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A portrait of Queen Charlotte with her children

11 facts about Queen Charlotte: Britain's longest reigning female consort

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons by Johan Zoffany (1765)

Born on 19th May 1744, Princess Sophia Charlotte was the youngest daughter born into the Mecklenburg-Strelitz family. A minor princess, Charlotte’s life changed forever when she was selected as the perfect candidate for marriage to the newly ascended King George III.

What was a marriage of political convenience would, as it turned out, go on to be one of the most successful royal marriages in British history. But what made this relatively unknown princess the perfect queen? And what do we know about her? Here are 11 facts about Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburgh-Strelitz that you might not have known.

1. Princess Charlotte and King George III’s marriage wasn’t a love match.

When King George III ascended the throne following the death of his grandfather, King George II, it became clear that he would need to secure a queen. Not wanting someone who would get involved in his royal affairs, George considered several minor princesses from across Germany before selecting Charlotte.

Growing up a minor princess in rural northern Germany, Charlotte was given a lower level of education in languages, natural history, religion, and household management. With no experience of the pressures of royal duties and a relatively low level of education compared to many of her royal counterparts, George believed that Charlotte would be the best candidate for his wife as she wouldn’t be inclined to meddle with the affairs of the crown. He was right, as Charlotte showed little interest in helping her husband rule.

2. She was only 17 years old

Another appealing factor in the marriage selection between George and Charlotte was their similarity in age. When they married, George was 22, and Charlotte was 17.

3. Queen Charlotte and King George were married at first sight

Despite doing homework about his wife-to-be, George and Charlotte didn’t meet before their engagement. In fact, they were married less than six hours after she landed on the coast of England.

4. Despite being a political marriage, it was a happy one

Despite not having had any prior relationship to one another, both George and Charlotte were outwardly very happily married. Together they would go on to have 15 children together, 13 of whom lived to adulthood. Even through her husband's failing mental health and difficult reign, Charlotte remained steadfastly at her husband's side through thick and thin.

5. Queen Charlotte was an incredibly smart woman

Although her level of education compared to many of her counterparts was considered relatively simple, Charlotte continued to learn and educate herself after her marriage to George. When she first arrived in England, she couldn’t speak English, but it didn’t take long for her to pick up the language. She also held a great amount of interest in natural sciences and would regularly visit Kew Gardens to further her understanding of botany.

As well as founding multiple orphanages and becoming a patron for various hospitals, Queen Charlotte was greatly impassioned about women's education. She ensured that all of her daughters had the best education available to them at the time.

6. Queen Charlotte was a patron of the arts

As well as her charity work, Queen Charlotte was a lover and patron of the arts and showed particular interest in musicians and artists from her home country. She was friends with Johann Christian Bach and even invited a young Mozart to play at the Royal Palace when he was just eight years old.

7. Queen Charlotte loved animals

When Queen Charlotte first arrived in England, she brought with her two Pomeranians, but her interest in animals didn’t end with her lap dogs. She was an avid collector of wild animals and could boast a wide selection of different exotic species in her collections. She had a zebra that was often witnessed grazing outside of Buckingham Palace, while her Elephant resided with the horses in the stables. Charlotte was even known for gifting kangaroos to her friends and loved ones.

8. Queen Charlotte was a notorious snuff user

Queen Charlotte was an avid user of snuff before she arrived in England, and it was a habit that she continued throughout her life. Wanting to appease his new bride, King George was said to have tried a pinch on the second day of their marriage but couldn’t stop sneezing.

Queen Charlotte owned over 90 snuff boxes and had a collection of over 350 different bottles of snuff from the Royal Manufactory of Seville. She even had her own preferential blend that included ingredients like bitter almonds, ambergris, and green tea.

9. Queen Charlotte was friends with Marie Antoinette

Queen Charlotte and Marie Antoinette might never have crossed paths in person, but they were avid pen pals. In their letters, they would regularly discuss their mutual love of art and music, and when the French Revolution first broke out, Marie shared her concerns for her and her husband’s future.

Queen Charlotte prepared lodgings for the French royal family should they need to flee; however, she was distraught to learn later that the King and Queen of France had been executed.

10. Some believe Queen Charlotte is Britain’s first black queen

Although German, Queen Charlotte's family lineage can be traced back to the Portuguese royal family. It is believed that Queen Charlotte’s distant relative, Alfonso III of Portugal, defeated the small town of Faro from the Moors - people of North African and Andalucian descent. Demanding the youngest daughter of the town governor as his prize, Alfonso III went on to have three children with the woman, giving rise to the belief that Queen Charlotte was Britain’s first mixed-race royal.

