By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 28, 2018
(Dedicated to Wendy Williams)
Now, please don’t blame me; doh say that I say so because ah simply selling it as ah buy it but the people have it to say—call them de bad-minded people— that Meghan Markle is not the first black or mixed-race woman to join the British royal family by way of marriage.
I do not know but the news has been around for a while that black blood (excuse the term) had invaded the British royal family for quite some time. The recognition of race is a relatively recent concept (it has only been with us for about three or four centuries), so it is likely that black blood could have slipped into the royal family without anyone being particularly aware or conscious of it.
Meghan is not the first woman of color to join the British royal family. Such a distinction, some say, belongs to Queen Charlotte, a German, who was descended from a branch of the Portuguese royal family who had their roots in Africa.
When the king of Portugal conquered the town of Faro from the Moors in 1200 and added it to his kingdom, he took the governor’s daughter as his lover with whom he had three children. Mario de Valdes, a scholar from Boston, Massachusetts, claims that Queen Charlotte is a direct descendant of one of those three daughters.
Before one gets all bent out of shape, it is important to note that the Moors (read blacks) occupied Portugal and Spain from about 1000 to 1492. They were kicked out of Spain when Columbus set sail to find a westward route to Asia and accidentally discovered the Americas. During the first fifty years of the sixteenth century, the Protestant and Islamic worlds intermingled closely.
In 1601 William Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, like Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear, one of his great tragedies. In contrast to these other plays which were set in northern Europe, “Othello is set in the Mediterranean world and is a largely sympathetic portrayal of the tragic downfall of a soldier from North Africa destroyed by his adopted Christian community” (Jerry Brotton, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World).
Such sympathy is not to be wondered at. “In less than a half a century of Elizabeth’s rule (Elizabeth was queen of England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603) Protestant England came closer to Islam politically and socially than at any other time in its history until today. In early 1601 members of the Moroccan and English courts…aspired to a new chapter in Anglo-Islamic relations” (This Orient Isle).
Queen Charlotte was no ordinary monarch. A distinguished woman, she spoke several languages and advocated against slavery. Stephanie E. Myers, a writer out of Washington, D.C. wrote that “Queen Charlotte is a missing piece in world history. She opposed the Atlantic Slave Trade and supported the Abolition movement in America, birthed 15 children and spoke four languages” (Invisible Queen). She was the queen of England and Ireland for 57 years.
Those were not all of Queen Charlotte’s achievements. She was a botanist, an early patron of Mozart, and entertained world leaders at her court, including Thomas Jefferson of the United States, the United States Ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789. Jefferson would become the third president of the United States and served from 1801 to 1809.
But Jefferson is a special case. While he was being entertained by Queen Charlotte, he too was having an affair with Sally Hemmings, his colored maid and slave. After his wife died he developed a relationship with Hemmings and he impregnated her when she was sixteen. Together they had six children.
As early as 1802, James Callender, a journalist with the Richmond Recorder, wrote that Jefferson “kept as his concubine one of his own slaves, Sally Hemmings.” In the 1970s when I taught William Wells Brown’s Clotel, Or, The President’s Daughter at Fordham University, few were willing to believe that Jefferson had children with a black woman. In 2000 DNA evidence proved that Jefferson was the father of Hemmings’ children.
Even today, Jefferson’s biography reads: “He was married to Martha Wayles Skelon with whom he had six children. It is believed that he fathered more children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings.” A few years ago, the white and black Jeffersons got together in their first reunion, a testimony to the comingling of various groups ever since time began.
When one googles Queen Charlotte, the first entry reads: “England’s first Black Queen, Sophia Charlotte born ‘Princess Sophie Charlotte in 1744…. She was the eighth child of the Prince of Mirow, Germany, Charles Louis Frederich, and his wife, Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hild Bughausenrn.'”
Queen Charlotte was an important presence in English life. Her Negroid features betray her lineage. Even someone who is color blind cannot deny her blackness. In those early days, the color line was not necessarily a hindrance to sexual mixing. While it is important to witness that Meghan’s wedding, she was not the first black or mixed-race woman to join the British royal family.
May she have a long, loving, and successful marriage. Her marriage is an important symbol for all the black girls of the English-speaking world.