s family from Wikipedia. I don’t see anything to suggest that she was only a half-sister to these people or very different in appearance. This, in my opinion, implies that the whole family had African blood, as Valdes claimed.

220px-1742_Ernst220px-1748_Georg_August220px-Adolf_Friedrich_IV,_Duke_of_Mecklenburg-Strelitz220px-Elizabeth_Albertine_of_Saxe-Hildburghausen220px-ZiesenisKarlMecklenburgHaving said all that, history is not a science. The great thing is that we will probably never know for sure. A kind research friend has made me aware that the University of Virginia and the town of Charlottesville are doing some amazing work about Charlotte, George and their role in abolishing slavery. A letter has been discovered in the Georgia Historical Society Archives from George Baille, a slave owner objecting to the British raids and liberation of slaves in 1812. He gives us a clue to how the rumour may have started:

‘It is well known that they seduced & carried off with them the greater part of the Negroes . . . They were seduced by the most absurd & fallicious tales . . . they were informed that the Queen of England was a Negro woman – that in England, whither they were to about to be carried, the Ladies preferred Negro Men as husbands, and the Gentlemen Negro Women as wives.’

There is also a fascinating portrait by Alan Ramsey of a beautiful mixed race woman that appears in Alastair Smart’s biography of the painter. It is not available to public view. Like so many paintings, the sitter cannot be proven, but there are suggestions that it could be Charlotte. She is certainly not dissimilar. This painting is in the Earl of Seafield’s private collection, with no clear path of how it got there. We can, however, trace back the ancestory of the Earl and find a lady connected to the family who was bridesmaid to Charlotte. Could this picture of the ‘true’ Charlotte have been a private gift?

I truly hope we will have a black queen one day. But much as I would like Charlotte to be the one to carry that torch, the evidence doesn’t stack up for me. I am, however, very willing to be convinced if some good concrete evidence shows up!

22 Comments on The (not) Black Queen

  1. Annie
    04/12/2013 at 12:35 pm (4 years ago)

    George III may have also had to hide a secret a previous marriage.

    • lauradpurcell
      06/12/2013 at 7:54 pm (4 years ago)

      Yes it is possible – though that’s a whole other blog post! I have to admit I’m quite skeptical about the Hannah Lightfoot theory too.

  2. morongoblondblog
    05/12/2013 at 9:48 pm (4 years ago)

    There were similar theories about my French grandmother due to her coloring, which was primarily due to jaundice.

    • lauradpurcell
      06/12/2013 at 7:55 pm (4 years ago)

      How interesting!

  3. Megan
    06/12/2013 at 12:03 am (4 years ago)

    Interesting post. I was wondering if you were familiar with the book, The Black Count. Its about the father of Alexandre Dumas who was half-black. There’s also a movie coming out next year, Belle (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404181/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1) about the half-black daughter of an English aristocrat.

    • lauradpurcell
      06/12/2013 at 7:56 pm (4 years ago)

      Megan, I knew of Dumas’ heritage but I haven’t read the book – it’s on my list. I had come across the plans for Bella movie some time ago but there wasn’t much detail back then. I’m very much looking forward to it!

      • Crys
        16/02/2015 at 11:31 pm (2 years ago)

        I realize these are old posts. Sorry I’m so late to the game. Queen Charlotte may or may not be black. We may never know. I will say this. As an African-American woman, we have sort of a trained eye. We can look at someone’s physical traits and tell when they have the smallest trace of us in them. I think as a society, we are trained to identify when someone has white in them, but we fail to do the reverse. You look at our light skin or straight hair and features and ask, “Are you mixed with white?” I got that a lot growing up. We, too, have identifiable traits – full lips, tight curls, olive to brown skin, round rear ends. Many generations may pass before those genes show up in a child within the same geneology, but it seems NO ONE gives it pause. In looking at the photo of Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsey, she definitely resembles many of my aunts! I see white kids with kinky hair or rounded rears and I am near certain there is some trace of African roots there. It’s much more acceptable for us to look for the white and be proud than whites to find traces of African and carry that same pride. It really is a sad reality. Thanks for listening.

