The real history behind Queen Charlotte in 'Bridgerton,' who some say was Britain's first Black royal

The real history behind Queen Charlotte in 'Bridgerton,' who some say was Britain's first Black royal
Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) in "Bridgerton."Netflix/YouTube
  • The actress who plays Queen Charlotte in "Bridgerton" says portraying her as Black is "empowering."
  • The show has generally been lauded for selecting a diverse cast to play royals and aristocrats.
  • It leans into the theory that Charlotte came from a Black branch of the Portuguese royal family.

Netflix's Regency drama "Bridgerton" is the streaming giant's biggest original series to date, having already been watched by 82 million households worldwide since it premiered on December 25, 2020.

The show's first season, which follows the love story between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon, Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), has been largely praised for reimagining an inclusive 19th-century aristocratic society with a diverse cast. Read more: Netflix has officially renewed 'Bridgerton.' Here's what we know so far about the Regency drama's 2nd season.
Golda Rosheuvel, who portrays King George III's wife Queen Charlotte on the show, recently told Insider that it was "empowering" to play the queen consort as a Black actress.

It has been said that Queen Charlotte could have been the first Black member of the British royal family. Here's everything we know about the royal.

There's a historical theory that Queen Charlotte was a descendant of a Black branch of the Portuguese royal family, though this has been disputed by historians

Queen Charlotte was born Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz to a German duke and princess in 1744. She became queen consort of Britain upon her marriage to King George III in 1761 at the age of 17. The couple wed just six hours after Charlotte arrived in the UK from Germany.

It has been claimed that Charlotte was a descendant of a Black branch of the Portuguese royal family.

The theory was popularized by historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom. According to The Guardian, Valdes claims that the queen was related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, "a 15th-century Portuguese noblewoman nine generations removed, whose ancestry traces from the 13th-century ruler Alfonso III and his lover Madragana," whom he believes to "have been a Moor and thus a black African."
The real history behind Queen Charlotte in 'Bridgerton,' who some say was Britain's first Black royal
Queen Charlotte may have been the first Black British royal.LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX
"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," Valdes wrote in an article for PBS which features outdated, offensive, racist language and assumptions.

The theory has been disputed by several historians, including Hakim Adi, a professor of the History of Africa and the African Diaspora at the University of Chichester.

Adi told Insider that "the evidence is slender, to put it mildly." He also said that pinpointing Charlotte's race would depend on your definition of "Blackness."

The real history behind Queen Charlotte in 'Bridgerton,' who some say was Britain's first Black royal
A portrait of Queen Charlotte.Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Buckingham Palace also appeared to disregard Valdes' theory when a reporter from The Boston Globe asked about Charlotte's ancestry in 1999.

"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," the spokesperson said, according to The Independent.

Buckingham Palace and Netflix did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

'Bridgerton' reimagines a more diverse society during the Regency era, and suggests Queen Charlotte was the catalyst

Queen Charlotte's race is briefly mentioned in episode four of season one, when Lady Danbury reminds Simon that King George and Charlotte's union is the reason why society was more inclusive, especially for those among the aristocracy.
"Look at our Queen. Look at our King. Look at their marriage, look at everything it is doing for us, allowing us to become. We were two separate societies, divided by color, until a king fell in love with one of us. Love conquers all," she said.
The real history behind Queen Charlotte in 'Bridgerton,' who some say was Britain's first Black royal
Adjoa Andoh plays Lady Danbury on "Bridgerton."LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

In real life, the aristocracy - and society in general - was nowhere near as diverse as the show portrays London to be in 1813, especially since the slave trade had not yet been abolished.

The royal family publicly supported Britain's slave trade in the 1500s. Queen Elizabeth I supported Captain John Hawkins, who captured 300 people from Africa and sold them for hides, ginger, and sugar in 1562.

Read more: The British royal family has turned a blind eye to its racist past

Marlene Koenig, an expert on British and European royalty, told Insider that "diversity as we know what the word means did not exist" during King George and Queen Charlotte's reign because slavery wasn't abolished until 1833 - 15 years after her death.

The show's diverse casting decisions have generally been lauded

Whether or not Queen Charlotte was Black, fans and critics of the Netflix series have generally appreciated the casting choices.

The Huntington Post's Sarah Barber praised the show for successfully "opening doors for Black actors and other actors of color to no longer be limited to demeaning servant or slave roles in period pieces."

Meanwhile, Oprah Mag's McKenzie Jean-Philippe dubbed the show "a welcome breath of fresh air" since it doesn't include "exhaustive on-screen dialogue about why my people deserve to be seen on a hit TV series."

"We've already spent decades saying as much. 'Bridgerton' just reinforces it," she added.

The cast has defended the show's casting choices after some viewers criticized it for not reflecting historical accuracy - a problematic criticism that could be considered racist.

Phoebe Dynevor, who plays Daphne Bridgerton, recently told Grazia that she believes the show had "perfect casting" and that it told stories that hadn't been shown on screen before.

Nicola Coughlan, who plays Penelope Featherington in the show, has also pushed back at the few critics who said it was not considered to be historically accurate to have Black members of the aristocracy during this time.
Read more: 'Bridgerton' star Nicola Coughlan pushes back on critics who slammed the show's diverse cast

Adjoa Andoh, who plays Lady Danbury, defended the show's decision as well, telling Digital Spy: "There's real evidence of Black people in this country for centuries. We've taken the factual existence of Black people in this country at that time, which is an absolute nailed-on fact and heightened it."

Queen Charlotte actress Golda Rosheuvel wants fans to know that 'Bridgerton' isn't a royal biopic

The series shows the Queen's vulnerable side during scenes with her husband, King George (James Fleet), who was thought to have experienced mental illness in real life. It is believed that George may have had bipolar disorder and porphyria, a genetic blood disorder that can cause confusion, hallucinations, and paranoia.

Rosheuvel previously told Insider's Claudia Willen that they "never discussed" the specifics of George's condition on set, adding that the series isn't a royal biopic, but rather a reimagined version of history.

Read more: 'Bridgerton's' Queen Charlotte explains King George III's mysterious illness "Back then in the 1800s, they wouldn't have known what bipolar was," Rosheuvel said. "The unknown of that would be terrifying, I think. The outbursts would be terrifying."

There were smaller aspects of Charlotte's life that "Bridgerton" kept close to reality, such as her love of Pomeranians. When the Queen first sailed to England to marry the King, she brought her two Pomeranians with her, Harper's Bazaar reports. The publication also reports that Charlotte would gift the dog breed to other members of the family.

The series also briefly mentions that Charlotte discovered Mozart as a child - something which happened in real life.

In the series, Charlotte recalls meeting the famous composer as a child and predicting that he "should become one of the finest composers in Europe."

The real Queen Charlotte met Mozart in 1764 when he was just 8 years old. The composer later dedicated six sonatas to the Queen.