Of all of the characters introduced in Shonda Rhimes’s Netflix hit Bridgerton, none is quite as formidable as Queen Charlotte – but how does Golda Rosheuvel’s on-screen depiction compare with history? Reality, it seems, really is stranger than fiction.
Queen Charlotte’s Race
Born Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in northeastern Germany, there’s been a wealth of popular debate about the racial origins of Queen Victoria’s grandmother and Queen Elizabeth II’s great-great-great-great grandmother. Specifically, historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom believes her to be descended from a 13th-century Portuguese monarch and his north African lover, Madragana. While other academics have questioned the validity of this genealogy, it’s the speculation around Charlotte’s heritage that inspired Bridgerton showrunner Chris Van Dusen’s powerfully diverse casting. (Notably, Queen Charlotte never appears in author Julie Quinn’s Bridgerton novels.)
Queen Charlotte’s Wedding
Queen Charlotte arrived in London to become the future queen at just 17-years-old, speaking no English. Her sea journey from her native German duchy had been so tempestuous, and the princess so ill, that her wedding dress – heavily studded with diamonds – no longer fit her, her purple velvet cape even falling off her shoulders so that the “spectators knew as much of her upper half as the king himself”, noted Horace Walpole wryly. Nevertheless, she married King George III just six hours after meeting him for the first time on 8 September 1761, in a ceremony at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace.
Queen Charlotte’s Dogs
Like Paris Hilton, Queen Charlotte had a penchant for Pomeranians, bringing two of them with her when she moved to England. (Named Phoebe and Mercury, this original pair were later captured by Thomas Gainsborough in a royal portrait.) In later years, she frequently gifted dogs to her courtiers, keeping her own Pomeranians around her in her state rooms. Her son, King George IV, and his daughter, Queen Victoria, both inherited her love for the species – with the latter even starting a dedicated breeding programme.
Queen Charlotte’s Children
In spite of their hastily arranged wedding, George and Charlotte’s union proved remarkably happy for at least 25 years – with the Queen having no less than 15 children, 14 of whom were born in Buckingham Palace. In fact, it’s Charlotte who changed the royal family’s London residence from St James’s Palace to Buckingham Palace – bought by George III as Buckingham House in 1762 – as well as Frogmore House in Windsor Park, where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex held their wedding reception, in 1792. After the King’s illness prevented him from ruling in his later years, she also increasingly spent time with him at Kew Palace, where he underwent countless leechings and medicinal baths.
Queen Charlotte’s Hobbies
Charlotte adored music – hiring Johann Christian Bach, the son of the legendary Johann Sebastian Bach, as her music teacher. She also invited Mozart to perform for her as a child, a fact referenced in the Bridgerton episode “Shock and Delight”, and often performed musical duets with her husband on the flute and harpsichord. Meanwhile, at the fledgling Kew Gardens, she became deeply interested in naturalism, both cataloguing plants and founding a menagerie that included the first kangaroos on British soil. Perhaps most impressive of all? She aligned herself with the feminist bluestockings movement – with novelist Fanny Burney, writer Elizabeth Harcourt and philosopher Margaret Cavendish among her inner circle. Eloise would approve.
Queen Charlotte’s Gossiping
Bridgerton’s depiction of Queen Charlotte as highly involved in the matchmaking season is factually correct. George III actually established the first debutante ball in 1780 in honour of his wife’s birthday – with the so-called Queen Charlotte’s Ball held at Buckingham Palace every year until Queen Elizabeth II cancelled it in the ’50s. Even after her husband’s descent into madness, she wrote him letters recounting the gossip around the Ton, many of which can be read in the Royal Archives.
Queen Charlotte’s Addiction
As highlighted in Bridgerton, Queen Charlotte did, indeed, have a snuff addiction, keeping a dedicated room filled with ground tobacco at Windsor Castle and accumulating no less than 90 snuff boxes by the time of her death in 1818. According to the Royal Collection Trust, she used the tobacco as a means of curing her frequent headaches, counting Violet Strasbourg among her favourite blends: a “mixture of powdered rappee, bitter almonds, ambergris and attarju, which she augmented with a spoonful of green tea every morning”.
Written by Hayley Maitland.
This article originally appeared on British Vogue.