Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Piece of History: The Black Queen of England

                                                   Queen Charlotte
Princess Sophie Charlotte was born on May 19, 1744--the eighth child of the Prince of Mirow, Germany, Charles Louis Frederick, and his wife, Elisabeth Albertina of Saxe-Hildburghausen. In 1752, when she was eight years old, Sophie Charlotte's father died.
   A princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Sophie Charlotte was descended directly from an African branch of the Portuguese Royal House, Margarita de Castro y Sousa. Six different lines can be traced from Princess Sophie Charlotte back to Margarita de Castro y Sousa. This explains her African appearance in her Royal portraits that exist today.
   Sophie Charlotte married George III of England on 8 September 1761, at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace, London, at the age of 17 years of age becoming the Queen of England and Ireland. Their were conditions in the contract for marriage, ‘The young princess…, join the Anglican church and be married according to Anglican rites, and never ever involve herself in politics’. Although the Queen had an interest in what was happening in the world, especially the war in America, she is seen to have fulfilled her marital agreement.
    An indicator of George’s feelings towards his wife may be seen by the fact that, as stated on the Royal website, ‘George III bought Buckingham House in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a comfortable family home close to St James's Palace, …14 of George III's 15 children were born there’.
   Having married the King, she became consort to the George III, and they were both devoted to each other. The Royal couple had fifteen children, thirteen of whom survived to adulthood. There fourth eldest son was Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent (2/11/1767- 23/01/1820), who later fathered Queen Victoria.
   Her Majesty Queen Charlotte made many contributions to Britain as it is today, though the evidence is not obvious or well publicised. Her African blood line in the British royal family is not common knowledge. Portraits of the Queen had been reduced to fiction of the Black Magi, until two art historians suggested that the definite African features of the paintings derived from actual subjects, not the minds of painters.
   In Queen Charlottes era slavery was prevalent and the anti-slavery campaign building up. This may go some way to explaining why Britons are not fully aware of the racial mix of the royal family. Portrait painters of the royal family were expected to play down or soften Queen Charlottes African features.
   Painters such as Sir Thomas Lawrence, who painted, Queen Charlotte in the autumn of 1789 had their paintings rejected by the royal couple who were not happy with the representations of the likeness of the Queen. These portraits are amongst those that are available to view now, which could be seen as continuing the political interests of those that disapprove of a multi-racial royal family for Britain.
   Sir Allan Ramsey produced the most African representations of the Queen, he was responsible for the majority of the paintings of the Queen. Ramsey’s inclination to paint truer versions of the Queen could be seen to have come from being ‘an anti-slavery intellectual of his day’, Frontline.
   The Coronation painting by Ramsey, of the Queen was sent out to the colonies/commonwealth and played a subtle political role in the anti-slavery movement. Johann Zoffany also frequently painted the Royal family in informal family scenes.
   Queen Charlotte was a learned character, her letters indicate that she is well read and had interests in the fine arts. The Queen is known to have supported and been taught music by Johann Christian Bach. She was extremely generous to Bach’s wife after Bach’s death. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at aged eight dedicated his Opus 3 piece to the Queen at her request.
   Also an amateur botanist, Queen Charlotte helped to establish Kew Gardens bringing amongst others the Strelitzia Reginae, a flowering plant from South Africa.
   The Christmas tree was introduced to England by the Queen who had the first one in her house, in 1800. It was said to be decorated with, ‘sweet-meats, almonds and rasins in papers, fruit and toys,’.
   The Queen Charlotte Maternity hospital is in London and has been since 1739. Set up as a charitable institution, it is the oldest maternity care institution in England.
   Another care venture for the Queen was when George III became ill in 1765 and Queen Charlotte took care of him, noting in one of her letters to her brother that spending time in Weymouth became frequent as bathing in the sea was beneficial to the King.
  Queen Charlotte died at Dutch House in Surrey, now Kew Palace, in the presence of her eldest son, the Prince Regent. She is buried at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

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