The Fabulous Queen Charlotte in "Bridgerton" Was a Real Royal

·8 min read
Photo credit: Netflix/Getty Images
Photo credit: Netflix/Getty Images

From Town & Country

Aside from the scene-stealing Simon, Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) and our heroine Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor)—not to mention the disembodied voice of Julie Andrews—one of our favorite characters of Shondaland's Bridgerton was the gossip-loving Queen Charlotte.

From her icy stare and commanding presence, to her over-the-top wigs and unapologetically opulent gowns, we can never thank showrunner Chris Van Dusen enough for adding her character (played by Golda Rosheuvel) to the romantic drama. Particularly seeing as Queen Charlotte—who was a real monarch of the Regency Era from 1761 to 1818—was not in the Julia Quinn book series the show is adapted from.

"Queen Charlotte opened up an entirely new world for us," Van Dusen tells OprahMag.com about the series, which takes place in 1813 London. "What really struck me with the books from the beginning is that this was an opportunity to marry history and fantasy in a really exciting, interesting way. So in Queen Charlotte, that was the history. And then it was thinking of these fantastical scenes and situations to put her in that were really fun to write, too."

For Quinn, the royal was a welcome addition to the Bridgerton universe, confessing to OprahMag.com that she even wrote a "fan letter" to Rosheuvel after seeing her performance.

Photo credit: Netflix/Getty Images
Photo credit: Netflix/Getty Images

"I go back and forth between wishing I had actually written her in the books and then being glad I didn't, because I don't know if I could have done as good a job," Quinn says.

What was intriguing to the writer was the debate amongst historians over whether or not the real Queen Charlotte was Black. One particular researcher has tracked the royal's genealogy and believes he's found evidence that she was. Despite peers contesting his findings, Quinn looked into how that influenced the world of the Netflix series.

"I don't think it's ever going to be proven or disproven to be honest with you," Quinn says. "But let's say she was Black. And what if that was accepted at the time and people acknowledge that, and then she used that position to lift other people of color to higher positions in society. What would society look like?"

Ahead, we explore the life of the real Queen Charlotte that inspired the Bridgerton character.

Photo credit: Heritage Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Heritage Images - Getty Images

Queen Charlotte had 15 children.

Queen Charlotte was born Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz to a German duke and princess on May 19, 1744. She became queen of Britain and Ireland after marrying King George III in London in September 1761. The young royal was 17 at the time, while her husband was 23. According to the royal family's official website, the couple wed just six hours after Charlotte arrived in England and they met for the first time. Despite only brief mentions of kids in Bridgerton, the real Queen Charlotte gave birth to 15 children, with 13 surviving until adulthood.

As mentioned in a dinner conversation between the queen and king in episode 5's "The Duke and I," their youngest child Princess Amelia died at age 27 in 1810—just three years before Bridgerton takes place. However, their 13th and 14th children, Prince Octavius and Prince Alfred, died at ages four and two respectively.

Queen Charlotte may have been the first Black British royal.

Photo credit: Print Collector - Getty Images
Photo credit: Print Collector - Getty Images

The theory that Queen Charlotte may be the first mixed race or Black British royal begins with the genealogical research of historian Mario De Valdes y Cocom, who began his studies in 1967, according to the Washington Post.

"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," Valdes wrote for PBS' Frontline.

According to the Washington Post, Valdes said that Portuguese royal Alfonso III's mistress Ouruana was a Black Moor. He pointed to Charlotte's physician using the outdated and offensive term "mulatto" to describe her appearance. He also said a prime minister depicted her in a racist manner by describing stereotypical features, writing: “Her nose is too wide and her lips too thick.”

Valdes also observed various portraits of Queen Charlotte, noting they featured the royal with a darker skin tone and curly hair.

Photo credit: Hulton Archive - Getty Images
Photo credit: Hulton Archive - Getty Images

"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," he wrote. "The... 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's face."

Despite Valdes's research (that features outdated and offensive language) other historians dispute his findings.

"The word 'blackamoor' in Shakespeare's time meant Muslim," University of Pennsylvania professor Ania Loomba told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "It didn't mean Black necessarily. Moors could be white from North Africa."

