Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Queen Charlotte, (née Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; 19 May 174417 November 1818) was the queen consort of George III of the United Kingdom (1738–1820).

Queen Charlotte was a patroness of the arts, known to Johann Christian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, among others. She was also an amateur botanist who helped establish Kew Gardens. George III and Queen Charlotte had 15 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood.

Early life

Charlotte was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Prince of Mirow (23 February, 17075 June, 1752) and his wife, Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen, Duchess in Saxony (4 August 171329 June 1761).

She was a granddaughter of Adolf Frederick II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (19 October 165812 May 1708) by his third wife, Christiane Emilie Antonie, Princess of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen (March, 1681 – 1 November 1751). Her father's elder half brother reigned from 1708 to 1753 as Adolf Friedrich III.

For a woman marrying the sovereign of one of the most powerful countries of the time, her descent from kings was somewhat remote. All her ancestors up to the level of great-great-great-grandparents were solidly princes, dukes and counts (or the equivalent) with no kings. While her 58 closest ancestors (rather than 62, four of her great-great-great-grandparents are counted twice) included some reigning princes, one might observe that she was of ducal and princely blood, rather than royal blood. Only two of her great-great-great-great-grandfathers were kings: Gustav I of Sweden and Frederick I of Denmark and Norway. Other royal monarchs are found in her earlier ancestry.


Charlotte's brother Adolf Friedrich IV of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (reigned 1752–94) and her widowed mother actively negotiated for a prominent marriage for the young princess. At the age of 17, Charlotte was known as "plain faced", and was selected as the bride of the young King George, although she was not his first choice. He had already flirted with several young women considered unsuitable by his mother, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and by his political advisers. He also was rumored to have married a young Quaker woman named Hannah Lightfoot, though all later claims to prove this marriage were deemed unfounded and the purported supporting documents found to be forgeries.

Princess Charlotte was collected at Cuxhaven by a squadron of British yachts and warships under Admiral Anson (including the specially renamed HMY Royal Charlotte), but on its return the squadron was subjected to westerly gales and took ten days to reach Harwich, which it did in early September 1761. Charlotte then travelled to London, where the couple were married at the Chapel Royal in St. James's Palace, London, on 8 September of that year. Her mother-in-law did not welcome her with open arms, and for some time there was a slight tension between the two. However, the king's mother had yet to accept any woman with whom he was alleged to have been involved, therefore it seems that the young king cared little for her approval by this time.

Despite not having been her husband's first choice as a bride, and having been treated with a general lack of sympathy by her mother-in-law, the Dowager Princess of Wales, Charlotte's marriage was a happy one, and the king was apparently never unfaithful to her. In the course of their marriage, they had 15 children, all but two of whom (Octavius and Alfred) survived into adulthood. As time went on, she wielded considerable power within the realm, although she evidently never misused it.

Interests and patronage

Queen Charlotte was keenly interested in the fine arts and supported Johann Christian Bach, who was her music teacher. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then aged eight, dedicated his Opus 3 to her, at her request. The queen also founded orphanages and a hospital for expectant mothers.

In 2004, the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace staged an exhibition illustrating George and Charlotte's enthusiastic arts patronage, which was particularly enlightened in contrast to that of earlier Hanoverian monarchs; it compared favorably to the adventuresome tastes of the king's father, Frederick, Prince of Wales. Among the royal couple's favored craftsmen and artists were the cabinetmaker William Vile, silversmith Thomas Heming, the landscape designer Capability Brown, and the German painter Johann Zoffany, who frequently painted the king and queen and their children in charmingly informal scenes, such as a portrait of Queen Charlotte and her children as she sat at her dressing table.

The queen also was a well-educated amateur botanist and helped establish what is today Kew Gardens. Her interest in botany led to the magnificent South African flower, the Bird of Paradise, being named Strelitzia reginae in her honour.

The education of women was a great importance to the queen, and she saw to it that her daughters were better educated than was usual for young women of the day. However, she insisted that her daughters live restricted lives close to their mother, and refused to allow them to marry until they were well-advanced in years, with the result that none of her daughters had legitimate issue (one, Princess Sophia, may have had an illegitimate son).

Relations with Marie Antoinette

Queen Charlotte and Queen Marie Antoinette of France kept a close relationship. Queen Charlotte was 11 years older than the Queen of France yet they shared many interests, such as their love of music and the arts in which they both enthusiastically took an interest. Never meeting face to face they kept the friendship to pen and paper. Marie Antoinette confided in the Queen of Great Britain upon the outbreak of the French Revolution. It had been said that Queen Charlotte had organized apartments to be prepared and ready for the refugee royal family of France to stay in. After the execution of Marie Antoinette and the bloody events that followed, Queen Charlotte was said to be shocked and overwhelmed that such a thing could happen to a kingdom, and right on Britain’s doorstep. King George lowered taxes to avoid a British revolution.

Husband's illness

After the onset of his madness, George III was placed in the care of his wife, who could not bring herself to visit him very often, due to his erratic behaviour and occasional violent reactions. However, Charlotte remained supportive of her husband as his illness, now believed to be porphyria, worsened in old age. While her son, the Prince Regent, wielded the royal power, she was her husband's legal guardian from 1811 until her 1818 death. She did not see him, though, for at least the last five years of her life.

