Great Britain s Mixed-Race Queen Charlotte (the wife of King George the 3rd) With features as conspicuously negroid as they were reputed to be by herMessage 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2007View Source
Great Britain's Mixed-Race
Queen Charlotte (the wife
of King George the 3rd)
With features as conspicuously negroid
as they were reputed to be by her
contemporaries, it is no wonder
that the "black" community, both in
the U.S. and throughout the British
Commonwealth , have rallied around
pictures of Queen Charlotte for generations.
They have pointed out the physiological
traits that so obviously identify the
ethnic strain of the young woman who,
at first glance, looks almost anomalous,
portrayed as she usually is, in the sumptuous
splendour of her coronation robes.
Queen Charlotte, wife of the English King George III (1738-1820),
was directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa,
a "black" branch of the Portuguese Royal House.
The riddle of Queen Charlotte's African ancestry was
solved as a result of an earlier investigation into the
black magi featured in 15th century Flemish paintings.
Two art historians had suggested that the black magi
must have been portraits of actual contemporary people
(since the artist, without seeing them, would not have
been aware of the subtleties in colouring and facial
bone structure of Quadroons or Octoroons
which these figures invariably represented)
Enough evidence was accumulated to propose that
the models for the black magi were, in all probability,
members of the Portuguese de Sousa family.
(Several de Sousas had in fact traveled to the
Netherlands when their cousin, the Princess
Isabella went there to marry the Grand Duke,
Philip the Good of Burgundy in the year 1429.)
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.
Queen Charlotte's Portrait
The "Negroid" 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 subjects' face.
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.
Ramsey was an anti-slavery intellectual of his day.
He also married the niece of Lord Mansfield, the English
judge whose 1772 decision was the first in a series of
rulings that finally ended slavery in the British Empire.
It should be noted too that by the time Sir Ramsay
was commissioned to do his first portrait of the Queen,
he was already, by marriage, uncle to Dido Elizabeth
Lindsay, the "black" grand niece of Lord Mansfield.
Thus, from just a cursory look at the social awareness
and political activism at that level of English society,
it would be surprising if the Queen's negroid physiogomy
was of no significance to the Abolitionist movement.
Lord Mansfield's "black" grand niece, for
example, Ms. Lindsay, was the subject
of at least two formal full sized portraits.
Obviously prompted by or meant to appeal
to abolitionist sympathies, they depicted
the celebrated friendship between herself
and her White cousin, Elizabeth Murray,
another member of the Mansfield family.
One of the artists was none other than Zoffany,
the court painter to the royal family, for whom
the Queen had sat on a number of occasions.
It is perhaps because of this fairly obvious case of
propagandistic portraiture that makes one suspect
that Queen Charlotte's coronation picture, copies
of which were sent out to the colonies, signified
a specific stance on slavery held, at least,
by that circle of the English intelligencia to
which Allan Ramsay, the painter belonged.
For the initial work into Queen Charlotte's genealogy,
a debt of gratitude is owed the History Department of
McGill University. It was the director of the Burney
Project (Fanny Burney, the prolific 19th century
British diarist, had been secretary to the Queen),
Dr. Joyce Hemlow, who obtained from Olwen Hedly,
the most recent biographer of the Queen Charlotte
(1975), at least half a dozen quotes by her
contemporaries regarding her "negroid" features.
Because of its "scientific" source, the most valuable
of Dr. Hedley's references would, probably, be the
one published in the autobiography of the Queen's
personal physician, Baron Stockmar, where he
described her as having "...a true Mulatto face."
Perhaps the most literary of these allusions to her
African appearance, however, can be found in the
poem penned to her on the occasion of her
wedding to George III and the Coronation
celebration that immediately followed.
Descended from the warlike Vandal race,
She still preserves that title in her face.
Tho' shone their triumphs o'er Numidia's plain,
And and Alusian fields their name retain;
They but subdued the southern world with arms,
She conquers still with her triumphant charms,
O! born for rule, - to whose victorious brow
The greatest monarch of the north must bow.
Finally, it should be noted that the Royal Household
itself, at the time of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation,
referred to both her Asian and African bloodlines
in an apologia it published defending her
position as head of the Commonwealth.
More about Research into the Black Magi:
In the Flemish masterpieces depicting the
Adoration of the Magi, the imagery of the
black de Sousas had been utilized as
both religious and political propaganda to
support Portugal's expansion into Africa.
In addition, the Flemish artists had drawn
from a vocabulary of blackness which,
probably due to the Reformation and the
Enlightenment, has long since been forgotten.
There was a wealth of positive symbolism
that had been attributed to the black
African figure during the Middle Ages.
Incredible as it would seem to us today,
such images had been used to represent
not only Our Lady - evidence of which
can be found in the cult of the Black
Madonna that once proliferated in
Europe - but in heraldic traditions, the
Saviour and God the Father, Himself.
Researched and Written by Mario de Valdes
y Cocom, an historian of the African diaspora.