‘Bridgerton’ Fact Check: Was Queen Charlotte Really Britain’s First Black Queen?
Though Netflix‘s Bridgerton prequel series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is a piece of fiction, aspects of the show include facts about its titular character. One of the most significant plot points of the show may have been the case in real life: Queen Charlotte’s race.
Of course, the show opens with the following disclaimer: “It is not a history lesson. It is fiction, inspired by fact. All liberties taken by the author are quite intentional. Enjoy.“
Golda Rosheuvel reprises her role from the OG series, and India Amarteifio debuts as the young Queen Charlotte in this series.
According to Vogue, over 20 years ago, genealogist Mario de Valdes y Cocom traced the monarch’s ancestry back to Pedro V — the fifth king of Portugal. Pedro V allegedly had a child with his mistress Madragana, who historians believe was a woman of color, in 1249. However, because of inbreeding, a practice common in royal circles during the time, Madragana’s ethnicity likely stayed within the family’s gene pool, meaning Queen Charlotte probably had African heritage and was of mixed race.
A portrait of Queen Charlotte painted by 18th-century artist Allan Ramsay is cited as evidence supporting de Valdes y Cocom’s claims. The art piece, which according to The Guardian was painted in 1761 shortly after Queen Charlotte married George III, shows a profile shot of Queen Charlotte in which her features — including skin tone, nose and lip shape — are on display.
Though de Valdes y Cocom’s findings are compelling, many historians have been skeptical of the validity, saying it’s impossible to prove Queen Charlotte’s race.
“If she was Black,” historian Kate Williams told The Guardian in 2009, “this raises a lot of important suggestions about not only our royal family but those of most of Europe, considering that Queen Victoria’s descendants are spread across most of the royal families of Europe and beyond.”
Queen Charlotte’s dubious racial background intrigued the Netflix show’s creative team.
“Many historians believe that Queen Charlotte was of mixed cultural heritage,” executive producer and director Tom Verica told the streamer’s editorial arm Tudum. “We wanted to take that in a different direction than what the history books have said happened — which was basically to bury that and not deal with it. We wanted to shine a light on that element.”
As for other Black folks in the U.K. at the time, creator Shonda Rhimes said they took inspiration from the book Black London by Avril Nanton and Jody Burton, in which the authors claim African and British royalty intermingled more than the history books state they did.
“I made Agatha [Arsema Thomas] and Lord Danbury [Cyril Nri] off the idea that there were African royalty sending their children to boarding schools in England,” she told Shondaland. “That was something I’d never known either — that there were these incredibly wealthy Africans living in London in a parallel life.”