11. Queen Charlotte is the longest reigning female consort

Beaten only recently as the longest reigning consort by Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Charlotte is the second longest-reigning consort and the longest female reigning consort in British history, having served a total of 57 years and 70 days.

Queen Charlotte Biography

King George III with his consort Queen Charlotte and their six eldest children, by Johan Zoffany,
King George III with his consort Queen Charlotte and their six eldest children, by Johan Zoffany

Emerging from an aristocratic family in Europe, Charlotte had an epic tenure on the British throne, proving to be a powerful ambassador for culture and science. Yet her own reign was one marked by sadness and madness.

A suitable queen

Princess Sophia Charlotte was born on 19th May 1744 to a relatively obscure duke and duchess in northern Germany. Her serene upbringing in this quiet nook of mainland Europe came to an abrupt end when the teenage princess was selected as the most favourable bride for Britain’s George III, who was just a mere 22 years old.

George was after a young, unambitious princess to become a low-key and dutiful consort, and Sophia Charlotte ticked the right boxes. A party of royal envoys was duly dispatched to Germany, where the princess signed a marriage contract before embarking on an incredibly arduous odyssey to her new kingdom.

Terrible storms made crossing the channel a sickening ordeal for Charlotte, who was frankly exhausted by the time she arrived in London. This was perhaps one reason why she reportedly threw herself on the floor in front of George when the couple first met. But there wouldn’t be much time to stop and catch her breath. Mere hours after meeting George for the very first time, they were wed at St. James’s Palace in 1761.

A fruitful monarch

Within a year of marriage, the young queen gave birth to a son, George, who later reigned as George IV. This was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to children in the royal household, as Charlotte had a total of 15.

Although St. James’s Palace was their official residence, Charlotte was particularly fond of another pad which had come into the king’s possession in 1761. This was Buckingham House, which was originally regarded as Charlotte’s private retreat and was even dubbed ‘The Queen’s House’. During the ensuing years, it was remodelled to royal tastes and became known by its new name, Buckingham Palace. However, it didn’t become the principal residence of the monarch until the reign of Queen Victoria.

The cultural queen

Queen Charlotte was a woman with wide-ranging passions. Music was one of them, and she had a considerable teacher in the form of Johann Christian Bach, son of the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1764, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then still a young boy, performed for the queen and her court, amazing them with his incredible virtuosity. She even sang an aria to Mozart’s musical accompaniment.

Charlotte was also a keen botanist, mingling enthusiastically with many of the leading scientists of the day and showing a particular interest in the exotic collections at Kew Gardens. A South African flower was named Strelitzia reginae (‘of the queen’) in her honour and we also have Charlotte to thank for introducing Christmas trees to Britain.

It was in December 1800 that she set up what is believed to be England’s first Christmas tree at a royal lodge in Windsor, having it festooned with baubles, tinsel, fruit, confectionary and candles. Local children were invited to see the tree and each given some of the sweets that hung on the branches.

Tumult in the court

Charlotte’s happy existence was shattered by George III’s mental illness, which began to have a marked effect on his temperament in 1788. Historians still debate the root cause of his illness, but he later became entirely incapacitated and the agony of the situation proved traumatic for Charlotte.

While she outwardly supported the ailing king, Charlotte was clearly deeply disturbed by his volatile and terrifying outbursts. She sank into depressive moods, lost her appetite and refused to be left alone with her husband, who could be physically violent. The situation also triggered an embarrassingly public power struggle between Charlotte and her eldest son about who should take over the duties of the stricken monarch.

They were able to eventually reconcile and she continued to be an important and supportive member of the household when George became Prince Regent following the king’s final breakdown in 1810.

Charlotte’s death and legacy

The disorientating drama around the king’s malaise cast a shadow over Charlotte’s remaining reign and perhaps contributed to her unpopularity with the public in her later years. She died peacefully, sitting in an armchair with the Prince Regent holding her hand, on 17th November 1818, having been consort for an incredible 57 years and 70 days.

Despite being ‘only’ a consort, Charlotte has enjoyed a long afterlife in the realm of academia – and more recently in the public consciousness thanks to the TV drama Bridgerton. This is partly because of the enduring fascination around her ethnicity, with some historians suggesting that she had African heritage. Indeed, a book published back in 1940 suggested the queen was Black or at least ‘biracial’.

The speculation was reignited in the 1990s when researcher Mario de Valdes y Cocom traced her ancestry back to the 13th century King Afonso III of Portugal and his mistress Madragana, who was theorised to have been Black.

Other historians are critical of this suggestion, pointing out that – even if Madragana could be proven to have been a Black woman – the generations separating her from Charlotte would make it highly unlikely that there would be any physical resemblance between them. However, the implications of this lineage continue to tantalise royal commentators and creative writers alike.