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HIH Prince Alemayehu or Alamayou

The real Bridgerton: 6 Black aristocrats from British history

Image: Prince Alemayehu or Alamayou | Public Domain

In this guest article, Tony Warner, the founder of Black History Walks and author of Black History Walks Volume 1, explores Britain's real-life Black aristocrats who may have inspired some of the characters in 'Bridgerton'.

Bridgerton features several good-looking and wealthy Black Britons in scandalous situations. However, is there any factual evidence of rich Black people who lived in this country in the 18th or 19th centuries? Surprisingly there is lots of actual history hinted at or directly referenced within the first season.

1. Nathaniel Wells

The star of the show is the dashingly handsome Simon Duke of Hastings; a ladies’ man, Oxford graduate and wealthy landowner. There is a real precedent for such a person in the form of Nathaniel Wells, a Black man who in 1803 owned 2,200 acres of land in Chepstow and a stately home that still stands today.

Nathaniel was the son of a Welshman, William Wells, who owned plantations in St Kitts. William fathered Nathaniel with an enslaved African woman known as ‘Juggy’. Unlike the vast majority of slave owners, William fully embraced his son and sent him to England to a preparatory school for Oxford University. William also left land to Nathaniel in his will.

Nathaniel later became Sheriff of Monmouthshire and Justice of the Peace. He married a white woman named Harriet Este (daughter of George II’s Royal Chaplain) in the very posh Hanover Square church in Mayfair. That venue is five minutes’ walk from Grosvenor Square where the fictional Bridgerton series is set.

2. Cesar Picton

In 1836 Cesar Picton, who originally came from Senegal, was a successful coal merchant. He shipped the fossil fuel in barges near his riverside home in prosperous Kingston upon Thames. He also owned his own wharf. Mr Picton’s impressive mansion still stands at 52 High Street, Thames Ditton and there is a blue plaque on the house to recognise his presence.

3. Bill Richmond

Bill Richmond was a Black American man who owned a pub and gym in Trafalgar Square in the early 19th century. He was not as wealthy as Wells or Picton, but he was important enough to attend the coronation of King George IV in 1821. Richmond was a professional bare-knuckle boxer. His biggest fight was against Tom Cribb, a famous white boxer who has a pub named after him on Panton Street, London.

Richmond’s earnings allowed him to buy his own hostelry where he trained the elite of society including people like Lord Byron and various MPs. Black History Walks has identified the location of the venue and it’s featured on the Trafalgar Square walk. There is an ongoing fundraiser to install a Nubian Jak blue plaque.

The Bridgerton character Will Mondrich, a boxer/club owner who trains the Duke of Hastings, is modelled on this real person from history although with a reversed surname.

4. Mary-Louise Coidavid

Bridgerton references a Black queen and indeed a Black queen was living in London.

In the Caribbean island of Haiti, African people kidnapped from the continent organised armies which beat the British, French and Spanish militaries. After roundly defeating Napoleon’s forces, they declared their total freedom in 1804. Their stunning success impoverished the French nation, forcing it to sell the area re-named Louisiana which led to the creation of the USA as we know it.

Once free, the Haitian people then set up their own government and their own royal family. Marie Louise, wife of King Henry Christophe, was Queen of Haiti. After a coup, she fled to London in 1820. She lived with her four daughters at number 49 Weymouth Street, Marylebone London between 1821-1824, more than a decade before Britain abolished slavery. The Nubian Jak Community Trust unveiled a plaque in her honour in 2022.

5. Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho was a man of property and letters as well as a composer. As a Black man in 18th century Britain, this was somewhat unusual but not unheard of. In 2007, Nubian Jak was able to negotiate a plaque in his honour on the site of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Charles II Street, a two-minute walk from Downing Street.

As a property owner, this meant he could vote in the 1770s, a time when people who looked just like him were subjected to human trafficking by the British in the Caribbean and were not even allowed to speak their own language.

6. Prince Alamayou of Ethiopia

Speaking of property, we must mention the African Prince who was entitled to an entire country measuring 429,000 square miles. By way of contrast, the United Kingdom is just 94,000 square miles.

Prince Alamayou of Ethiopia was ‘adopted’ by Queen Victoria despite his family being very much alive and willing to take care of him. His Kingdom of Maqdala was looted by the British in 1868 and he, alongside shiploads of priceless ancient Ethiopian cultural items, was carted off to Britain. Many of these priceless items are in the vaults or displays of the Victoria & Albert and British Museum.

Despite numerous requests by the Ethiopian government to return his remains, Prince Alamayous's body is still buried in Windsor Castle. This is just one of many issues that are being raised before King Charles III’s coronation.