Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

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“Queen Charlotte” redirects here. For the queen consort of Portugal named Charlotte, see Charlotte of Spain.
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Charlotte Mecklenburg-Strelitz, by studio of Allan Ramsay, 1762
Queen consort of Great Britain and Ireland later
of the United Kingdom and of Hanover
Tenure 8 September 1761 – 17 November 1818 (&0000000000000057.00000057 years, &0000000000000070.00000070 days)
Coronation 22 September 1761
Spouse George III
Issue
George IV
Frederick, Duke of York and Albany
William IV
Charlotte, Queen of Württemberg
Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and Strathearn
Princess Augusta Sophia
Elizabeth, Langravine of Hesse-Homburg
Ernest Augustus I, King of Hanover
Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex
Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Princess Sophia
Prince Octavius
Prince Alfred
Princess Amelia
Full name
Sophia Charlotte
House House of Hanover (by marriage)
House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (by birth)
Father Charles I Ludwig Frederick, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Mother Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen
Born 19 May 1744(1744-05-19)
Mirow, Germany
Died 17 November 1818 (aged 74)
Kew Palace, London
Burial 2 December 1818
St George’s Chapel, Windsor

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (19 May 1744 – 17 November 1818) was a Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Queen of the United Kingdom as the consort of King George III. She was also the Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg and electress of Hanover in the Holy Roman Empire until the promotion of her husband to King of Hanover on 12 October 1814, which made her Queen consort of Hanover.

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 expand Kew Gardens. George III and Queen Charlotte had 15 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood.

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[edit] Early life

Charlotte’s birthplace, Schloss Mirow

The future queen, Sophia Charlotte, was born on May 19, 1744. She was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Prince of Mirow and his wife, Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen.

She was a granddaughter of Adolf Frederick II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz by his third wife, Christiane Emilie Antonie, Princess of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. Her father’s elder half brother reigned from 1708 to 1753 as Adolf Friedrich III.

The children of the duke were all born at Schloss Mirow, a modest palace, or rather country house. The daily life at Mirow was nearly that of the family of some simple English country gentleman. [1] The morning was devoted to study and instruction in needlework, embroidery, and lace-making, in which the daughters were very skilfull They were brought up in the most careful way, receiving an admirable education, and being grounded in religious principles under the direction of their mother. [2] They were further directed by M. Gentzner, a Lutheran minister of many accomplishments, who had a particular knowledge of botany, mineralogy, and science. [3]

Marriage

When King George III succeeded to the throne of England upon the death of his grandfather, George II, it was considered right that he should seek a bride who could fulfill all the duties of her exalted position in a manner that would satisfy the feelings of the country at large. [4] George was originally smitten with Lady Sarah Lennox, sister of the Duke of Richmond, but his mother the Dowager Princess of Wales and political advisor Lord Bute advised against the match and George abandoned his thoughts of marriage.

Charlotte’s husband, George III of the United Kingdom

Colonel Graeme, who had been sent to the various courts of Germany on a mission of investigation, reported the charms of character and the excellent qualities of mind possessed by the seventeen year old Princess Charlotte. [5] She was certainly not a beauty, but her countenance was very expressive and showed extreme intelligence ; not tall, but of a slight, rather pretty figure ; her eyes bright and sparkling with good humour and vivacity; her mouth large, but filled with white and even teeth ; and her hair a beautiful light brown colour. [6]

The King announced to his Council in July 1761, according to the usual form, his intentions respecting his marriage with the Princess, and Lord Hardwicke was despatched to Mecklenburg to solicit her hand in the King’s name. [7] Charlotte’s brother Adolf Friedrich IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (reigned 1752–94) and her widowed mother, who actively sought a prominent marriage for the young princess, received him with every honour that the little Court was capable of showing him, and returned within a month after having completed all the necessary preliminaries, well pleased with his mission. [8]

