Was Queen Charlotte (for which Charlotteville, VA was named) descended from black people?  Did she look like she was black?  White men love 'em.

 










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's 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.

 

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Thursday 22nd July 2004
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Above: Dido in the gardens at Kenwood with her half-cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. Below: Olaudah Equiano, although there is controversy about whether this portrait is genuine
Dido and Olaudah: Up from slavery
Two of London’s 18th-century black residents played a significant role in breaking the British slave trade, writes Jonathan Allen

IT IS a common misconception that there wasn’t a black face to be seen in Camden until the Windrush docked in the late 1940s heralding the first wave of immigration from the West Indies.
But Gene Adams, an art historian and curator from Belsize Park, has been researching the lives of two black residents of Camden from the 18th century, each in their way the forebears of today’s multicultural Britain.
One is Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed race woman who spent the first 30 years of her life at Kenwood House as a member of the Earl of Mansfield’s family.
The other is Olaudah Equiano, born in what is now Nigeria and bought in the West Indies as a slave.
He spent the last part of his life in Fitzrovia campaigning for the abolition of slavery.
His autobiography, written as he lived in Tottenham Street, played an important part in turning popular opinion against the trade and earned him lasting fame: he was placed fourth in a recent poll to find the 100 Greatest Black Britons.
This year is also the United Nations’ year to commemorate the campaign against slavery, making a talk by Ms Adams to the Camden History Society on Thursday on the lives of these two figures especially timely.
“We now live in a multicultural society,” she said, “and we ought to know how it came about.”
She added: “We must not impress views we now take for granted on people from 200 years ago, which isn’t to say we can’t be critical.”
Ms Adams first came across Dido as she was working with the curators at Kenwood House in the early 1980s.
There is a portrait of Dido in the gardens at Kenwood with her half-cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray which hangs at Scone Palace in Perth – the latter girl languid and still, the former almost dashing out of the picture frame, pointing strangely to her cheek and dressed in a strange approximation of what the artist presumably took to be “ethnic” dress.
In reality, Dido dressed in a similar fashion to her white companions.
She was probably born in 1763, the daughter of Sir John Lindsay, a captain in the Royal Navy and the nephew of Lord Mansfield.
She and her half-cousin Elizabeth were taken in as infants by Lord and Lady Mansfield – their great-uncle and aunt – and brought up at Kenwood House.
Dido found herself in a nebulous social position – though she certainly was not a servant, neither was she gentry, unlike Elizabeth with whom she grew up.
Contemporary accounts suggest that Dido would usually not dine with the family and their guests in the evening, instead joining the ladies for an after-dinner coffee. Dido’s role, it seems, was to be a playmate, and later a kind of personal attendant, to Elizabeth. She also ran the dairy and poultry yards at Kenwood as she got older.
The household account books show her as receiving an annual allowance of £30 10s.
As a comparison, the first coachman received £15 9s, while Elizabeth received around £100.
Elizabeth married and left Kenwood when both women were 20.
Dido was to remain at Kenwood a further 10 years.
It’s not clear what became of Dido after she left Kenwood, although bank records showing a name change from Belle to Davinier suggest she married.
It seems Dido cemented whatever anti-slavery feelings Lord Mansfield already possessed, and he used his position as a distinguished judge to condemn the trade.
He did this most famously in the case of Somersett, the runaway slave during which he declared: “The state of slavery…is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it.”
Olaudah Equiano’s life was far more difficult than that of Dido, and his influence on the demise of slavery was far more direct.
His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789), does not survive synopsis too well.
The bare facts of his life are as follows: as a child, he was marched to the coast and was “tight-packed” on board a slave ship in conditions he describes as “pestilential”.
It is his account that remains the most forceful of condemnations of the Atlantic slave trade.
“The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable,” he writes in one famous passage. Around the age of 10, Equiano was bought by Michael Pascal, an officer of the Royal Navy.
This presented opportunities he might have otherwise been denied had he become a mere plantation slave.
Brought to London, he was given as a “present” to two of Pascal’s cousins.
This, says Ms Adams, “sums up the demeaning but patronisingly nice attitude towards slaves common at the time.”
While in London, Equiano learned to read and write. He became skilled enough – and consequently valuable enough – to be rewarded a position with a small income attached, and he soon saved up enough to buy his freedom, for a price set at £40.
He worked his way up the hierarchy of the merchant navy before becoming the commissary of provisions of stores, thus making him probably the first black civil servant in this country. Equiano died in March 1797, 40 years before the abolition of slavery in Britain.
Though he was not around to see for himself the repercussions his book would have, he was in the unusual position for a former slave of being able to bequeath to his daughter a sizeable estate of £950 – worth around £80,000 today.
n Gene Adams’ essay on the life of Olaudah Equiano will appear in a future edition of the Camden History Review.
Further reading: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas, Simon and Schuster, 1997; The Black Diaspora by Ronald Segal, Faber and Faber, 1995; Islam’s Black Slaves by Ronald Segal Atlantic Books, 2001; Slave by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis, Virago 2004.