Writer defends new Netflix drama that depicts George III’s wife Queen Charlotte as black – despite historians voicing their scepticism over theory that she was of African descent
- Golda Rosheuvel, 49, plays Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, in Bridgerton
- The drama is set in Regency England at the start of the 19th-Century
- One historical theory says the 18th-Century consort was of African descent
The author of the books which inspired new Netflix drama Bridgerton has backed the decision to cast King George III’s wife as black.
Queen Charlotte is played by British actress Golda Rosheuvel, 49, in the new period drama, which has been tipped as a rival to the enormously popular Downton Abbey.
American author Julia Quinn, whose book series of the same name inspired the show, has backed the ‘colourconscious’ casting, saying that ‘many historians’ believe Queen Charlotte had ‘some African background’.
New Netflix drama Bridgerton depicts the wife of King George III as black, based on a disputed theory that she was of African descent. Queen Charlotte is played by British actress Golda Rosheuvel, 49
The show is set in Regency England, the period in the early 19th-Century when the ‘mad’ King George was too ill to reign himself and so his son ruled as his proxy.
Queen Charlotte, who was portrayed by Dame Helen Mirren in The Madness of King George, does not appear in Ms Quinn’s historical romance series.
The idea that the consort was black was partly popularised by historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom.
The theory is partly based on some royal portraits of her which some claim show she had stereotypical African features.
The idea that Queen Charlotte was black was partly popularised by historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom
American author Julia Quinn, whose book series of the same name inspired the show, has backed the ‘colourconscious’ casting, saying that ‘many historians’ believe Queen Charlotte had ‘some African background’
Mr De Valdes y Cocom also claims to have traced her descent from a mistress of the 13th-Century Portuguese King Alfonso III, who may have been a Moor from North Africa.
However, mainstream historians are sceptical of the theory about Charlotte, who was born into an aristocratic German family and became queen consort in 1761 after her marriage to George III.
Speaking in an interview with The Times, Ms Quinn said: ‘Many historians believe she had some African background.
‘It’s a highly debated point and we can’t DNA test her so I don’t think there’ll ever be a definitive answer.’
Early reviews of Bridgerton have been very positive. It was described by the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine as ‘a rollicking romp of a show full of froth, escapism and romance’
The Netflix show also casts several other black actors, a decision which Ms Quinn said was made ‘very deliberately’.
‘It was very much a conscious choice, not a blind choice,’ she added.
Early reviews of Bridgerton have been very positive.
It was described by the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine as ‘a rollicking romp of a show full of froth, escapism and romance.’
The release of Bridgerton comes after the boss of a new Channel 5 drama about Anne Boleyn defended the decision to give the role to a black actress.
The casting of Jodie Turner-Smith as Henry VIII’s second wife in the Channel 5 production sparked accusations of ‘blackwashing’.
But director Lynsey Miller insisted: ‘I feel very strongly that we have the best actress for the role so I am happy to stand by it.
‘I’m very proud of what we have created together, so let them talk.
‘There are going to be a lot of people who don’t like it, but I feel like there has to be space for that and there are going to be a lot of people who love it. I’m one of them.’
Who was Queen Charlotte and why do some claim she was of African descent?
Sophia Charlotte ( Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; May 19 1744 – November 17 1818) was the wife of King George the III and served as Queen of England and Ireland from her wedding in 1761 until her death.
She was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg and his wife Princess Elisabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen.
Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a duchy in what is now northern Germany but was then part of the Holy Roman Empire.
The theory that she may have had African ancestry was popularised by historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom
Sophia Charlotte ( Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; May 19 1744 – November 17 1818) was the wife of King George the III and served as Queen of England and Ireland from her wedding in 1761 until her death
He argued that portraits of her show she had African features which were also noted by her contemporaries.
Despite her German heritage, he claimed in a blog for American investigative programme PBS Frontline that she was distantly descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family.
He said she was related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-Century Portuguese noblewoman whose own ancestry traces back to 13th-Century King Alfonso III and his lover Madragana.
Valdes claimed Madragana was a Moor and therefore a black African.
However, historian Kate Williams told The Guardian that ‘if we class Charlotte as black’ because of the alleged distant heritage, ‘then ergo Queen Victoria and our entire royal family, [down to Prince Harry, are also black’.
Referring to the portrait of Charlotte by Sir Allan Ramsay, Valdes writes that it had ‘negroid characteristics’ even though ‘Artists of that period were expected to play down, soften or even obliterate undesirable features in a subject’s face.’
He adds: [But] Sir Allan Ramsay was the artist responsible for the majority of the paintings of the queen, and his representations of her were the most decidedly African of all her portraits.’
Valdes suggests that Ramsay was an anti-slavery campaigner who may have stressed the true ‘African characteristics’ of Charlotte for political reasons.
But Desmond Shawe-Taylor, the Surveyor of the Queen’s pictures, previously said of the same portrait, ‘I can’t see it to be honest.’
‘We’ve got a version of the same portrait. I look at it pretty often and it’s never occurred to me that she’s got African features of any kind. It sounds like the ancestry is there and it’s not impossible it was reflected in her features, but I can’t see it.’
He added that none of the caricatures of Charlotte held at the British Museum show her as African. He said that they would likely do so if she was ‘visibly’ of African descent.
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