At the end of August 1761 the cortege arrived that was to conduct Princess Charlotte to England: the Duchess of Ancaster, the Duchess of Hamilton, Ladies of the Bedchamber ; Mrs. Tracey, Bedchamber Woman; Earl Harcourt, Proxy for the King; and General Graeme, set out on their route. [9] A most dreadful storm of thunder overtook them, and the lightning set fire to several trees along a road through which they had to pass. [10]

They arrived nevertheless in safety at Cuxhaven, and embarked on a squadron of British yachts and warships under Admiral Anson (including the specially renamed HMY Royal Charlotte). They were nine days at sea due to a storm, the voyage being usually accomplished in about three days. Instead of going on to land at Greenwich, where everything was prepared for the reception of the Princess, Admiral Anson thought it better to make for the nearest port and docked at Harwich, where they remained at anchor for the night. This was on Sunday, the 6th of September, and landing the next morning they travelled to Essex, where they rested, and then continued their journey towards London. Arriving at St. James’s Palace on September 7th, she met the King and the royal family. The following day at nine o’clock (September 8th) the ceremony took place in the Chapel Royal and was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker. [11]

Life as Queen

Queen Charlotte with her children and brothers, by John Zoffany, 1771-72

In 1767, Francis Cotes drew a pastel of Queen Charlotte with her eldest daughter Charlotte, Princess Royal. Lady Mary Coke called the likeness “so like that it could not be mistaken for any other person”.[12]

Unfortunately, there can be little doubt that the early married life of the young Queen was scarcely a happy one. The King was worried with ministerial troubles, and the princess dowager, secure in the support of the favourite Lord Bute, was able to exert all the influence and authority which age and knowledge of the world and the position of a parent would give her over a young and inexperienced couple. [13] The young queen was unable to resist, and sort of palace despotism developed where her mother-in-law controlled all her actions. The king himself, strongly under his mother’s influence, was not inclined to interfere, and assumed that all was done rightly. Already she was not allowed to be too intimate with the English ladies of her household. It was laid down as being formal etiquette of the court that they should not approach her save under the direction of her German attendants. Card-playing, which she loved, was presently interdicted. [14]

Naturally, too, there were the German and the English factions of dependents; each jealously contending for their royal mistress’s favour, dictating the terms and conditions of their service, and threatening to go back to Germany unless particular privileges were given them. The poor queen had about as much anxiety and trouble with her dependents as her husband had with his insubordinate ministers or servants. [15]

Despite this the marriage was a success, and on August 12, 1762, the Queen gave birth to her first child, the Prince of Wales, who would later become George IV. On September 13, the Queen attended went to the Chapel Royal to offer the usual thanksgiving which took place after childbirth. The ceremony of christening the Prince of Wales, which took place at St. James’s Palace, was attended with every circumstance of splendour. The cradle upon which the infant lay was covered with a magnificent drapery of Brussels lace. [16] In the course of their marriage, they had 15 children, all but two of whom (Octavius and Alfred) survived into adulthood.

Around this time the King and Queen moved to Buckingham House, at the western end of St. James’s Park, which would later be known as Buckingham Palace. The house which forms the architectural core of the present palace was built for the first Duke of Buckingham and Normanby in 1703 to the design of William Winde. Buckingham House was eventually sold by Buckingham’s descendant, Sir Charles Sheffield, in 1761 to George III for £21,000[17] (£3,000,000 as of 2010).[18]

The house was originally intended as a private retreat, and in particular for Charlotte, and was known as The Queen’s House[19]—14 of their 15 children were born there. St. James’s Palace remained the official and ceremonial royal residence.[20]

Interests and patronage

“Patroness of Botany, and of the Fine Arts”

George III and Queen Charlotte were music connoisseurs and passionate admirers of George Frideric Handel; both had German taste, and gave special honour to German artists and composers. [21]