        • lauradpurcell
          19/02/2015 at 6:19 am (2 years ago)

          Yes Crys, I’m convinced I have some African roots too but I haven’t been able to trace them yet.

        • Ann
          08/03/2015 at 6:44 am (2 years ago)

          Since all humans have African roots, then all white people are of African ancestry,LOL.

          I am black and I don’t understand why black people are so eager to claim people based on a tiny fraction of “black” blood.

          If “white” blood does not make a person white, then “black” blood cannot make a person black.

          Queen Charlotte was NOT black. Neither was she a mulatto (50% black). In order for her to be mulatto, one of her parents had to be 100% black and I don’t see how it is possible that her father was a 100% black African.

  4. Joseph Pendarvis
    24/07/2014 at 4:19 pm (3 years ago)

    Same historian claimed Pendarvis’s descended from Africans, Parthenia to be exact. I had my DNA checked and I’m British as British can be. I can be traced all the way back to the boat. Doesn’t make sense this guy. and PBS picked it all up and believed it.

    • lauradpurcell
      25/07/2014 at 6:49 am (3 years ago)

      I guess people want to believe anything sensational!

  5. Shari
    19/08/2014 at 3:00 pm (3 years ago)

    Queen Charlotte very well may have been biracial. Look at Vanessa Williams, she’s black and looks whiter than the Queen in those picture. I know many black and biracial people who have children with blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.
    What you have to understand is back in those days people who were mixed with black were told to lie about it and say they were fully white or Spanish.
    Someone with the appearance of Mariah Carey (who is half black) would have said they were fully white.
    Even though it meant denying their heritage, there was almost no choice back then.
    If you admitted you were black or mixed you were often stripped of your rights and opportunities.

    Our separating ourselves based on “race” and appearance is ridiculous.
    It is utterly childish, and hopefully we will grow out of it soon as a society.

    There are people who are half black/white, and one may
    look completely black while another may look completely white.
    You can find on google there are even twins born that look like different races. http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2010/09/13/article-1311533-0B29B59F000005DC-790_634x566.jpg

    The fact that this happenes proves that seperating ourselves based on the color of our skin and features is as ridiculous as if we were to seperate ourselves based on eye color or hair color.

    There is no such thing as race.

    • lauradpurcell
      31/01/2015 at 2:33 pm (2 years ago)

      I thoroughly agree, we should not separate ourselves by race or by other features. Thank goodness we have come so far in our attitudes and ideas since Charlotte’s time.

    • Sharee
      28/05/2015 at 7:16 am (2 years ago)

      You have mentioned a few facts that are incorrect in your suggestion.

      1. Mariah Carey’s father was from American African/Venezuelan descent. Venezuelan is a mixture of Spanish/European. Her mother was Irish descent. So Mariah Carey is not half black.

      2. Any photos that I have seen of Vanessa Williams shows that she is definitely not white as you suggest. She could not pass as a ‘white person’ at all. She has very olive skin.

      3. Queen Charlotte’s parents were, father, Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg, Prince of Mirow and, mother, Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen. If you look at their family tree, there is no close relations to African heritage so how can you say Queen Charlotte is half black??

  6. Brittnee
    08/12/2014 at 8:09 pm (3 years ago)

    I just wanted to say that it is entirely possible for a biracial women to produce, blonde blue eyed children. While I think it is unlikely that all children would present these features, it is far from impossible. A popular example would be the twins wins Kian and Remee Hodgson of Nottingham.

    • lauradpurcell
      31/01/2015 at 2:32 pm (2 years ago)

      Very true Brittnee, I have updated the post to reflect this. As you say, I can imagine it happening one or even two times but perhaps not for fifteen!

