Queen Charlotte

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Charlotte was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Prince of Mirow and his wife, Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen.

She was a granddaughter of Adolf Frederick II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz by his third wife, Christiane Emilie Antonie, Princess of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. Her father's elder half brother reigned from 1708 to 1753 as Adolf Friedrich III.

For a woman marrying the sovereign of one of the most powerful countries of the time, her descent from kings was somewhat remote. All her ancestors up to the level of great-great-great-grandparents were solidly princes, dukes and counts (or the equivalent) with no kings. While her 58 closest ancestors (rather than 62; four of her great-great-great-grandparents are counted twice) included some reigning princes, one might observe that she was of ducal and princely blood, rather than royal blood. Only two of her great-great-great-great-grandfathers were kings: Gustav I of Sweden and Frederick I of Denmark and Norway. Other royal monarchs are found in her earlier ancestry.

 

Early life

Charlotte was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Prince of Mirow and his wife, Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen.

She was a granddaughter of Adolf Frederick II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz by his third wife, Christiane Emilie Antonie, Princess of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. Her father's elder half brother reigned from 1708 to 1753 as Adolf Friedrich III.

For a woman marrying the sovereign of one of the most powerful countries of the time, her descent from kings was somewhat remote. All her ancestors up to the level of great-great-great-grandparents were solidly princes, dukes and counts (or the equivalent) with no kings. While her 58 closest ancestors (rather than 62; four of her great-great-great-grandparents are counted twice) included some reigning princes, one might observe that she was of ducal and princely blood, rather than royal blood. Only two of her great-great-great-great-grandfathers were kings: Gustav I of Sweden and Frederick I of Denmark and Norway. Other royal monarchs are found in her earlier ancestry.

 

Marriage

In 1767, Francis Cotes drew a pastel of Queen Charlotte with her eldest daughter Charlotte, Princess Royal. Lady Mary Coke called the likeness "so like that it could not be mistaken for any other person".[1]

Charlotte's brother Adolf Friedrich IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (reigned 1752–94) and her widowed mother actively negotiated for a prominent marriage for the young princess. At the age of 17, Charlotte was not thought conventionally pretty; she had a wide nose and mouth, and dark hair.[2] Nevertheless, she was selected as the bride of the young King George, although she was not his first choice. He had already flirted with several young women considered unsuitable by his mother, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and by his political advisers. He also was rumored to have married a young Quaker woman named Hannah Lightfoot, though all later claims to prove this marriage were deemed unfounded and the purported supporting documents found to be forgeries.

Princess Charlotte was collected at Cuxhaven by a squadron of British yachts and warships under Admiral Anson (including the specially renamed HMY Royal Charlotte), but on its return the squadron was subjected to westerly gales and took ten days to reach Harwich, which it did in early September 1761. Charlotte then travelled to London, where the couple were married at the Chapel Royal in St. James's Palace, London, on 8 September of that year. Looking back at her betrothal, Charlotte reflected, "The English people did not like me much, because I was not pretty." After a carriage accident in which she broke her nose, she joked "I think I was not so ugly after that!"[3]

Her mother-in-law did not welcome her with open arms, and for some time there was a slight tension between the two. However, the king's mother had yet to accept any woman with whom he was alleged to have been involved, therefore it seems that the young king cared little for her approval by this time. Despite not having been her husband's first choice as a bride, and having been treated with a general lack of sympathy by her mother-in-law, the Dowager Princess of Wales, Charlotte's marriage was a happy one, and the king was apparently never unfaithful to her. In the course of their marriage, they had 15 children, all but two of whom (Octavius and Alfred) survived into adulthood. As time went on, she wielded considerable power within the realm, although she evidently never misused it.

 

Interests and patronage

Queen Charlotte was keenly interested in the fine arts and supported Johann Christian Bach, who was her music teacher. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then aged eight, dedicated his Opus 3 to her at her request after they met in London in 1764. Charlotte sang an aria accompanied by Mozart. When Joseph Haydn visited London in 1794, Charlotte invited him to stay at Windsor.[4]

The queen also founded orphanages and a hospital for expectant mothers. The education of women was a great importance to her, and she saw to it that her daughters were better educated than was usual for young women of the day. However, she insisted that her daughters live restricted lives close to their mother, and refused to allow them to marry until they were well-advanced in years, with the result that none of her daughters had legitimate issue (one, Princess Sophia, may have had an illegitimate son).

The queen was a well-educated amateur botanist and helped establish what is today Kew Gardens. Her interest in botany led to the magnificent South African flower, the Bird of Paradise, being named Strelitzia reginae in her honour.

