Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
By: Stuart Jeffries
Queen Charlotte died nearly two centuries ago but is still celebrated in her namesake American city. When you drive from the airport in North Carolina, you can't miss the monumental bronze sculpture of the woman said to be Britain's first black queen, dramatically bent backwards as if blown by a jet engine. Downtown, there is another prominent sculpture of Queen Charlotte, in which she's walking with two dogs as if out for a stroll in 21st-century America.
Street after street is named after her, and Charlotte itself revels in the nickname the Queen City - even though, shortly after the city was named in her honour, the American War of Independence broke out, making her the queen of the enemy. And the city's art gallery, the Mint museum, holds a sumptuous 1762 portrait of Charlotte by the Scottish portrait painter Allan Ramsay, showing the Queen of England in regal robes aged 17, the year after she married George III.
Charlotte is intrigued by its namesake. Some Charlotteans even find her lovable. "We think your queen speaks to us on lots of levels," says Cheryl Palmer, director of education at the Mint museum. "As a woman, an immigrant, a person who may have had African forebears, botanist, a queen who opposed slavery - she speaks to Americans, especially in a city in the south like Charlotte that is trying to redefine itself."
Yet Charlotte (1744-1818) has much less resonance in the land where she was actually queen. If she is known at all here, it is from her depiction in Alan Bennett's play as the wife of "mad" King George III. We have forgotten or perhaps never knew that she founded Kew Gardens, that she bore 15 children (13 of whom survived to adulthood), and that she was a patron of the arts who may have commissioned Mozart.
Here, Charlotte is a woman who hasn't so much intrigued as been regularly damned. In the opening of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities she is dismissed in the second paragraph: "There was a king with a large jaw, and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England." Historian John H Plumb described her as "plain and undesirable". Even her physician, Baron Christian Friedrich Stockmar, reportedly described the elderly queen as "small and crooked, with a true mulatto face".
"She was famously ugly," says Desmond Shawe-Taylor, surveyor of the Queen's pictures. "One courtier once said of Charlotte late in life: 'Her Majesty's ugliness has quite faded.' There was quite a miaow factor at court."
Read more: The Guardian
The Queen's Brother
Duke George Augustus of Mecklenburg (German: Herzog Georg August zu Mecklenburg) (16 August 1748 – 14 November 1785) was a member of the House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and a German sailor and soldier.
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