As for the Palace's thoughts on the matter? A spokesman told The Boston Globe: “This has been rumored for years and years. It is a matter of history, and frankly, we’ve got far more important things to talk about.”

Queen Charlotte's husband, King George III, grappled with mental illness.

Photo credit: Universal History Archive - Getty Images
Photo credit: Universal History Archive - Getty Images

In Bridgerton, despite the unflappable regal exterior she shows to the public, we get a glimpse into Queen Charlotte's private life as she deals with the progressive decline of her husband King George III's mental state.

As it turns out, Queen Charlotte and King George III were a doting couple whose first 25 years of marriage were spent happily, according to the Historic Royal Palaces website. However, more than two decades after his first "bout of mental illness" that was kept hidden from the queen, in 1788 King George III experienced a months-long manic episode that left him unable to fulfill his royal duties. This was the first of four instances of illness across the next 32 years that earned him the infamously tasteless title "The Mad King," and permanently fractured his and his wife's close relationship.

Photo credit: Hulton Archive - Getty Images
Photo credit: Hulton Archive - Getty Images

The king succumbed to mania in 1811, which meant their oldest son George, The Prince of Wales, became regent until his father's death in 1820. Charlotte was loyal to her husband and acted as his guardian until her own death in 1818, according to the royal family's website.

For years it was theorized that a genetic blood disorder called porphyria caused King George III's mental decline. This idea is depicted in the Oscar nominated 1994 film, The Madness of King George, starring Helen Mirren and Nigel Hawthorne. But modern research rejects this diagnosis, with the BBC reporting in 2013 that doctors found many of the king's symptoms mimicked someone "experiencing the manic phase of psychiatric illnesses such as bipolar disorder."

The character of Charlotte's nephew, Prince Friederich of Prussia, was based on this real person.

Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX
Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

One of the many obstacles that blocked Daphne and Simon's path to happiness was the dashing Prince Friedrich. After declaring her the "diamond of the season," Bridgerton's Queen Charlotte pushed her Prussian nephew to court Daphne. But was he a real person, too?

Well, it appears as though the character was based on the little known Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig of Prussia. According to Sotheby's, he lived from 1794 to 1863 and was an esteemed soldier. His parents were Prince Louis Charles of Prussia and Duchess Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the eventual Queen of Hanover who was both the niece and daughter-in-law of Queen Charlotte after marrying the queen's eighth child Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover. And though he did not marry Daphne in the show, in real life, he wed Princess Luise of Anhalt-Bernburg in 1817. They had two sons.

As Bridgerton shows, Queen Charlotte truly did "discover" Mozart.

King George III was the founder of the Royal Academy of the Arts, and he and Queen Charlotte bonded over their shared passion for music. She was an accomplished harpsichord player, and if you remember in episode 2's "Shock and Delight," Rosheuvel's Queen Charlotte confidently declares to Violet Bridgerton: "I became acquainted with Mr. Mozart when he was not 10 years old. The boy accompanied me as I sang an aria, and I declared then and there that he should become one of the finest composers in Europe."

This is true. The Royal Collection trust says in 1764, an 8-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart performed for the royals during a visit to England, while Olwen Hedley's biography about the queen confirms that Charlotte sang while the young musical genius played the organ. A year later Mozart dedicated his Opus 3 to Charlotte and would go on to dedicate six sonatas to her.

Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX
Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

A few other fun facts about about the royal? As we see in the show, she was particularly fond of Pomeranians throughout her life and would often give them as gifts to friends. Plus, her husband purchased what we know as London's Buckingham Palace. The family moved into the home in 1762, and it quickly became a favorite property of Charlotte's and was called "The Queen's House," according to the royal family website.

As a country escape for her and her daughters, the monarch bought Windsor's Frogmore House and commissioned the build of Frogmore Cottage on the property in 1801. That name may sound familiar because it's the much-talked-about home that was formerly rented by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but eventually turned over to Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank in fall 2020. (But it seems they've now moved out, too).

After 57 years on the throne, Queen Charlotte died in 1818 at the age of 74. She's buried at St. George's Chapel.

You Might Also Like