In 2004, the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace staged an exhibition illustrating George and Charlotte's enthusiastic arts patronage, which was particularly enlightened in contrast to that of earlier Hanoverian monarchs; it compared favorably to the adventuresome tastes of the king's father, Frederick, Prince of Wales. Among the royal couple's favored craftsmen and artists were the cabinetmaker William Vile, silversmith Thomas Heming, the landscape designer Capability Brown, and the German painter Johann Zoffany, who frequently painted the king and queen and their children in charmingly informal scenes, such as a portrait of Queen Charlotte and her children as she sat at her dressing table.[5]

Up until 1788, portraits of Charlotte often depict her in maternal poses with her children, and she looks young and contented.[6] However, in that year her husband fell seriously ill and became temporarily insane. It is now thought that the King was suffering from a genetic metabolic disorder, porphyria, but at the time the cause of the King's illness was unknown. Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait of her at this time marks a transition point after which she looks much older in her portraits. Indeed, the Assistant Keeper of Charlotte's Wardrobe, Mrs. Papendiek, wrote that the Queen was "much changed, her hair quite grey".[7]

 

Relations with Marie Antoinette

Charlotte sat for Sir Thomas Lawrence in September 1789. His portrait of her was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. Reviewers thought it "a strong likeness".[8]

The French Revolution of 1789 probably added to the strain that Charlotte felt.[9] Queen Charlotte and Queen Marie Antoinette of France kept a close relationship. Queen Charlotte was 11 years older than the Queen of France yet they shared many interests, such as their love of music and the arts in which they both enthusiastically took an interest. Never meeting face to face they kept the friendship to pen and paper. Marie Antoinette confided in the Queen of Great Britain upon the outbreak of the French Revolution. Queen Charlotte had even organized apartments to be prepared and ready for the refugee royal family of France to stay in.[10] After the execution of Marie Antoinette and the bloody events that followed, Queen Charlotte was said to be shocked and overwhelmed that such a thing could happen to a kingdom, and right on Britain's doorstep. King George lowered taxes to avoid a British revolution.

Husband's illness

After the onset of his madness, George III was placed in the care of his wife, who could not bring herself to visit him very often, due to his erratic behaviour and occasional violent reactions. However, Charlotte remained supportive of her husband as his illness, now believed to be porphyria, worsened in old age. While her son, the Prince Regent, wielded the royal power, she was her husband's legal guardian from 1811 until her death in 1818.

 

Later life

The queen died in the presence of her eldest son, the Prince Regent, who was holding her hand as she sat in an armchair at the family's country retreat, Dutch House in Surrey (now known as Kew Palace). She was buried at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Her husband died just over a year later. She is the second longest-serving consort in British history, having served as such from her marriage (on 8 September 1761) to her death (17 November 1818), a total of 57 years and 70 days.

Her eldest son, the Prince Regent, claimed Charlotte's jewels at her death, but the rest of her property was sold at auction from May to August 1819. Her clothes, furniture, and even her snuff was sold by Christie's.[11] It is highly unlikely that her husband ever knew of her death, and he died, blind, deaf, lame and insane, fourteen months later.

 

Legacy

Claims of African ancestry

Mario de Valdes y Cocom, a historian of the African diaspora, has argued[13] that Allan Ramsay, a noted abolitionist, frequently painted the Queen in works said to emphasize the alleged mulatto appearance of Charlotte, and that Ramsay's coronation portrait of Charlotte was sent to the colonies and was used by abolitionists as a de facto support for their cause. Valdes y Cocom goes on to state that, along with descriptions of a "mulatto face", the Queen's features had also been described as Vandalic, as exemplified by a poem written for the occasion of her marriage:

"Descended from the warlike Vandal race,

She still preserves that title in her face."[14]

Valdes y Cocom does not seem to take notice that the Vandals were a Germanic people originating from Northern Europe, even if they migrated to North Africa, further straining the credulity of Charlotte's supposed Sub-Saharan African ethnicity.

All this has led Mario de Valdes y Cocom to inquire about her ancestry and research her genealogy. Still according to Valdes y Cocom, one of the possibilities for Queen Charlotte's supposed racial features is that they were a concentration of traits inherited through three to six lines from a nine times removed ancestor of hers, Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th century Portuguese noblewoman who traced her ancestry six generations earlier to King Afonso III of Portugal and one of his lovers, Madragana.

Critics of this theory argue that Margarita's and Madragana's distant perch in the queen's family tree, respectively 9 and 15 generations removed, makes any presumed African ancestry, Northern or sub-Saharan negligible and no more significant in Charlotte than in any other member of any German royal house at that time, and therefore that Charlotte could hardly be accurately described as "mulatto" or "African".

Even more, Valdez y Cocom assumed that Madragana was a Black African woman, because a single author, Duarte Nunes de Leão, described her as a Moor[15], that is to say, in the context of the Iberian Reconquista, someone of Islamic religion, regardless of actual ethnic origin (and that could have been Arab, North African Berber, or Muladi - native Iberian European Christians who converted to Islam after the arrival of the Moors, all of whom can be described as Caucasian or White). Modern researchers, however, believe Madragana to have been a Mozarab, that is to say an Iberian Christian living under Muslim control, of Sephardi Jewish origin.[16]

Valdez y Cocom has also argued, trying to defend the African origin of Queen Charlotte, that the Royal Household itself, at the time of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1952, referred to both her Asian and African bloodlines in an apologia it published defending her position as head of the Commonwealth.[13] This is denied by Buckingham Palace.[17] The issue remains important to Afrocentrists.

 

 

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Queen Charlotte's photo album.pdf121.16 KB
Photo tour Queen Square.pdf3.19 MB
Queen Charlotte.ppt282.5 KB