'Bridgerton': Was Queen Charlotte a Black woman? Netflix show's depiction may be closer to reality than expected
'Bridgerton' could be far more accurate in its portrayal of Queen Charlotte's appearance than Helen Mirren's appearance as the queen in the 1994 film, 'The Madness of King George'
Netflix's Christmas 2020 offering, 'Brigerton' from Shondaland is unlike any other historical drama that is set in London high society in the early 19th century -- the cast of the show is as diverse as it can be, with people of color occupying not just the role of extras and minor supporting roles, but that of other major players, and even the male lead. The first season of 'Bridgerton' tells the story of the romance between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings (Rege-Jean Page), who pretend to court each other with their own hidden agendas, only to fall for each other.
One of the key characters in the drama is that of Queen Charlotte (Golda Roshuavel). As viewers would have noticed, both Simon and the Queen are people of color. As such, they may wonder -- is 'Bridgerton' being accurate about the portrayal of British high society in 1813? We would like to first point out that accuracy in historical dramas when it comes to the color of the skin is overrated. That said, 'Bridgerton' could be far more accurate in its portrayal of Queen Charlotte's appearance than Helen Mirren's appearance as the queen in the 1994 film, 'The Madness of King George'.
In fact, as actor Martins Imhangbe, playing boxer Will Mondrich in 'Bridgerton' tells us, the Netflix drama shows us a "London we all should’ve known about and learned in school." The disputed history of Queen Charlotte's ancestral origins may not have been included in the history textbooks, but it is fascinating nonetheless, most recently talked about when Meghan Markle married Prince Harry.
Born Sophia Charlotte, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland from 1761 till her death in 1818, through her marriage to King George III. According to The Guardian, Queen Charlotte was often derided for being "ugly." Charles Dickens wrote of her in 'A Tale of Two Cities' that she was a "plain woman," the historian John H Plumb described her as "plain and undesirable," while her physician, Baron Christian Friedrich Stockmar, reportedly described the elderly queen as "small and crooked, with a true mulatto face".
In all likelihood, however, it is that she was described so because of her mixed ancestry. According to historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom who spoke to PBS's 'Frontline', her features as seen in royal portraits were conspicuously African, and that the queen had descended from a Black branch of the Portuguese royal family. She notes, “The [black African]... characteristics of the Queen’s portraits certainly had political significance since artists of that period were expected to play down, soften, or even obliterate undesirable features in a subject’s face."
De Valdes y Cocom’s research shows that Queen Charlotte's family was distantly 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 she believes to be a Moor, and therefore, a person of African origin. De Valdes y Cocom also suggested that Scottish painter Allan Ramsay emphasized the Queen’s alleged “mulatto” appearance in his portrait of her to support the anti-slave trade movement.
'Bridgerton' is available on Netflix on Christmas Day, 2020, from 12 am PST.