Queen Charlotte: Was She the First Black English Queen?

queen charlotte

Wikimedia Commons Queen Charlotte

Queen Charlotte was the wife of King George III of England, and she is also regarded by many as England’s first black queen, although her possible mixed race heritage is not proven.

The wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, who is biracial, is bringing new attention to the heritage of Queen Charlotte. In the Lifetime movie, Harry and Megan: a Royal Romance, Queen Elizabeth II shows Harry and Meghan a portrait of Charlotte and informs them that Meghan would not be the first member of the Royal Family to be of mixed race. That scene was fictionalized. But is it true? Was Queen Charlotte of black heritage?

The answer is that it’s possible that she had African heritage. Charlotte “was directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a black branch of the Portuguese Royal House,” according to PBS’ Frontline. Charlotte was mixed race in appearance, according to Frontline.

“Six different lines can be traced from English Queen Charlotte back to Margarita de Castro y Sousa, in a gene pool which because of royal inbreeding was already minuscule, thus explaining the Queen’s unmistakable African appearance,” Frontline reported. According to People Magazine, “Charlotte was married to King George III and was queen for nearly 60 years, until she died in 1818. She’s the grandmother of Queen Victoria, the great-great-great-great-grandmother of the current Queen Elizabeth and the namesake for the American city of Charlotte, North Carolina.”

According to The New York Post, Margarita de Castro e Souza claimed she “is a descendant of King Alfonso III of Portugal (1210-1279) and his one-named black mistress, Madragana.” Buckingham Palace’s spokesman was once asked about the claim and said, according to The Washington Post, “This has been rumored for years and years. It is a matter of history, and frankly, we’ve got far more important things to talk about.”

As the Post describes the claims: A historian alleges “Queen Charlotte was directly descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family: Alfonso III and his concubine, Ouruana, a black Moor.”

According to The Guardian, Queen Charlotte was “said to be Britain’s first black queen.”

The claims about Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz trace to a historian named Mario de Valdes y Cocom, who argued that Charlotte “though German, was directly 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, whose ancestry she traces from the 13th-century ruler Alfonso III and his lover Madragana, whom Valdes takes to have been a Moor and thus a black African,” The Guardian reported.

The Washington Post reported that Cocom claimed “Alfonso III of Portugal conquered a little town named Faro from the Moors. He demanded [the governor’s] daughter as a paramour. He had three children with her.”

According to the Smithsonian, “The queen, who lived from 1744 to 1818,​ was the eighth child—also the youngest daughter—of Duke Charles Louis Frederick and Duchess Elizabeth Albertine.”

The Smithsonian reports that “Queen Charlotte’s features, as recorded by her contemporaries, gave her an ‘unmistakable African appearance,'” but her African features were downplayed by most artists of the time. Indeed, she was also played by Helen Mirren on film. However, People reports, one painter, Sir Allan Ramsay, who was against slavery, did not hide the Queen’s real features.

queen charlotte

Queen Charlotte

However, the queen’s African lineage is not certain. Ania Loomba, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Philadelphia Inquirer “that it can’t be assumed that a person is black if they were once described as Moor, or ‘blackamoor.'” She added to the newspaper: “The word ‘blackamoor’ in Shakespeare’s time meant Muslim. It didn’t mean black necessarily. Moors could be white from North Africa.”

Contemporary accounts of her appearance are often cited as evidence that Charlotte was of mixed race heritage. Her personal physician, Baron Stockmar described her as having “…a true mulatto face,” according to Africa Resource.com.

Meghan Markle, incidentally, is the daughter of a white father and African-American mother. You can learn more about Meghan’s mom here: