Queen Charlotte, previously Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz is an interesting figure for several reasons. She was an amateur botanist, a mother of 15, a great patron of the arts (especially music) and a strong advocate for women’s education. Yet it’s her supposed African ancestry that’s garnered the most attention lately. In 2007 (?), a historian and television producer by the name of Mario de Valdes y Cocom advanced the theory that Charlotte had recognizable African features, features that she inherited from a Portuguese ancestor, one Margarita de Castro e Souza. It seems Castro e Souza was referred to as “black” because she was descended from King Afonso III of Portugal, a ruler who was known to have had a child by an African lover.
It’s an interesting theory, and indeed there are portraits of Charlotte that give the impression of African features.
The problem with theory is twofold. First, there’s evidence to indicate that King Afonso’s lover, a woman by the name of Madragana, was a Moor (Arab), not a sub-Saharan African. Second, even if Madragana was African, she added her genes to the royal gene pool some 500 years before Queen Charlotte was ever born.
That’s a heck of a long time and a lot of generations, which makes it extremely doubtful that there would have been any lingering resemblance between Charlotte and Madragana. I certainly don’t resemble Sir Thomas More, yet family lore has it that we Pastrys descend from him. The fact that I inherited not a shred of his looks, to say nothing of his courage or intellect is proof enough that genes have no real lasting power.
Valdes y Cocom’s counter argument to this is that royal blood lines are very inbred and so the genes could have been concentrated, even over 500 years. There’s no doubt that noble lineages are inbred. The fact that a British Queen, a daughter of a German duke, had Portuguese ancestors is a testament to the fact that European royals were mostly interbred members of the same big family. But 500 years? It strains credibility to say the least.
It seems to me that the best evidence that Valdes y Cocom has to back up his theory are the portraits he cites. Yet for every one that makes Charlotte look vaguely African, there is another that looks like this:
The first black queen of England certainly is a fun idea, but to me it seems that she has yet to ascend the throne.