Meghan Markle is making her mark on the British royal family in many ways. She’s not only the first actress and the first American to be warmly welcomed into the family (rather than nearly causing a constitutional crisis à la Wallis Simpson!), many people believe her to be the first biracial person and person of African decent to marry into the family.
But as it turns out, Meghan, whose mother is Black and father is white, may not be the very first biracial royal. That title likely belongs to Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who lived during the 18th century.
Charlotte was married to King George III and was queen for nearly 60 years, until she died in 1818. She’s the grandmother of Queen Victoria, the great-great-great-great-grandmother of the current Queen Elizabeth and the namesake for the American city of Charlotte, North Carolina. She also shares a name with the latest addition to the royal family, Princess Charlotte.
Though she was born in Germany, the daughter of a Duke, Queen Charlotte was directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, which was the black branch of the Portuguese Royal House. Because her complexion was light, she was suspected to be Caucasian, but she did have some classically African features, historians later found, according to PBS.
Her racial background wasn’t known to the public when she served as queen. It was only discovered many years after her death, thanks to art historians who studied portraits of Charlotte more closely. But if it wasn’t for one painter, Sir Allan Ramsay, Charlotte’s African origins might never have been discovered.
In that era, artists typically were encouraged to downplay featured deemed “undesirable” — which, during that time’s largely prejudiced society, often included those that were considered more traditionally African, according to The Guardian. But Ramsay, who was staunchly against slavery, painted several portraits of Charlotte, and didn’t hide her features. He was also married to the niece of Lord Mansfield, a judge who ruled in the first case that eventually led to the end of slavery in the British Empire.
Charlotte’s racial background can’t be entirely confirmed, but it seems that thanks to Ramsay and his many portraits of Charlotte, according to PBS, her status as the first-ever biracial royal has been cemented.
Earlier this year, Meghan opened up about her family’s history with racism and the discrimination she has experienced being biracial.
And during her revealing engagement interview with Harry, she said that she found scrutiny centered around her ethnicity “disheartening.”
“It’s a shame that that is the climate in this world to focus so much on that,” she said. “But I think at the end of the day, I’m really just proud of who I am and where I come from and we have never put any focus on that, we’ve just focused on who we are as a couple. And so when you take all those extra layers away and all of that noise, I think it makes it really easy to just enjoy being together and tuning all the rest of that out.”