Later life

The queen died in the presence of her eldest son, the Prince Regent, who was holding her hand as she sat in an armchair at the family's country retreat, Dutch House in Surrey (now known as Kew Palace). She was buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor. Her husband died just over a year later. She is the longest-serving consort in British history, having served as such from her marriage (on 8 September 1761) to her death (17 November 1818), a total of 57 years and 70 days.

Titles, style, honours and arms

Titles and styles


Name Birth Death Notes
George IV 12 August 1762 26 June 1830 married 1795, Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; had issue
Frederick, Duke of York 16 August 1763 5 January 1827 married 1791, Princess Frederica of Prussia; no issue
William IV 21 August 1765 20 June 1837 married 1818, Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen; no surviving issue
Charlotte, Princess Royal 29 September 1766 6 October 1828 married 1797, Frederick, King of Württemberg; no surviving issue
Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent 2 November 1767 23 January 1820 married 1818, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld; had issue (Queen Victoria)
Princess Augusta Sophia 8 November 1768 22 September 1840  
Princess Elizabeth 22 May 1770 10 January 1840 married 1818, Frederick, Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg; no issue
Ernest Augustus I of Hanover 5 June 1771 18 November 1851 married 1815, Princess Friederike of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; had issue
Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex 27 January 1773 21 April 1843 (1) married in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act 1772, The Lady Augusta Murray; had issue; marriage annulled 1794
(2) married 1831, The Lady Cecilia Buggin (later 1st Duchess of Inverness); no issue
HRH The Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge 24 February 1774 8 July 1850 married 1818, Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel; had issue
Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester 25 April 1776 30 April 1857 married 1816, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester; no issue
Princess Sophia 3 November 1777 27 May 1848 may have had issue
Prince Octavius 23 February 1779 3 May 1783  
Prince Alfred 22 September 1780 20 August 1782  
Princess Amelia 7 August 1783 2 November1810  


Charlotte's ancestors in three generations
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz Father:
Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Paternal grandfather:
Adolf Frederick II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Paternal great-grandfather:
Adolf Friedrich I of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Paternal great-grandmother:
Maria Katharina of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Paternal grandmother:
Christiane Emilie of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen
Paternal great-grandfather:
Christian Wilhelm I of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen
Paternal great-grandmother:
Antoine Sybille of Barby-Muhlingen
Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen
Maternal grandfather:
Ernest Frederick I of Saxe-Hildburghausen
Maternal great-grandfather:
Ernest III of Saxe-Hildburghausen
Maternal great-grandmother:
Sofie of Waldeck
Maternal grandmother:
Sofie Albertine of Erbach-Erbach
Maternal great-grandfather:
Georg Ludwig I of Erbach-Erbach
Maternal great-grandmother:
Amelie Katherine of Waldeck-Eisenberg


Claims of African ancestry

Mario de Valdes y Cocom, a historian of the African diaspora, has argued that a description of Charlotte by her physician, Baron Stockmar describes her as having "a true mulatto face".

Valdes y Cocom says that Sir Allan Ramsay, a noted abolitionist, frequently painted the Queen in works said to emphasize the alleged mulatto appearance of Charlotte, and that Ramsay's coronation portrait of Charlotte was sent to the colonies and was used by abolitionists as a de facto support for their cause. Valdes y Cocom goes on to state that, along with descriptions of a "mulatto face", the Queen's features had also been described as Vandalic, as exemplified by a poem written for the occasion of her marriage:

"Descended from the warlike Vandal race,
She still preserves that title in her face.

All this has lead Mario de Valdes y Cocom to inquire about her ancestry and research her genealogy. Still according to Valdes y Cocom, one of the possibilities for Queen Charlotte's supposed racial features is that they were a concentration of traits inherited through three to six lines from a nine times removed ancestor of hers, Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th century Portuguese noblewoman who traced her ancestry six generations earlier to King Afonso III of Portugal and one of his lovers, Madragana.

Critics of this theory argue that Margarita's and Madragana's distant perch in the queen's family tree, respectively 9 and 15 generations removed, makes any presumed African ancestry, Northern or sub-Saharan negligible and no more significant in Charlotte than in any other member of any German royal house at that time, and therefore that Charlotte could hardly be accurately described as "mulatto" or "African".

Even more, Valdez y Cocom assumed that Madragana was a Black African woman, because a single author, Duarte Nunes de Leão, described her as a Moor, that is to say, in the context of the Iberian Reconquista, someone of Islamic religion, regardless of actual ethnic origin (and that could have been Arab, North African Berber, or Muladi - native Iberian European Christians who converted to Islam after the arrival of the Moors, all of whom can be described as Caucasian or White). Modern research, however, believe Madragana to have been a Mozarab, that is to say an Iberian Christian living under Muslim control, of Sephardi Jewish origin.

Valdez y Cocom has also argued, trying to defend the African origin of Queen Charlotte, that the Royal Household itself, at the time of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1952, referred to both her Asian and African bloodlines in an apologia it published defending her position as head of the Commonwealth. This is denied by Buckingham Palace. The issue remains important to those concerned with the history of the African diaspora.

Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital

Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital in London, England has been in existence since 1739, making it the oldest maternity hospital in the United Kingdom. Queen Charlotte's son, the Duke of Sussex, persuaded her to give her name to the hospital, which was a charitable institution at the time.


Queen Charlotte was played by actress Frances White in the 1979 BBC series Prince Regent and later by Helen Mirren in the film The Madness of King George (1994).

Named in her honour

Notes and sources

External links and references

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