Actually, Meghan Markle Isn’t The First Black Royal Family Member — This Person Is
Why Harry and Meghan’s Wedding Is So Soon
© Photo: Samir Hussein/WireImage. Refinery29
In the crazy times that we’re living in, there’s been one piece of news that everyone is rejoicing about this week: Prince Harry’s engagement to actress and former Suits star Meghan Markle, who will likely earn the title “Duchess of Sussex” after their marriage in May. The couple released the news via an official statement from the Palace and also sat down for an interview with the BBC about their adorable proposal story.
Markle, of course, was eventually asked about the scrutiny and focus on her ethnicity. She called it “disheartening,” and “a shame” that the world is focusing so much on that. But at the end of the day, she said, “I’m really just proud of who I am and where I come from.”
Of course, there is indeed so much more about Markle to focus on other than her race; she’s an accomplished actress, a dedicated philanthropist, and, I can happily say from having met her a few years ago, a genuinely nice person. Still, many folks — like myself — are focusing on her race because we’re simply proud that someone like Markle has finally made their way inside the the historically white British monarchy. In fact, when I learned they were dating last year, I was ready to stand outside the palace blasting Solange from a boombox. But after doing some hardcore Googling way back then, I realized something: Markle, whose mother is Black and father is white, is actually not the first Black or bi-racial woman to join the royal family. That distinction actually goes way back to the 18th century to Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
I know, right?! A Black woman in the royal family in the 1700s?! History nerds, prepare yourselves. Turns out that, while many Brits were in denial at the time, the wife of King George III, who was Queen from 1761 until her death in 1818, was of mixed race. According to PBS, Charlotte was “directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a black branch of the Portuguese Royal House.” So not of unsavory mixed-race origins, but Black royalty. Her origins mostly went under the radar over the course of history until, decades later, art historians began to take a closer look at the distinctly Black features in her portraits. Her regal nose, those full lips; as a mixed girl myself who can always spot a person with even a small amount of Black ancestry from a mile away, it’s pretty blatant just from looking at her painting.
The fact that her Black physical traits were visible was, in itself, noteworthy, because it was customary at the time for artists to “play down, soften or even obliterate undesirable features in a subjects’ face,” also according to PBS. Even more controversial is the fact that the artist who depicted Queen Charlotte in all of her portraits was Sir Allan Ramsay, an anti-slavery advocate who went on to marry a Black woman himself. All that being said, many historians believe the mere existence of Queen Charlotte and these portraits could have played a major role in the slavery abolition movement of the time. And that makes total sense. I mean, think about it: As we saw on The Crown, Queen Elizabeth II wouldn’t even allow her sister to marry a man who had once been divorced. And that was in the 1950s. Can you imagine the existence of a Black queen back in the 18th century?!
© Photo: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images. Refinery29
Now here’s another major plot twist: Queen Charlotte, the actual first Black and bi-racial member of royalty, also happens to be Prince Harry’s great-great-great-great-great-grandmother. Yup, that’s right. She’s Queen Victoria’s grandmother, which makes them relatives, several generations removed. So not only is it possible that Prince Harry’s 14th great-uncle may have beheaded one of Markle’s ancestors, but now, it’s looking like Prince Harry himself has some interracial genes. Although, don’t we all?
It also turns out that even Queen Charlotte might not be the lone mixed royal — and potentially not even the first, either. Philippa of Hainault, a fourteenth-century Queen of England, was also rumored to have African ancestry. And in 2004, former sheep sheerer and builder Gary Lewis became the first Maori — or aboriginal New Zealander — to join the extended royal family by marrying Lady Davina Lewis, daughter of the Duke of Glouchester and 28th in line to the British throne. (I know, I know. Let me know if y’all need me to draw a family tree for all of this.)
Regardless, I think it’s long overdue (like, seven generations long) for Queen Charlotte to get some credit for being an early trailblazer among the royals. And even though the official title of the first Black member of royalty was technically taken a long time ago, I’m still cheering hard for Meghan Markle. Because if this recent engagement reminds us of anything, it’s that at the end of the day, nothing matters more when it comes to love than pure happiness.
Still: Meghan, if you’re down, I’m happy to come over to the palace for A Seat At The Table jam session any time. Just saying.