In 1764 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then aged eight, arrived in Britain with his family as part of their grand tour of Europe and remained from April, 1764, until July, 1765. [22] The Mozarts were summoned to court on May 19, and played before a limited circle from six to ten o’clock. Johann Christian Bach, eleventh son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach, was then music-master to the Queen, put the difficult works of Handel, Bach, and Abel before the boy. He played them all at sight, and those present were quite amazed. [23] Afterwards he accompanied the Queen in an aria which she sang, and played on theflauto traverno in a solo. [24] On October 29, they were in town again, and were invited to court to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the King’s accession. As a memento of the royal favour, his father Leopold Mozart published six sonatas composed by Wolfgang, known as Mozart’s Opus 3, and were dedicated to the Queen on January 18, 1765, dedication she rewarded with a present of fifty guineas. [25]

Queen Charlotte was an amateur botanist who took a great interest Kew Gardens, and, in an age of discovery, when travellers and explorers such as Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks were constantly bringing home new species and varieties of plants, saw that the collections were greatly enriched and expanded. [26] Her interest in botany led to the magnificent South African flower, the Bird of Paradise, being named Strelitzia reginae in her honour. [27]

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.[28]

The queen also founded orphanages and a hospital for expectant mothers. The education of women was a great importance to her, 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).

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.

Up until 1788, portraits of Charlotte often depict her in maternal poses with her children, and she looks young and contented.[29] However, in that year her husband fell seriously ill and became temporarily insane. It is now thought that the King was suffering from a genetic metabolic disorder, porphyria, but at the time the cause of the King’s illness was unknown. Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of her at this time marks a transition point after which she looks much older in her portraits. Indeed, the Assistant Keeper of Charlotte’s Wardrobe, Mrs. Papendiek, wrote that the Queen was “much changed, her hair quite grey”.[30]

Relations with Marie Antoinette

Charlotte sat for Sir Thomas Lawrence in September 1789. His portrait of her was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. Reviewers thought it “a strong likeness”.[31]

The French Revolution of 1789 probably added to the strain that Charlotte felt.[32] 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. Queen Charlotte had even organized apartments to be prepared and ready for the refugee royal family of France to stay in.[33] 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.

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 death in 1818.

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 at Windsor Castle. Her husband died just over a year later. She is the second 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.

Her eldest son, the Prince Regent, claimed Charlotte’s jewels at her death, but the rest of her property was sold at auction from May to August 1819. Her clothes, furniture, and even her snuff was sold by Christie’s.[34] It is highly unlikely that her husband ever knew of her death, and he died, blind, deaf, lame and insane, fourteen months later.

Issue

See also: Descendants of George III and Queen Charlotte

Name Birth Death Notes
George IV 12 August 1762 26 June 1830 married 1795, Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; had issue
The Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany 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 legitimate issue
Charlotte, Princess Royal 29 September 1766 6 October 1828 married 1797, King Frederick of Württemberg; no surviving issue
The Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn 2 November 1767 23 January 1820 married 1818, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld; had issue (Queen Victoria)
The Princess Augusta Sophia 8 November 1768 22 September 1840 never married
The 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
The Prince 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
The Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge 24 February 1774 8 July 1850 married 1818, Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel; had issue
The Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester 25 April 1776 30 April 1857 married 1816, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester; no issue
The Princess Sophia 3 November 1777 27 May 1848 never married
The Prince Octavius 23 February 1779 3 May 1783 died in childhood
The Prince Alfred 22 September 1780 20 August 1782 died in childhood
The Princess Amelia 7 August 1783 2 November 1810 never marriedWith 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 Royal Family 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.

The Royal Family 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.

  • More on Queen Charlotte
  • Revealed: the Queen’s black ancestors
    The Times of London reports that a Portuguese descendent of Queen Charlotte confirmed Valdes’ research into her heritage. (June 6, 1999)
  • Was this Britain’s first black queen?
    “The suggestion that Queen Charlotte was black implies that her granddaughter (Queen Victoria) and her great-great-great-great-granddaughter (Queen Elizabeth II) had African forebears. Perhaps, instead of just being a boring bunch of semi-inbred white stiffs, our royal family becomes much more interesting.” (The Guardian, March 12, 2009)

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.

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