  7. Erica Scott
    10/12/2014 at 5:22 pm (3 years ago)

    Dear Laura Purcell,
    I am an African American woman who has been told this “secret fact” since I was a small child. I was neither excited by the idea nor found disdain for it, most people of color are not running with open arms towards the thought of a royal having African lineage due to the history of race relations and the slave trade at the time of Queen Charlotte’s reign.

    With that being said, I feel you should have taken a closer look at our modern African American and global families to examine how skin color, hair texture and eye color can vary in such great numbers. In my community two children can be born of the same parents and but have skin and hair texture on opposite sides of the spectrum. This is the case in my family as I have cousins with sandy brown hair and blue eyes.

    I do believe Queen Charlotte is clearly, from the images you posted, a person of color. In todays world she would be compared to Hale Berry or Mariah Carey who are of direct mixed heritage.

    Also keep in mind that some children of color are born very light and don’t “warm up” as my grandmother would say, until they are toddlers which is way too late to “hide” a discretion if there was one to hide.

    Case in point: Beyoncé Knowles Family
    Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy was born 3 shades lighter with very straight hair and now the child looks totally different as a toddler. Beyoncé’s nephew was born with blue eyes. Beyoncé’s father is a dark man of color and her mother is a lighter skinned woman of color.

    This is a typical situation in the African American community and could have been very possible in Queen Charlotte’s family despite her children being lighter than her and having a white appearance.

    The tone of your page didn’t feel right to me as read it so I felt compelled to comment. One of my favorite PBS programs is “Finding your Roots” please take a look: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots/

    And remember genes don’t lie.

    Best Regards,
    Erica Scott

    • lauradpurcell
      31/01/2015 at 2:31 pm (2 years ago)

      Thank you for your comments Erica, I’m truly sorry if there was any tone. It certainly wasn’t intended and I have updated the post accordingly. I, for one, would be hugely excited if it was true, but the evidence does not stack up for me yet. You are right about modern families, however I don’t know if this would have been the case back then. I think the gene pools, particularly of royalty like Charlotte, were not as mixed as they are today. I will keep looking for evidence!

  8. From Rio to Stavanger
    21/05/2015 at 11:06 am (2 years ago)

    Very well written article, difficult to face the true when a fantasy came so necessary…

    • Sharee
      29/05/2015 at 2:19 am (2 years ago)

      Agree…. Sometimes facts are not what everyone wants to hear!

  9. jean
    23/05/2015 at 1:06 am (2 years ago)

    My mixed race daughter has two children by white father. One is as dark as my daughter, with dark curly hair and almost black eyes. The boy was born white with blue eyes.and fair straight hair…but like Queen Charlotte, as he has grown up he has developed some features of a black person, very full lips, dark hair and just a certain look that a trained eye would know.his eyes are very blue, skin still white. The daughter married a white man. Her children, my great grandchildren, are white, one has a Mediterranean look but the other has not. After two generations the colour often disappears. Its entirely possible that all of Charlotte’s children would be white.after all she is fair, her eyes don’t appear to be that dark, her German family would probably all be blue eyed, and her husband was white.she definitely has negroid features like my grandson, I read once that it was said at her birth that her looks were due to her mothers great liking for chocolate during pregnancy, or that she had kept looking at her African servant.

  10. Sharee
    29/05/2015 at 2:28 am (2 years ago)

    Excellent article backed up with factual information.
    I study a lot of family trees and unfortunately for some people, Queen Charlotte is not who they want her to be.
    Times were very different then and for the royals it was important to keep the royal bloodline flowing. They were very particular with suitors especially marrying a king.

    Also I would like to mention, that just because Queen Charlotte helped with the fight towards discontinuing the slave trade of Africans in Britain. This does not mean she was one of them. It just shows she was a person of humanity! There are many people that have helped others that are different from them in either race, religion or status. Eg: many Germans helped hide Jews during WW2.

    Thank you for a well written article.