Queen Charlotte, played by Golda Roshevuel, is one of the highlights of Bridgerton — but the true story surrounding the character and real-life monarch, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, may well be stranger than fiction. Did you know Queen Charlotte wasn’t even in the original books? And that she’s one of the only characters in the series actually based on a real person?
In the acclaimed Netflix series, the gossip-loving, blunt, and apologetic Royal is at the centre of much of the Ton’s drama, from her nail-biting naming of the season’s Diamond to her determination to bring down Lady Bridgerton once and for all in Bridgerton season 2. As well as providing a lot of the comic relief for the soapy drama series, the steely Queen Charlotte also isn’t above meddling with young couples if she believes it to be for the greater good, and we’ve also a seen a more vulnerable side to her as the mental health of her husband, King George III, continues to decline.
In fact, with her elaborate wigs and domineering presence, the Queen has become such a popular breakout star of Bridgerton that she will also be at the centre of a new spin-off TV series, also produced by Shondaland, which explores her younger years along with Lady Danbury and Violet Bridgerton. So, with that in mind, there is no better time to explore the true story of the real Queen Charlotte — who, if I say so myself, had a pretty fantastic name.
One thing that Bridgerton gets right is the closeness of Queen Charlotte and King George III’s marriage, before his decline. With a sixty-year marriage, the pair were one of the most devoted Royal couples in history with only the current Queen of England and Prince Phillip having a longer marriage than them.
Prior to King George III’s illness, the pair’s marriage was blissful and they “shared a happy life together,” according to the Historic Royal Palaces website. Official archives of letters by Queen Charlotte show her signing off as the King’s “very affectionate wife and friend.”
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Although their marriage started off as arranged, it definitely blossomed into a love match, with the pair’s strong friendship along with their marriage in real life mentioned in the show as Queen Charlotte talks of the rarity of finding a spouse who is a friend as well as a lover.
History shows that the King was as devoted to Queen Charlotte as she was to him: so much so that he created the Queen Charlotte Ball in 1780 in honour of her birthday. During this ball, the young debutantes of the season would present themselves to Her Majesty for her approval.
Of course, this tradition of debutantes presenting themselves to the Queen is something that also happens in Bridgerton, although the difference is that it doesn’t happen during a ball.
We all know that Bridgerton takes place during the Regency era, which was a period of time when King George III was deemed unfit to rule due to his ongoing mental health issues.
It was during this time that his son, who would later become King George IV, took over as Prince Regent and basically became King-by-proxy — but this doesn’t happen in Bridgerton. Instead, Queen Charlotte takes on Royal duties on behalf of her husband, and as we see from the show, is a very active Royal indeed.
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Still, in real life, Queen Charlotte did take on more Royal duties than would have been expected typically due to the fact that her son was estranged from his wife. She acted as the Royal first lady in a lot of instances, being her son’s accompaniment at official events, helping to hostess key festivals like the defeat of Napoleon and played a pivotal role in the upbringing of his daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales.
Shonda Rimes may have expanded her role slightly in the Netflix show, but she still did wield a lot more power than was usual for Queens once a Prince Regent took over.
One of the biggest historical mysteries around Queen Charlotte, to this day, is whether or not she was Black. Countless portraits of the Queen show her with a darker skin tone and curly hair. In 1940, historian Joel Augustus Rogers wrote in 1940’s Sex and Race, Volume 1 that “contemporary descriptions and Royal portraits” of Queen Charlotte pointed to her having Black heritage.
Then, in 1999, historian Mario De Valdes y Cocom conducted genealogical research which concluded that Queen Charlotte was “directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a Black branch of the Portuguese Royal House.”
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Speaking to the Washington Post, Valdes also claims that a Royal physician who treated Queen Charlotte said she had ethnically diverse features, as did Sir Walter Scott and a Prime Minister at the time. The historian also said that several colonies of the British Empire also celebrated Queen Charlotte as a Black Royal based on her portraits.
This long-debated idea that Queen Charlotte was the first Black British Royal not only influenced Bridgerton to cast a Black woman in the role, but also led to them taking a more diverse approach to casting as a whole.
“It’s something that really resonated with me, because it made me wonder what could that have really looked like. And what would have happened? What could she have done? Could the queen have elevated other people of colour in society and granted them titles and lands and dukedoms?” Chris Van Dusen, producer of Bridgerton, told Collider.
“That’s really how our Simon Bassett, our Duke of Hastings, came to be. We get to explore it in a really interesting way. And it goes to the idea of what the show does is—we’re marrying history and fantasy in a really exciting, fascinating way.”
Both seasons of Bridgerton can be streamed now on Netflix.